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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Some quick links
I'm not going to be able to blog for the rest of the week so here's a quick round-up of a few interesting leftovers:

London Remade, the capital's recycling agency, plans to deliver 20 new recycling facilities over the next 3-5 years, with the aim of London processing 85% of its own waste by 2020.

Useful article in Building on the legal frameworks for zero-carbon housing. According to Mel, Building has downed some of its firewalls so maybe this article is accessible sans password - can someone let me know? if this is really true, I applaud them.

I totally agree with ippr's Dermot Finch on Borough Market and the silly hysteria being whipped up by the campaign at sabmac. To make it all clear: the market is not going to close of be destroyed by the much-needed Thameslink upgrade. IT WILL STILL BE THERE if you want to buy overpriced artichokes. A few buildings will be demolished but hardly any - I know, I worked right there until a few months ago. And we need Thameslink.

And a fairly good article on New Islington after a year of occupancy. A little depressing in predictable ways.
Ecobuild round-up
I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow account of Ecobuild as Phil Clark is doing just that and I'm tired. For the discouraging view of the whole shebang, worth reading Mark Brinkley too.

But I just sorted through the vast pile of trade literature that I picked up and have one thing to say: heat pumps. How many heat pump models does the world really need? Ground source and, new this year, air source (the latter don't seem to give particularly worthwhile efficiency, for my money), coming out of one's ears. Meanwhile the one product I really want to see come off, a compact domestic-scale gas-fired micro-CHP unit, is still in development from Baxi. Looks good in the pictures but won't be out till 2008 - yawn.

Other stuff: the UK Green Building Council launch; my personal jury's still out on this one and I will wait to see what results it brings before covering it in more detail. I do wonder, however, how many more 'knowledge sharing' forums and so forth we really need. There are far too many already; what's really required is somewhere that collates them all and does so effectively and with some half-decent web design. Maybe this is what they will do - but I doubt it, as knowledge sharing is only a part of their mission and probably won't be resourced well enough to enable it to be really good.

And across the hall in Cityscape - why does the enormously fatuous, not to mention deeply politically-dodgy James Woudhuysen and his Audacity colleagues still get so much airtime? How amazingly they all have reinvented themselves after the LM scandal. Peter Bishop did well, and announced he has commissioned Alan Baxter to do a Public Realm Strategy for London - which sounds like a mission impossible. I've had a nightmare week diary-wise so only managed to make it to one day of the whole affair, but that is always plenty of time for the initial excitement of a big exhibition to wear thin on a diet of crap sandwiches and crowds.
Monday, February 26, 2007
News: it's all green.
While I was away...the following happened. In a sign of the times, its all about the environment.

Zero-carbon mania reached new heights, with Wales deciding to make all new buildings zero-carbon within five years. When will people realise that carbon isn't the only thing we need to worry about? but that's for another post.

Feilden Clegg, with Crest and Bioregional, won planning permisison for the "UK's greenest tower", the 'most environmentally advanced development in the UK'. The scheme has 172 apartments, including 54 affordable units, and aims to be a truly zero-carbon development. It will include an on-site woodchip biomass boiler, which will be operated by a community-owned energy company, eight roof-top turbines, and an array of photovoltaic panels.

Residents will be able to grow their own food on site, through rooftop mini allotment areas, which will be automatically irrigated. The latter sounds like a bit of a joke, I know, but apparently all true.

The Greater Gabbard wind farm, 23km offshore of my childhood haunts of east Suffolk, got planning permission for 140 turbines generating 500MW per year - enough for nearly half a million homes.

And Ken looks like missing his target of one zero-carbon development in every London borough by 2010, as so far only nine authorities have identified sites. Personally I think he's done well to get to nine, given how much he is disliked by many boroughs.
Back from holiday; lessons from Switzerland
I'm back from a gloriously internet-free week in the Alps. OK, we succumbed to the internet cafe once, but the Blackberry stayed resolutely off and our media intake was limited to reading weather reports in the local papers (not enough snow, spring arriving a month early) and watching a Champions League match in a local bar.

