11 times Heatherwick Studio declined to comment

Oh good, it's that bloody bridge again. Image: Heatherwick Studio.

The time it was rumoured to be at work on Google's new headquarters in California.

 

“I can confirm Heatherwick Studio and BIG are working on a joint design project for Google in Mountain View, California. We can't give any further comment at this point," Heatherwick Studio's Tom Coupe told Dezeen.

 

And the time it was set to repeat the trick in London.

 

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment when contacted by City A.M.

 

The time in 2008 when people started worrying about the spiky sculpture it wanted to send to Shanghai, sparking panic about safety and possibly also Anglo-Sino relations.

 

Consultants on the Shanghai project are understood to be worried following the design problems that surrounded Heatherwick's B of the Bang sculpture, according to Building magazine. A week before the 184ft steel work – commissioned to mark the Commonwealth Games – was unveiled in 2005, the tip of one of its many giant spikes fell off.

Lai Pak Hung, managing director at Davis Langdon & Seah, which is working on the Shanghai scheme, reportedly said: "We can't say we don't have any worries. Given it's the Expo, it's not just about safety – it's political. It could affect the UK's relationship with the Chinese government."

Heatherwick's studio declined to comment yesterday.

 

The time when Thomas Heatherwick offended four other architecture practices by publicly slating their plans for the redevelopment of the Royal Mail Mount Pleasant sorting office.

 

Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time when opponents of the Garden Bridge launched their “folly for London” competition, to highlight their contention that it was a total waste of public money.

 

The competition budget is £60 million - the amount of public money earmarked for the bridge by by TfL and the Treasury.

The satirical competition has been designed to poke fun at the real Garden Bridge and was timed to co-incide with a fundraising event for the Garden Bridge at Harrods.

Heatherwick Studios declined to comment.

 

The time it looked like then London mayor Boris Johnson may have broken public procurement rules, by taking Heatherwick to meetings with sponsors before inviting any other practice to apply for the job.

 

LBC's Political Editor Theo Usherwood reports: "When you want to fix your roof, you don't just ring up one builder and say how much. You ring up three or four builders to get a quote, compare the prices and make sure you get the best value for money.

"Boris Johnson should be doing the same at City Hall with the Garden Bridge - which is relying on millions of pounds of tax-payers' money.

Heatherwick Studios told LBC they do not comment on private business meetings. 

 

The time it emerged that Heatherwick met Boris or one of his deputies at least five times before the formal launch of the competitive procurement process for the Garden Bridge.

TfL has also been contacted for comment. Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

(Heatherwick won the bid, by the way.)

 

The time the London Assembly said that all this was a bit rum, really.

A committee of elected London Assembly members criticised the mayor over the tender process for the 60,000-pound design contract for the new bridge, a pedestrian river crossing which would create a new green space in the middle of the city.

The committee said Johnson met five times with the winning designer before the procurement process began. One meeting was during a taxpayer-funded trip to San Francisco to seek funding for the 175-million pound project.

"The mayor's actions undermined the integrity of the process in terms of the contact he had. No other bidders had that contact with him," Len Duvall, chair of the committee that produced the report, told Reuters.

The contract was won by Thomas Heatherwick, who previously designed an "Olympic Cauldron" for the London 2012 games and a new model of double-decker bus for the capital. A spokeswoman for Heatherwick's studio declined to comment.

 

The time it looked suspiciously like Boris Johnson had wanted Heatherwick to win all along.

From the Architects’ Journal:

Transport for London was instructed that its chairman, mayor Boris Johnson, wanted the organisation to support Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge proposal eight weeks before it held the bridge design contest the designer went on to win, it has emerged.

A December 2012 TfL briefing note released following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the AJ makes clear the mayor’s support for their scheme in its opening paragraph. This and accompanying material released under the FOI response has sparked renewed calls for the National Audit Office to investigate.

Thomas Heatherwick declined to comment.

 

The time Boris’ successor as mayor threw a spanner in the works.

The AJ again:

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175 million project.

Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

 

This time.

At time of writing, Heatherwick Studio has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier would agree on one thing: we need more social housing

Unite d’Habitation, Marseille. Image: Iantomferry/Wikimedia Commons.

Much has been written in CityMetric and beyond about the urban planning debates of the 1950s and ‘60s, that came to be characterised as a battle between master-planning and preservation. One side of the debate was personified by the father of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, whilst the counter-argument was advanced by writer and journalist Jane Jacobs.

