Builders of 'banal' modern homes urged to hire architects to design their housing

Acclaimed critic Jonathan Meades says it is 'shocking' that architects are kept out of so many construction projects

Lewis Smith
Friday 11 March 2016 23:51 GMT
Jonathan Meades, a fan of brutalist architecture, seen here at Wotruba Church in Vienna
Jonathan Meades, a fan of brutalist architecture, seen here at Wotruba Church in Vienna

Property developers should be forced to hire architects to design their housing, the acclaimed critic Jonathan Meades has said – blaming their absence from a majority of projects for modern homes too often appearing “banal” and unimaginative.

A cheerleader for brutalist architecture, Mr Meades said it was “shocking” that architects were kept out of so many construction projects.

“Only a quarter of construction projects in the UK use architects, which is rather shocking. You don’t allow unqualified quacks to perform surgery,” he said.

Reintroducing the aesthetic controls abolished by Michael Heseltine in the 1980s and ensuring an architect is directly involved in every construction project would, he said, make Britain’s contemporary housing among the best in Europe.

Until the sector is reformed, he warned the Ecobuild construction exhibition in London, the UK would continue to build the uninspiring and unexceptional homes that housebuilders impose on the populace. “Fresh and unknown” designs are needed, he said, in comments reported by Building Design.

“This is unquestionably the reason why English housing – often in the shape of an executive home with a triple garage and neo-Victorian dormer windows – lags so far behind the Netherlands and Spain.

“Volume housebuilders think British populism shares its banal taste. Creating an appetite for the fresh and unknown needs to be revived. There’s no statutory protection of architects and no obligation on anyone building anything to use an architect.”

He also made a plea for housebuilders to stop creating gated communities: “It means opposing gated communities – which are to this century what the enclosures were to the 18th century. We are seeing the rich pushing out the poor in Birmingham and Manchester as well as London. It’s neither ethical nor responsible to build buildings which will only last for 30 years.”

Mr Meade, the author of Bunkers, Brutalism, Bloodymindedness: Concrete Poetry, expressed his admiration at the exhibition for Walter Segal, a pioneer of self-build homes. He also praised the idea of adding extra storeys to buildings across London to make better use of space.

However, his comments are in contrast to criticisms he made four years ago in an article entitled, “Architects are the last people who should shape our cities,” and in which he claimed that many architects suffered from hubris and were unable to design buildings that were suitable for their surroundings. “Appointing architects to conceive places is like appointing foxes to advise on chicken security,” he wrote.

And in this month’s edition of Literary Review he issued a scathing denunciation of architects in London.

“London’s architecture has become laughably boorish, confidently uncouth and flashily arid,” he wrote. “Neomodern bling and meretricious trash are the current norms.

“Without exception, big-name architects turn out to be horizontals who happily put their knees behind their ears at the first sight of an oligarch, a Gulf princeling . . . while lecturing us on sustainability.”

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