So this year’s prestigious RIBA architecture prize goes to new council housing in Norwich.
They are lauding it as the future. How it will improve working-class lives. Déjà-vu! They do this every decade or so….same old, same old.
This is not really improving anyone’s lives. It is merely ticking a few regeneration boxes. In 30 years time, they will be unveiling new plans, and still, the systemic failures impacting ordinary working-class people will remain. This is not some unique partnership between architects, planners and a community. It is actually a terrible con-trick in make-believe.
In Tower Hamlets in London’s east end, they demolished the old ‘slum’ streets and built new brutalist style estates in the 60s, hailing it as the future for a working-class living. Four decades later many of these were demolished and new homes were built. That was supposed to transform lives again. Giving them new apartments, terraced homes with gardens, and with that, they promised this would create a new community spirit.
Yet, go there today and the same problems that blight the working class still persist – people want secure jobs, no more zero-hours contracts, they seek higher incomes, better schools, shorter GP waiting times, no draconian fitness for work tests, no squeeze on home & social care, no 6 months wait for mental health appointments, no bedroom tax, an end to overcrowding, a council that doesn’t mess them around over repairs, a council waiting list that isn’t frankly a joke…my list could go on.
These architects would do well to actually live for a decade among the people they design and build for, not do it all from the luxurious distance of their west end studio. Of course, it is lovely to get a new home with a new kitchen and bathroom, but to really improve lives then invest in so much more. This is more of an exercise that sees architects win prizes, building firm bosses earn even more millions and councillors patting each other on the back in the next edition of the local newspaper.
I for one do not see any ‘masterpiece’ – I see the same old veneer built to distract from the serious problems blighting ordinary people’s lives.
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