But when it comes to London’s housing crisis, aren’t there a few things that these two would actually agree on?

Jane Jacobs’ writing about the organic nature of self-organising communities, demonstrated, in her words, by the “intricate sidewalk ballet” of inner city neighbourhoods, should be required reading for anyone interested in how cities function. But today, Jacobs is increasingly invoked in attempts to oppose new developments of any kind. Her role in conceiving Manhattan’s West Village Houses, a low cost rented housing scheme built through New York State’s Mitchell-Lama Program, is unfortunately much less well known. It’s been suggested that if Jacobs were around today, she’d be working with New York’s housing activists. When her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities was written, there were almost 2 million rent-controlled or rent-stabilised apartments in New York City; nowadays, there are fewer than half that number.

Le Corbusier, on the other hand, is too often blamed for drab high-rise blocks. But regardless of how well his followers across Europe interpreted his ideas, Le Corbusier’s vision for cities was about high quality residential blocks that also contained shops and leisure amenities and were surrounded by parkland – the original mixed use development if you like. His most famous building, Marseille’s Unite d’Habitation, consisted of 337 apartments with views of the mountains and the sea together with shops, a restaurant and a nursery school. The building was originally intended to be public housing, but the French government eventually sold off the flats to recoup costs. Alton West Estate in Roehampton and Park Hill in Sheffield are just some of the examples of Le Corbusier’s influence on the design of post-war council housing here in the UK.

Building homes for a serious business in post-war Britain. Under Attlee’s 1945 Labour Government, 700,000 new council homes were completed. In 1952, the largest architectural practice in the World was at London County Council, with 1,577 staff including 350 professional architects and trainees. These were the days of consensus, and very quickly Tory governments were actually competing with Labour governments about who could built the most council homes.

Some of the council homes built post-war have stood the test of time better than others. But what’s not in doubt is that building council homes on such a scale immeasurably changed the lives of so many families in desperate need of a decent, secure and affordable home. And so many of the post-war modernist high-rise blocks so despised by Jacobs quickly took on the organic self-organising traits that she held in such high regard and have become some of the most enduring and closely-knit communities in London.

Fast forward to 2019 and Right To Buy continues to decimate council housing stock, but perversely home ownership seems more out of reach than ever for so many. An entire generation is being forced to embrace long term private ting in a country that has some weakest protections for private tenants in Europe. Meanwhile, government spending on building new homes fell from £11.4bn in 2009 to just £5.3bn in 2015 – from 0.7 per cent to 0.2 per cent of GDP – and since then, the housing minister’s desk has been occupied by no fewer than six people.


So what would a comprehensive drive for new council and social housing on the scale of the 1945 government’s efforts look like in 2019?

Lubetkin, the architect responsible for Islington’s Spa Green Estate and Bevin Court, summed up the spirit of post-war council home building with his maxim that “nothing is too good for ordinary people”. It’s a vision that we’re trying to recreate through our own council home building programme in Islington.

One of the best opportunities for small council home building schemes is to expand upon existing communities. The vast majority of Islington’s new council housing takes the form of infill, construction on existing estates; in unloved spaces, in old garages, and in old undercrofts. These projects often involve landscaping and new amenities to enhance rather than reinvent local communities. We have built community centres and even rebuilt a library as part of council housing schemes. One Tenants’ and Residents’ Association had an idea for a new specialist over 55s block for the older residents of the estate who wanted to stay in their community.

But there’s a place for large-scale place making as well. When the Ministry of Justice closed Holloway Prison and announced that the site would be sold, Islington Council published a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) on the site. We had one aim – to send a clear signal to the market that anyone who was looking at buying the site needed to be aware of their planning obligations. Most importantly, any development on the site needed to include at least 50 per cent genuinely affordable homes. The speculation around the site came to an end on 8 March this year when Peabody Housing Association announced that it had bought it. It has committed to going well above and beyond our planning requirements, by making 600 out of a total 1000 homes genuinely affordable homes, including 420 homes for social rent. We need to see more detail on what they are proposing but this is potentially brilliant for the borough. A local grassroots group, Community Plan for Holloway, have been instrumental in ensuring that the community’s voice is heard since the site was sold.

To recreate the scale of the massive post-war council home building programmes would require a Jane Jacobs inspired level of community activism combined with the architectural idealism of Le Corbusier. But it would also need the political will from central government to help local authorities get council housing built. And that, sadly, feels as far away as ever.

Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.