Prepatinated copper cladding by KME being installed on Light House.
Doreen Lawrence writes movingly about the the indifference of the authorities to the residents who lived in Grenfell Tower and to those who live in social housing, drawing 'striking parallels' with the handling of the investigation into the murder of her son Stephen.
'Very few people in positions of power understand what this experience is like. I doubt they have ever had to live in poor housing or know what it is like to feel invisible, like no one cares.' She writes in the Observer, pointing to the structural failures which mean that those who live in social housing have been denied the right to a safe home.
She writes further about the 'undeniable part' race and class play in the response of authorities and in whose voices get heard. The Tower residents were largely immigrants or refuges, whom people in power felt they could ignore - it has taken the fuel of anger and pain to bring their voices to prominence and force an enquiry.
Baroness Lawrence is no putting her energies into improving the situation and now part of housing charity Shelter’s Big Conversation on social housing.
Dian Small, Sarah Akigbogun & Anna Schabel
Studio Aki is part of a meet-up of North London female architects, founded by Anna Schabel. Conversations encompass our practice as architects and beyond; work, life balance and the future of the profession. At meetings over pizza and wine the the group discussed various ways of bringing their conversations to a wider audience. Several possibilities were considered, including the idea of a film.
Sharing stories, particularly on film, is something we have a passion for; Sarah wanted to help turn this into a reality and so offered to direct and make the film.
In February of 2017 the process of interviewing women began, initially we spoke to women from the group but eventually this broadened this out to include women from various backgrounds and at all stages of their careers. Lots of wonderful material was gathered and Sarah then started the difficult process of editing it down to thirty minutes or so, to create the shared story that is the She Draws:She Builds film. There was about fifteen hours of footage to be distilled down to thirty minutes and we also needed a way of separating the film into chapters; this is partly how Sarah developed the idea of the hand sketching moteif, which repeats throughout the film.
At the end of 2017 She Draws was screened at the RIBA and we now look forward to further screenings as part of International Women's Day at RIBA London March, as part of Ethel Day at RIBA North this summer and possibly further afield.
More about the process of making the film to follow...
Adam Bernstein has a love of food and London's history which are palpable within minutes of striking up a conversation with him. He has always loved to cook and his passion for traditional Jewish and London foods lead to the creation of Bernsteins Bar. We talked about Old Jewish London and the rag trade, the link between food and culture, the richness that waves of immigration have brought to London life, the pros and cons of gentrification and the tragedy of Brexit...On Monday I will be interviewing Adam's business partner Ben about the Antipodean side to the business...one of my favourite things in the world...Coffee!
This week I photographed the proprietor of a of one of the oldest surviving shoe repair shops this part of North-East London, which also happens to sit in one of the city's oldest terraces. The interview was part of a series I am carrying out for Hackney Stories, to be part of The Cine-Theatre project. Hackney Stories tells the modern history of Hackney through the memories of those who have migrated here, whether from near or far.
Ahmed's story could be from the present day, he arrived aged 10, accompanied by his parents and siblings, fleeing war and hoping to start a new life. His father soon set up the business he now runs and like many others they became part of the rich texture of our city. He has run this shop for 35 years, taking over from his father in the late 70s. Trained by his father a shoemaker, he has a passion for giving new life to shoes and is possibly one of the most experienced shoe repair men you will find in this part of town and his shop sits in own of the city's oldest terraces. Please share the hashtag #cine-theatre and support us on Spacehive: https://www.spacehive.com/millfields-theatre.
Towards the end of last year I, along with three other members of Rara, gave a talk on the subject of ‘Making a Living’.
Following our talk, which had focused on diverse ways of making a living from our practice as architects, one of the first questions I was asked was about another form of diversity – the cultural issue of Race.
How had I found being a Black architect? I was asked by a student, also black and female. Well, I had to concede that at my last job I was initially the only black female architect in the practice – a practice of 1000 architects. ‘Me too’, she remarked ‘I am the only one’ Why should that so often be the case?
I have, for much of my career tried not to let the issue of race be a dominant one. After identity all is a multi-layered thing and not merely a question of race. I have had little time for what Anthony Kwame Apia, in this year’s Reith Lectures, called ‘racial fixation’. I suppose my resistance to classification was and is because I always hope that the issue of race will dissolve, become unimportant and that I will be seen as the sum several parts, of which colour is only one. Yes, I am black but I am also, female, British, a Londoner via Wiltshire, South Shields and West Africa and an architect. I have always wanted to believe I would simply be judged according to my work. This is despite being told by a well-meaning lecturer, whom I respect hugely, that my surname would make getting a job harder for me. It was said, not to discourage but to remind and prepare me for the fact that I would have to work harder, be better. I have managed to train at good schools and work in leading practices, so clearly race has not been a complete hindrance. Though to what extent people are influenced in their management decisions by race, one can never know. However as I have progressed in my career I have met fewer and fewer black and ethnic minorities, there is what one might term a gradual bleaching out of the profession as one moves up the ranks and markedly in the transition from Parts I – III and so now, I do feel that the issue of the lack of diversity in one that must be addressed.