This bar is actually part of a complex, in the small town where my partner's family have a flat, which readily illustrates some lessons that rural English towns could learn from the Swiss. It is a small town of around 3,000 permanent inhabitants and a low-key but faithful set of skiing and walking visitors - many with a small flat. Around 2 hours train ride from Geneva, it is properly rural, with cows in barns on the slopes and not an apres-ski bar in sight. But what it does have, in spades, is fantastic social infrastructure.

The centrepiece is a bowling alley with bar, cafe and arcade machines, on two floors underneath and overlooking an ice-rink which is tennis courts in summer. It has a small cinema and a very well-equipped playground in the centre of the village. It has a gym and five-a-side pitch. All of these mean that the 'youth' of all ages are busy and active, hanging out with their friends among the kids of the holidaymakers who also appreciate being able to do something fun in the evening. The bowling alley demonstrates perfectly the difference between the Swiss and British attitude towards 'youth'. It is not specifically or visibly aimed at young users, but the vast majority of its many users are teenagers chatting or playing shoot-em-up games, table football, bowling. But it has a proper, alcohol-serving bar; you can smoke; and those arcade games are there, all of which in the UK would be seen as encouraging under-age bingeing, violent tendencies, the abuse of cigarettes and other substances.

But inevitably the place is spotless; the kids act like teenagers; in groups, occasionaly yelling, mostly sulky; but not like louts. The bar manager employs young, relaxed bar staff; there is a little under-age drinking and plenty of smoking but in a safe and adult environment. The kids are, fundamentally, trusted. They walk home alone, or cycle. The money comes from the taxes that holiday homeowners pay for the privilege of 1000m2 (not more; large second homes are not permitted) in the Alps. What pretty British town in Devon or Suffolk thinks to exploit its cash cow in such a sensible way to meet the needs of the (often struggling) local population?

We know, of course, that the Swiss are exemplary in many ways - trains like clockwork - if, occasionally, a bit dull. But this small town demonstrates why they come 6th in that infamous UNICEF survey of children's welfare, when the UK came last. They scored top - at over 80% - on the question of whether their peers were kind and helpful. We still seem to think that kids should be out of sight and out of mind; or at least, corralled together with their own kind in a large padded cell, over-protected and patronised, left to fight it out amongst themselves with tragic consequences.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Holiday
I'm going to be off on a proper holiday - no mobile phone, no email, no internet access - from tomorrow for a week. Back on the 26th!
Design for London competition launched
Six 'young' architecture practices have been invited to participate in a competition for a site in South London, in one of Design for London's first projects. If this is an example of 'start as you mean to go on', it is both encouraging and a little disappointing. The invited practices are all good, characterful designers who aren't on every developer's speed-dial at present, so that's got to be a good thing. But they are not particularly risky or even small - of S333, de Rijke Marsh Morgan, FAT, Brisac Gonzalez and 6a, perhaps only the last two are at a stage where they need this kind of push up. And there is also no guarantee that the winning architect will actually get to build the project - "A preferred design will be chosen in April and that architect will work up its plans to detailed planning application stage. Subject to a successful planning application, the winning architect might work with an LDA development partner to see the project through to completion," according to the AJ.

And somehow, there's something a little unoriginal about a design competition, as if more of those will solve everything. The format is tired and doesn't really allow for the close client collaboration that is at the heart of a really good building project. I admire those who, as my old colleagues at Haworth Tompkins did recently to win a competition for the RCA, dare to not design a building and instead, design a process, a series of questions, and give the client a sense of actually what it might be like to work with these people. And equally I admire a client who has the good sense to choose that kind of approach over and above a sexy design, because it will stand them in much better stead.
Blogging building
I started this blog, as a side project, nearly a year ago because I felt there was no accessible online resource for news and discussion around the built environment; policy, planning, regeneration, economics, environmentalism, all the stuff that isn't about the aesthetics and design. What there was, was hidden behind subscriber-only firewalls, and still largely is. The trade press hasn't embraced open-source, it is fair to say. I felt that architects and others who don't want to pay for, or trawl through, a stack of journals each week should have somewhere online that brought that stuff to them.

