LSA Alumnus Jack Banting published in FRAME
2022/23 Design Think Tank Module Launches
Mentoring can transform the architecture profession – for good
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Alternative Routes To Registration: An Evening with ARB (17/11/2022)
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London School of Architecture announces strategic collaboration with Black in Architecture
LSA Summer Design Charrette
How fire has shaped London – from 1666 to Grenfell
Voices on: Architecture and Fire Safety
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Voices on: Architecture and Displacement
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LSA students shortlisted for London Festival of Architecture design competition
ELEVEN DESIGN THINK TANKS AIMING TO TRANSFORM THE CITY
LSA launches new bursary scheme for students from low-income backgrounds Copy
LSA announces Thomas Aquilina as inaugural Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation Fellow
LSA Tuesday Talks
Meet students, faculty and alumni at our Open Evening — 24.02.2022
Why Apply to the LSA? Thoughts from our Academic Director
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Will Tooze & Daniel Wood — Plan for Chalk Bridge
Siân Wells — Feminist City
Peter Salman — The Deconstruction Institute
Jayden Luk — Grow The City
Jack Morgan — Freedom of Movement
Harriet Stride — The School with Roots
Freddie Hutchinson — Channelsea Tidal Gardens
Dominika Pilch — Kingsland Centre
Carlos M C Pereira — Social Celebration
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Sam Butler — The Co-Evolving Workplace
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Ross Langtree — Wick Ridge
Mikolaj Strug — Identity and Accessibility
Dougie Haseler — No Fixed Abode
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LSA LAB Director Lara Kinneir chairs UN HABITAT workshop on ‘New Urban Agenda’
Developing Competencies for Tomorrow’s Architect — the LSA at the ARB’s professionalism and ethical behaviour workshop
Voices on: Architecture and Fire Safety
In our ongoing series of opinion pieces pulling together voices from the LSA community to explore urgent topics in architecture, we focus on the issue of fire safety, in light of five years since the Grenfell Tower fire, and the new Building Safety Act. We hear from Helena Rivera and Arita Morris.
Helena Rivera: ‘When tenants identify failures and problems, their voice is not heard’
The Grenfell tragedy has affected us deeply at A Small Studio, and we have followed the inquiry closely, trying to understand the complexity of what happened and what lessons we can learn. At the root of our discussions, however, is a wider question of how we can discuss safety in residential buildings without addressing the wider themes of housing, poverty, social injustice, racial inequity and the role of the architect.
Even though it is still a contested issue, it is necessary to reopen the discussion about how and why the private sector is currently in charge of delivering housing in the UK to the most vulnerable people, instead of this role being provided by the state. By understanding the themes around this problematic, we discover how there is a systemic marginalisation of ethnic minorities and low-income households from the wider planning process, which invariably leads to social injustice on multiple levels.
If we speak to residents that have lived in housing estates where a stock transfer has occurred, some really personal and richly detailed narratives emerge that give us an insight into the struggles of living in social housing under private management. We would learn that tenants distinguish between the design standards of older housing built by the council when it was driven by social objectives in opposition to the newer developer-driven housing projects that reveal the worst aspects of Private-Public-Partnerships (PPPs).
We would learn that when tenants identify failures in construction techniques and problems of evacuation, they ask for help and call for the management company to join their resident meetings, but their voice is not heard. And if it is, their voice is silenced. We also learn that if tragedy strikes, rehousing is de-humanised, unorganised, vague and unapologetic.
With PPPs being so closely likened to political ideology, there has to be a very strong political will in holding private companies to account. Unfortunately, in Britain today, property donors provide 25% of funds given to the Conservative party. So, Britain is living in a concerning culture of cronyism that, while not illegal, suggests a lack of accountability.
And so, at A Small Studio we are working on a project that looks at building safety by revealing the stories and experiences of the non-experts, the non-planners. Communities have an understanding of their environment that is unequivocal and their knowledge should be integrated to an adaptive strategy in future planning and in shaping the future of the architecture profession.
Let’s try to understand building safety not only from the perspective of planners and policy-makers but focusing on the resident as a key expert. Without oversimplifying we could ask: If we try to learn from the past, what happens when first try to learn from its residents?
Dr Helena Rivera is founder and director of A Small Studio
Arita Morris: ‘New regulations, policies and standards are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions‘
As provisions of the Building Safety Act (BSA) come into force, the industry is facing fundamental reform. The BSA’s main purpose is to create an enhanced safety framework for high-rise residential buildings, and includes legal accountability, enforcement and leaseholder protection. Importantly, there are now requirements to involve residents so they understand and can contribute to maintaining the safety of their buildings.
For me, any discussion on the adequacy or not of the BSA or indeed the Fire Safety Act, has to be prefaced by the reminder of the human tragedy that has led to these changes. Yes, legal threat is effective, but putting buildings together is complex, involving hundreds of people. It will rely on everyone understanding why it’s important to get things right.
During the Grenfell Tower Inquiry recently, Mr Millett QC said: “For many bereaved… five years of material that at times must have seemed very far removed from the ones they lost, who they were and how they died… the individual need to speak and be heard is paramount.” Surely the adequateness of our regulatory framework should be tested against the evidence presented at this inquiry?
After two-and-a-half years, the inquiry moved into its final module this month, including expert testimonies from a forensic pathologist, forensic anthropologist and toxicologist. They all point at clear evidence that more people died from smoke inhalation, and a disproportionate number of those who died were elderly, disabled and children, with other victims trying to protect these most vulnerable.
This evidence sets out in extraordinarily tragic detail the consequences of one of the key issues the inquiry examined: the failure to plan for the escape of residents with disabilities. Toxicologist Professor David Purser explained the progressive lethal impact of smoke inhalation – both carbon monoxide and cyanide. But this was worse for those who had been forced to remain: they built up large quantities of asphyxiant gas in their blood, meaning they collapsed almost as soon as they entered the lobby or the stairs. So in effect, the longer anyone remained in the building the more likely they would not survive, even if they were evacuated.
One could not but conclude that an escape plan for disabled residents is therefore vital, or that the stay put policy needs to be rethought, but policy is not in agreement. Other new regulations, policies and standards are equally riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.
So, the response to the central question of adequacy of the BSA in protecting lives is still at large. We are not in a place where cause and effect are aligned. Perhaps because the victims and survivors are not front and centre of each document.
Mark Wilson, operational lead for policy at HSE, said the BSA “will be risk-based and evidence-based, and in reality, this is not how building controls works at the moment.” This points to a more promising direction – use of evidence of building physics combined with how humans behave to determine more precisely what can lead to a life threat to people.
Arita Morris is director at Child Graddon Lewis