28 April 2015

In the Making – New Social Housing Projects by Karakusevic Carson Architects

A free lunchtime on a quiet day in the London office gave me another opportunity to walk to RIBA and visit one of their exhibitions. That is always a good thing to do as it feeds the mind and the body equally.

The walk there is about 2.5km, depending on the route, so it took me just under 25 minutes. As always I avoided the main roads (busy and ugly) but was forced to walk through Euston Station as the only way around it is a long way north, fine for just a walk but not so good when trying to get somewhere specific.

The subject of this exhibition was New Social Housing Projects by Karakusevic Carson Architects which interested me for several reasons. All architecture has some interest to me, new developments show the leading-edge of the profession and social housing is a sector that has been too quiet for too long (I blame Thatcher).

In RIBA terms, this was a minor exhibition using what was, essentially, corridor space around the atrium on the second floor (I think) and which is now branded as The Practice Space. It is an awkward space but this exhibition did a good job of using it with information boards on the outer walls of the meeting rooms and models around the atrium and in the open space by the windows.

I was delighted to see so many models as I find them the best way to appreciate buildings in context and the context of buildings is as important as it's appearance. Photographs are good for showing colours but for little else which, as an aside, is why property websites are a poor substitute for pounding the streets.



I did not know any of these schemes, nor any of the places that they were being built, but the models gave enough information about the locations for me to appreciate the character of the area. Most were standard East End (as "standard" is today) with large concentrations of social housing among Victorian streets and with plenty of open spaces.

As the hipsters move to places like Clapton because they cannot afford Camden those that used to live in places like Clapton are being forced further east or out of London altogether. New social housing can help to stem the exodus and so to keep the character that makes London London.

The schemes on show here were all different but tried to meet the same needs of producing good social housing that fitted neatly into the area. This was very different from most of our social housing stock that was built on either greenfield land or large areas of brownfield land created by post-war clearance.

The information boards were good in explaining how the designs had been arrived at and it was good to see the needs of residents at the heart of this. That may seem obvious but places like Battersea are full of blocks of towers that pay no attention to the needs of the people who live there, the insides of the flats may be good but there is nothing, no local shops or transport, outside of their doors.

I was not completely convinced by all the schemes, some seemed more solid and less permeable than I would like, but I am prepared to give the architects the benefit of any doubt by admitting that my views were based on a quick assessment of the limited information provided. Significant developments like these now come with colourful Design and Access Statements that run to over a hundred pages so it is unfair to expect a model to say everything about the development.

However, I was completely convinced about the quality of the exhibition. RIBA knows how to put on a good show that is informative and entertaining, even in a corridor.

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