It's nice to see recently that a few more toes have been dipped into the world of blogging. By far the most interesting effort has come from Phil Clark, former deputy editor of Building Magazine (which now has a good set of RSS feeds and a blog section) and now digital community editor at the Builder Group, which owns Building among others. He's writing exclusively about sustainability in the building industry, and it's good stuff from a pro journalist.

New Start magazine has also started a new blog (which I hope will develop to become more bloglike and less weekly article-like) and I am flattered that I've been featured already as one of their 'pick of the week' external blogs. I've already mentioned the London 2012 official blog, and I'm sure most of you know about David Miliband's blog.

If there is one piece of criticism I might offer to the likes of Building and the other journals starting to explore the wild world of blogging, it is that weekly comment-like articles do not make a blog. As Phil Clark demonstrates so well, a blog should be regular, opinionated, with short as well as long pieces, personal and informal. The format works well as a sounding board for ideas, not an alternative to the editorial column. Some others of my regular reading, like David Wilcox's blog, demonstrate this well and new bloggers would do well to read his excellent A-Z of social media.

I have to admit that I don't always stick to this, either, as I simply report news a lot of the time, but this experiment is evolving all the time. I'm genuinely glad to see an increasing number of people start sites that I can add to my blogroll and who I can gladly link to as they aren't subscriber-only (a policy of this blog is not to link to anything that isn't open-access.) The development and building industry is still way behind the times on how to use social media and the web, however, which is a shame; as something that directly affects, annoys and often inflames the opinions of the general public, I would have thought that developing a more open, outward-facing attitude would really help.
Monday, February 12, 2007
The demand and design of zero-carbon development
I attended the launch last week of an interesting MORI report, commissioned by Sponge, which demonstrated the overwhelming shift in public opinion towards the environment. 64% of homeowners want sustainable features to be compulsory for all new homes, and, more significantly, a majority are willing to actually pay more on the price of a new home and more in service charges for what the report labelled "sustainability services" - green power, car clubs, better communal recycling facilities, apparently. Most people aren't willing to pay that much more on the price of a house - the most popular band being between £2-£5,000 - but nearly 40% would be willing to pay up to an extra £25 per month.

Interestingly, it seems that the economic impact of rising energy prices is having an impact on the public's desire for what the report labelled a 'sustainable' home (a slight misnomer, I think, as the methodology got rather dubious when it came to issues such as public transport accessibility, access to shops and services, and so on). Although 44% still don't know how much they spend on utilities each month, 3/4 claim to have installed energy- or water-saving features to their homes, and 73% said that energy efficiency would be an important factor in choosing their next home. And in the latest Trends for Living survey, nearly half of us think we will have installed solar panels or wind turbines on our houses within ten years. Though there are definitely some fibbers in there as over half of those surveyed claimed that most of their lightbulbs were already energy-saving. Not to mention the head-in-the--sand stuff; a (famously inefficient) American-style fridge/freezer is the most desired object for a UK kitchen...

At the Sponge launch, some Crest Nicholson executives turned up to give the 'housebuilders response' and, as usual said that they were already doing all the right things. It is certainly true that there are market leaders out there who are forging a market advantage, but it is depressing to see how they aren't taking the opportunity to innovate on design at the same time. This is despite the survey demonstrating that homeowners had positive associations with sustainable design, seeing it as attractive, hi-tech and fashionable. One of the most revealing, and depressing, parts of the Crest response was to hear how they had consciously decided to start talking about "communities, not estates...family homes, not executive homes...apartments, not flats." I couldn't quite believe that they could stand up and say that without cringing at the blatant shallowness. The rhetoric doesn't suddenly change what the product is, which is still developments without identity, style, longevity or any sense of integration with the wider communtiy.

