Last edited 20 Jan 2021

The changing identity of London communities in the face of rapid urbanisation

On Thursday 14 June 2018, the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) and the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) held a debate at the University of Westminster focussing on three themes relating to the changing identity of London communities in the face of rapid urbanisation.

CIAT LFA debate flyer.JPG

The Debate was chaired by CIAT’s Chief Executive, Francesca Berriman and featured a guest panel including:

  • Alexander Naraian, President of CIAT
  • Virginia Rammou MCIAT, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Westminster.
  • Dr David Hancock, Construction Director, Cabinet Office.
  • Anisha Bhanderi, Architectural Technologist, Allies and Morrison.
  • Peter Murray, Chairman of New London Architecture and of The London Society.
Theme 1: Those working in London very often do not earn the salary to match the million-pound property prices and as such continue to, live at home, rent or move to an affordable area outside of London and then commute. The property developments over recent years have been focused on bespoke luxury interiors, elaborate design and prices starting at a point unattainable for many; more attracted to the overseas investor rather than creating communities.

Alexander Naraian kicked things of by highlighting the variety of architecture and open space in London, but suggesting there is now an imbalance, with the city becoming a place for the rich. He proposed that it was possible to maintain high levels of quality whilst reducing costs.

Peter Murray reminded the audience that the cost of property was more to do with land prices than design or construction and suggested that all major cities in the world are facing similar problems. He then described a series of past initiatives in Barking and Dagenham in which simple design and the use of limited materials had produced high-quality, low-cost results.

Virginia Rammou talked about a change in ethos and a cultural shift. She suggested that the old model, in which the young live in the city, but then move to the suburbs to have a family, only worked when the mother stayed at home. Today, with both parents working, and needing to drop off and pick up children from school, there is a greater need for families to live near where they work.

Anish Bhanderi said that in her experience the demand for quality was client driven, and that property buyers were actually paying for ‘place’.

David Hancock talked about the push for prefabrication, or "manufacture for construction" and the need for high volumes to allow both choice and standardisation. He also said that when people live further from work, there is a need for better transport and new working models, such as; working from home, shared working, and greater use of technology.

The audience asked questions about the sort of London we actually want, the market drivers and the ‘greed’ apparent in some parts of the market.

Theme 2: The housing crisis in London is becoming increasingly prevalent. Overcrowding, homelessness and people living in poverty due to increased rent are issues local Councils and Government are having difficulty finding a solution to. The impact on communities and families who are having to be re-housed in B&Bs or move out of the area they have established as a home is immense. CIAT Registered Practice Cityzen has found a solution through innovative use of shipping containers by turning them into temporary accommodation for families of up to six people.

John Smith, Director at Cityzen, introduced the theme by talking about Meath Court, a meanwhile use development on a brownfield site in Ealing, built entirely from repurposed shipping containers. The development went from concept to completion in just ten months, and now provides emergency accommodation for 280 residents. For more information see: Thinking inside the box - housing crisis.

Viringa Rammou praised the scheme and also spoke about Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners' Lewisham Ladywell Temporary Housing. This deployable, 2,000 m2 development uses volumetric construction methods to provide homes for local people in housing need and non-residential units for community and business use. For more information see: Lewisham Ladywell Temporary Housing.

David Hancock referred to similar, prefabricated, temporary schemes in the education and defence sectors. He said that as people change the way they live, so buildings need to change to reflect that.

Peter Murray talked about the development of microhomes and pocket homes in places such as New York, but suggested that these sorts of innovations were more difficult in London, where standards and regulations were restrictive.

Questions from the audience related to the technology and durability of temporary, prefabricated accommodation and the need to retrain workers. John Smith talked about to the skills of factory workers, who, whilst they may be able to work to high tolerances, did not necessarily have an understanding of construction.

It was also suggested that employers might become more involved in providing accommodation, in the same way that universities do now for their students, and employers used to during the industrial revolution.

Theme 3: Rapid urbanisation in London has resulted in its diverse architecture being adapted, changed and in some ways completely remodelled to be functional for use in modern day London. An example of the reaction against rapid urbanisation can be seen in the works of the Spitalfields Trust; borne out of a campaign to save Spitalfields from the developers in the 1970s. By respecting, preserving and reusing the old (often in locations that have been overlooked and neglected) new diverse and dynamic communities have been created. Never has this sense of identity and community been felt more strongly than in the case of ‘Save Norton Folgate’ campaign against Bishopsgate Development.

Alexander Naraian said that technology can actually bring people together, and that we should welcome change rather than being fearful of it. There was some discussion about the balance between new and old, and how it is important to preserve identity, both of the city itself and individual parts of it.

Virginia Rammou reflected on her first day in London and her experience that the city and its diversity brings people together and that this is also apparent in its architecture.

David Hancock pointed out that technology can bring new life to old buildings, for example, enabling the installation of lifts in buildings where previously accessibility would have been difficult to achieve. He suggested that this is a golden age for construction, and a period of great change. Universities need to look at how we train the practitioners of the future to meet the challenge.

Virginia Rammou said that students not only need the skills for today, they need to have the ability to adapt, as the industry of the future is an unknown.

Alexander Naraian closed the debate, by calling for the industry to embrace change, saying “bring it on”.

The debate was followed by a tour of the University of Westminster Architectural Technology End of Year Show.

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