I do not think it a coincidence that I was posed this question after giving a talk about diverse modes of practice. I suggest there may be a link between cultural diversity and the search for diversity of practice – that is to say perhaps being an architect from an atypical background has lead me to think about practice in a diverse way. Just as, I would argue, the politics and practicalities of gender mean that women often become sole practitioners in order to create the flexibility to enable them incorporate childcare into their working lives. Architects from diverse backgrounds may find themselves needing to create and exploit diverse models of practice in order to thrive as architects. In short, though it should not be the case, perhaps both women and BME architects are faced with needing to re-define their modes of practice in order to thrive in their profession of choice.
It was not until I started working at the afore mentioned large, world renowned, practice that I was forced to become pointedly aware of the lack of diversity in the profession; the environment was highly multinational however despite this, when I started there I was the only black female architect, and one of maybe two or three black architects. This was in a 1000 strong, international, architecture practice. However, I was soon joined by one other black female architect, and we, predictably, became friends and a sort of support network for each other.
In retrospect I should not have been surprised, as at the time, according to a survey published by the AJ, only 1.2% of UK architects were black and comparing the figures with census data In 2011, one can see that only 0.9% of UK architects were black or black, British compared with 3.01 % in the general population. So the fact that in this particular practice, at that time, the figure was closer to 0.4% should not have been such a shock.
The reasons for the dearth of black architects is complex, there is no single causal factor, no centralised attempt to keep non whites out of the profession but perhaps there is too little focus on getting young architects from ethnic minorities into the profession and then keeping us there once qualified.
I have no doubt that the over–riding factor keeping many black prospective students from choosing architecture as a field of study is money, but I suspect it may also be cultural. The profession is still often considered the domain of the white, middle class man. So, I am not sure that many black and ethnic minority children grow up thinking that architecture is not a possibility for them.
In my case, when I was at school, though I had some wonderful teachers, architecture was never a profession that was mentioned as a possibility. I went to an all girls school, so this my well have also been an issue of gender. For me, unusually, I suppose, the impetuous to study architecture came from a father, himself a talented, draftsperson, photographer and master of watercolour, who was passionate about it, himself a chartered surveyor, he had started teaching me to draw when I showed an interest, bringing home teach-yourself-to-draw books from the local library at around the age of eight; he took me to see the Lloyds building on my 18th birthday. Had it not been for him, there is no way that I would have found my way into the profession of architecture and if not for my family, I would not have been able to sustain studying on a long and expensive course or working in an underpaid profession with a persistent and pervasive long hours culture.
Not all are as fortunate as I have been and I believe that the profession, the bodies govern it, those of us who are part of it and educationalists do have a duty of care, which extends to ensuring diversity within our ranks. Of course it is not all bad, there are shining examples like the soon to be knighted David Adjaye, and the Stephen Lawrence Trust , who do wonderful work, creating opportunities for young disadvantaged people. However it may also be that black and ethnic minority architects need to be more active in disrupting the status quo and thinking creatively about how we can re-shape our profession.
The Transformative Power of Cinema and Theatre
Harking back to the ancient amphitheatres of Greece and the american drive in cinema tradition, The Cine -Theatre is envisaged as an installation which will transform the site of the Old Paddling Pool at Millfields Park into a dual function pop-up; a cinema and open air theatre for, a day during the month of June. The project is also viewed as a test bed for future Cine - Theatre pop-ups, which it is hoped could happen at other under used sites across London and beyond.
In September 2014, as part of an MA, I visited the ancient Epidaurus theatre at on the Argolid peninsula in the Peloponnese. Famed for it’s remarkable acoustics, which mean all 14,000 members of the audience would be able to hear a whisper at the centre and it’s fine symmetrical structure, it was built by the architect Polykleitos on a site close to the ancient sanctuary at Askelepios.
Informed by this visit, the ancient Greek and African traditions of oral storytelling and the Greek placement of theatre at the social and political centre of it’s society, the Cine-Theatre seeks to re-activate the Old Paddling Pool site and turn it into a place of storytelling and community activity for a day. It is a piece of concreted ground that, no having particular facilities, is disused most of the time but that nevertheless presents an exciting invitation.
Hosting the programmes of cinema and theatre the Cine will seek to activate the site with dual modes of storytelling.
In the ancient world it was believed that theatre performed an important social function; having the power to heal the mentally and physically ill. Whilst, in the modern era we may not believe in theatre has medical powers, it could be argued that it offers an opportunity for catharsis, sharings, and airings which can be a catalyst for conversation and reflection. As such theatre has the potential to contribute to the healing of social ills. Cinema, a more modern form of storytelling possesses a similar quality, it’s existence in dematerialising darkness augmenting it's power to transport. Both media possess the power to create dreamlike suspensions of reality, and a delicate, ephemeral and transformative power – little pieces of magic people can share and take away.
A Snapshot from the A12...Read More