Meanwhile a rift has appeared over the zero-carbon timetable, between the volume housebuilders like Crest, who see the potential to grab market share, and small housebuilders. Julia Evans, CE of the National Federation of Builders, as commented She writes: “As they stand, the proposals will seriously damage housebuilding viability and output and will only hasten the exodus of small and medium-sized housebuilders from the industry, and further concentrate the land they dispose of in the hands of the volume housebuilders.”

Well, perhaps the challenge should be to the small housebuilders to innovate not only on energy but also design, and provide a real alternative for the consumer where they can; taking advantage of the fact that well-designed, super-sustainable homes will demonstrably be able to command a premium price. Sadly, I don't think most small housebuilders have enough nous to do this, but some already are doing so, in their own way - Living Villages, Andrew Marston at Jubilee Wharf, among others. There is always a way for small companies to beat the big boys - and plenty of case studies as to how, in other sectors, bravery and commitment will take you a long way.
Friday, February 09, 2007
CABE's starry ideas
CABE has published the third of its regional housing design audits this week, and the usual critique of design quality that comes whenever the watchdog mentions housing. It claims that nearly a third of all housing should never have been given planning permission, and a staggering 82% of all housing is failing to reach a 'good' standard. “The task is not one of doubling the number of exemplar schemes, but eradicating the unacceptable.”

We have heard this so often from CABE that, unfortunately, the message is now irritating those at the head of the big housebuilders. While Barratt performed third worst out of the big players, its recently-retired chief executive David Pretty came out citing the many awards they have won. For the record, the worst was Bellway and second-worst Wimpey, while the best was Berkeley Homes. Strangely, none of Crest Nicholson's schemes were examined, providing no evidence to assess its continual claims to 'design excellence'.

Recognising that the continual carping isn't helping, CABE also announced a new idea to star-grade homes according to design quality. They are hoping that this will provide a carrot to developers, while also enabling the great unwashed to see if they are buying a well-designed home or not.

A strange idea, isn't it. We buy goods that are star-graded for energy efficiency, or that received ratings from retailers for overall value and performance. We go to restaurants that receive star ratings, and Building Design is already comparing the CABE system to Michelin stars. But we don't buy clothes that are star-rated according to design, for instance. Generally the public is trusted to be able to look at something and decide whether they like it. In the case of a restaurant, because you can't taste the food before you buy it, stars make sense.

But for buildings, it is more complex. Buyers are not good at reading design quality from glossy brochures and site layouts, when buying off-plan. But a substantial number of new homes are not bought like this, and buyers visit the site, see a real physical show home, and should be able to make their minds up. So an argument for star-rating starts to appear patronising. But the issues skew again. Unlike in clothing, for instance, consumers buying new homes don't have an enormous amount of choice in what they buy. Research shows that location is the key factor alongside price. If a buyer doesn't really like the design, they generally aren't able to just go elsewhere for a better product. So on this grounds, star-rating is perhaps not patronising, but simply useless. The pessimists will say that it won't make the slightest difference as the market is stacked in favour of the housebuilders, who have the consumer locked to them.

But after all, the real aim behind this idea is a version of naming and shaming; more stick than carrot again. And maybe it will produce some effects; a lower design-rated home losing a little value, as consumers may not be willing to pay so much for an inferior product. A strange way of making housing more affordable, perhaps? The poor will buy the crap stuff, while the wealthy will luxuriate in another status symbol, the five-star-design house which commands a premium price, a bit like 'Taste the Difference' ham in Sainsburys.

Suddenly it sounds like this idea isn't that well thought through after all. It is either patronising to the public, or anti-egalitarian; two points that play right into the hands of the housebuilding PR machine. Homes for the people, that the people like buying, no matter what the design police say. The sad truth is that the public is caught in a trap; unable to make a genuine choice on the basis of their taste. Short of a mandatory approval on design from CABE before planning permission is granted, I've got only one idea that could solve this. Housebuilders submit their plot layouts or masterplans to CABE for rubber-stamping, but don't actually design the houses. Then, with a cue from the new fad for pre-fab, buyers, get to choose which of a variety of modular designs they get to plonk on their chosen plot. You will end up with a fabulously un-coordinated new housing 'estate', with the mock-Tudor lining up next to the modernist next to the neo-vernacular number by a sensitive architect, in a wonderful demonstration of popular choice. And at the end of the year, the totals will be totted up and we can see what kind of design the public really likes best, a bit like the Times bestseller list.

Shame that, really, people like to live in relatively homogenous environments, where everything 'goes' together. Because ultimately, judging the design quality of a whole estate and awarding it a star will be a futile exercise. It will only work on the level of the jostling for one-upmanship and gongs handed out at Hilton dinners that the male pride of chief execs enjoys. Oh, wait, who's in charge of all these housebuilders? Perhaps it will be a success, after all.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
In brief: Olympic stadium news, housebuilding, Design for London, etc.
West Ham's Olympic dreams die as they won't be allowed to take over the stadium after the games, when it will become primarily an athletics venue. Its design is also being scaled back, according to Building magazine, with only one covered stand. Good job that by 2012 global warming will mean that rather than worrying about rain, we will all be getting sunburn skin cancers while watching athletes sweat their way around the track.

Galliford Try have completed the takeover of Linden Homes, which will propel it into the top ten housebuilders with around 3000 annual completions.

And apparently housebuilding has risen to the highest levels since the late 1980s, yet despite this, somehow homes are still completely unaffordable for the many. Hence yet another first time buyers initiative from DCLG.

Design for London was officially launched and you can read some Ken quotes here.

It's not just central government - the GLA and Liverpool City Council are also going to bring in additional World Heritage Site protection after UNESCO's criticisms late last year.
Cities come to the Tate
I actually knew about this a while back but - discreet as I am - didn't tell you all about it. But a version of Ricky Burdett's Venice Biennale exhibition is coming to the Tate Modern in the summer, and apparently to be augmented by some special commissions from big-name architects.

Itself in a sense a public version of the research Ricky did over the last two years for the Deustche Bank-sponsored Urban Age project, the Biennale exhibition was criticised by some parochial corners of the archi-press for not having any architecture in it (untrue, for the record) but was actually a fascinating and important expose of the state of cities around the globe. Although perhaps too much like a book-on-the-walls to be a truly successful 'exhibition', the content was dense, interesting and original; if only the catalogue had treated us to the same amount of sheer information. It clearly articulated the context that architects must respond to in order to remain relevant, as well as the challenges to politicians and citizens too. To make the point in Venice, in the home of what is often architecture for its own sake, that architecture is actually (to paraphrase Wallpaper) the stuff that surrounds us, and the social and cultural challenge of this is what architects must address, was brave and praiseworthy.

So I will be very glad to revisit it all again, this time taking more notes of the bits where my head started to spin last time around. (I would, of course, add that isn't this rich context what makes architecture so fulfilling and creative? but that's for another post.)
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Europan 9 launched
The competition that launches a thousand dreams of your face in El Croquis, Europan has launched and given aspiring urban designers everywhere three sites in the UK to choose from: an enticing green field next to Milton Keynes, a canal-side bit of Stoke now sadly without the potteries shown in one fantastic image, or a Sheffield site with the lovely name of Skye Edge. The jury includes Peter St John, Christine Hawley, and the wonderful Neave Brown, alongside one of the Urbed directors, the head of architecture at MK council and an Amsterdam planner, among others.

There are three 'free evening seminars at CABE on 8, 15 and 22 March 2007 on sustainability, urban realm and dealing with cars, with tips on how to win' to kick everything off [does anyone actually go to these? does anyone think that CABE's tips are going to win it for them?] and then it is registration by the end of May and submissions by end June. Ooh, I can hardly wait...are you all entering?
In brief: McCloud shortlists, Olympics submits, ugly stuff gets planning permission
In case you avoided the barrage of media yesterday, the Olympics has submitted its 15-volume, 10,000 planning application. So much for being green; that's a fair chunk of tree, even not counting the draft copies they chucked away. Hope they specified recycled, but I doubt it.

Kevin McCloud is continuing where Alain de Botton has taken a dive; his HAB (Happiness, Architecture, Beauty - goodness AdB must fume) has shortlisted the unlikely trio of David Chipperfield, DSDHA and Wright & Wright for his inaugural development. More unexpectedly still, he's got Isabel Allen, AJ editor, to come on board as design director from April.

A stunningly ugly-looking £70m masterplan has got the go-ahead in Bury. And the Royal Borough of K&C has approved another stunningly ugly 27-storey, 400 unit tower by Woods Bagot, despite it being understandably slammed by CABE. Apparently the scheme is worth £200m, which gives some idea of the disparity between Bury and K&C.

And it looks like DCMS is going to tighten up protection for World Heritage sites, so anyone planning to build a skyscraper near the Tower of London had better sneak their planning permission in quick.
Green round-up
The eco rush is so fast that each day seems to bring a welter of press releases and comment. Here's a brief round-up of some relevant ones:

Ruth Kelly has announced 'Carbon Challenge', an international challenge for housebuilders to design and build flagship zero-carbon and low carbon communities. The competition will be run by EP who are asking developers to bid for certain sites and to set "high standards of design, construction, energy and water use and waste disposal so that these techniques can be used in the future as a benchmark for mainstream development." It also seeks to address rising expectations from the public for more sustainable houses which offer them reduced bills and better design (of which more soon, I went to an interesting event the other day on this.)

The first two sites are Hanham Hall near Bristol and Glebe Road in Peterborough. Three further public and private sector sites are expected to be added to the Challenge within a year. The Challenge will be open to developers and construction firms from across Europe with a target of delivering several thousand zero or low carbon homes.

An alliance of property industry types have tried to get their foot in first, and submitted plans to the government to toughen up environmental standards for commercial buildings in a manner similar to the Code for Sustainable Homes. It includes a timetable of updates to Part L, an idea called a "landlord energy statement" which would list the type of energy used to power the building and how efficient this is, and plans for renewables. The group apparnetly consider on-site renewables impractical for large office bulidings (they would, wouldn't they?) and are looking at on-site ones. I hope the government gets tough on the latter. This has all been done by the RICS, BPF, British Council for Offices and the Investment Property Forum.

The prime minister has said that annual targets for CO2 reductions are impractical, with which I would agree. 'Nuff said.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Future Planners
I was at the launch of the Demos and friends Future Planners report this morning. All interesting stuff, somewhat preaching to the converted when it comes to my opinions, but with some good meta-points about global value, local value, public and private, and the role of the planner essentially as mediator between these competing perspectives. The most interesting and practical idea I saw in the report was the idea for citizens' juries in the planning process. Lessons could be learnt from some of the stuff my ex-Demos friend Peter MacLeod is talking about currently re citizen assemblies in Canada and other good stuff.

I wished the report did have slightly more concrete recommendations that could get taken up by the RTPI or the government, although I understand why the authors were trying to steer away from simply more policy recommendations. I think their 'changing the story' point could have been made more forcefully: we need planners to have an image change, and that is something the RTPI could really address, through marketing, recruitment and training, and also through (I think) pushing the professional structures in different directions. I also thought that there was a strong argument for thinking more radically about hiving off some of the dull bits of development control that don't really require the same skills as the 'planner as mediator' to junior staff or a different system of control, or, dare I say, a different 'profession' altogether?

It was also nice to see CPRE, who sometimes I am a little mean about here, in more reflective mood and joining forces with the RICS, EP, and RTPI to collaborate on thinking about the future of planning as a positive force and an enabler of dialogue.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Croydon charrette
There's something rather sad about this little blog set up as part of Will Alsop's commission to 'vision' Croydon. The local press have been somewhat lionising his commitment to 'personally attend' workshops with local people and his no-prisoners approach to design. But look at the sketches here and it is rather depressing to see nothing that really strikes me as visionary. As always, ask people what they want and they will respond with cliches; some cafes, a whole street of restaurants, an office building with reflecting glass wall, water features. As always, the ones that betray an architect's or urban designer's hand are far worse than the amateur ones - my favourite being the mysterious sketch of coloured onion domes, and the massive multicoloured meteor explosion that dwarfs a purple splodge labelled 'London', at the edge of the page.

The blog is an interesting attempt to get the process out there but - maybe its the fact that they haven't bothered to jazz up the boring template, or that someone can't actually really use html that well. It's just a little bit mournful. A shame, because I like Alsop's energy even if I don't think he is the people's champion as much as he sometimes claims. Big ideas and big design win out. But to get the slightest bit of debate going is good. I just wish it was more evident on the website; and sadly, that may be a reflection on the true value of the process, behind all the pazazz.
Takeover Monday
In the Monopoly world of volume housebuilding, the top dog is buying out the motorcar. Or something. Barratt is buying Wilson Bowden in a £2.2bn deal which will safely put it ahead of great rival Persimmon. Together last year, Barratt and WB built nearly 20,000 houses.

Meanwhile, Galliford Try is having exclusive talks with Linden Homes about buying them for £200m. Linden is 1/3 owned by HBOS, which backed a management buyout in 2000.
CASPAR demolished
In a blow to those promoting so-called Modern Methods of Construction, the experimental CASPAR housing in Leeds is being demolished despite being only seven years old. The Joseph Rowntree Trust's award-winning and experimental housing was evacuateda year ago and will be demolished soon as it became potentially unstable in high winds.

Its timber-framed superstructure was completed in only three weeks out of a combination of flatpack and modular parts, and the development was hailed as an exemplar of modern, sustainable housing. The projects failure is a blow to the government's support for cheap prefab building, such as the £60,000 house competition, and plays into the hands of developers who may argue that meeting the government's demands for fast, good quality, affordable housing is uncommercial and courting catastrophe.

However, a second development with the same name was put up in Birmingham, but using different techniques which have proved lasting. The Leeds site has now been sold to a development firm, LifeHomes, which is holding talks with planners to see how much of the "Caspar spirit" can be retained in a rebuilt scheme.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Battersea dump Arup
The saga of Battersea power station continues; after being sold to Treasury Holdings, and after the council had allowed work to start on the site, after changing the planning conditions they had stipulated, it now seems that rumours of Treasury bringing on new designers are correct.

Poor Arup, who have been working on the site for over a decade, alongside West 8, Benson & Forsyth and others more recently, seem set to be dumped as Treasury have drawn up a secret shortlist of new masterplanners including Fosters, SOM and Vinoly. This is despite the original masterplan having gained planning consent. It seems that Treasury aren't even talking to the original team and have also frozen out English Heritage, who are still chasing a meeting date, according to the AJ.

The rumours are of course that Treasury want to increase the residential element of the scheme to make the financils more appealing. Treasury are, of course, issuing non-commital comments. But whatever, this will only delay what is already a scandalously handled project in an iconic London site.
In brief: the architecture of disappointment, Alsop Eden, EU energy certificates and Liverpool.
Channel 4 has ditched Alain de Botton's attempts to build the architecture of happiness with Feilden Clegg Bradley.

Alsop is building a £250m biomass power station for the centre of Norwich, inclulding a visitor centre, which is already being dubbed a new Eden project.

New EU Energy Performance certificate criteria will mean that many new air-conditioned office blocks will get a D rating, affecting their value in property portfolios.

And I wrote before about how Liverpool wasignoring the advice of their own design review group, Ludcap; well, it has happened again, with the council approving the £150m plans for Project Jennifer, a new district centre and supermarket, without Ludcap or CABE seeing the proposals. Both groups had previously been extremely critical of the early designs.