Short description of 3 winning entries (Atelier 5, Kikutake-Kurokawa-Maki and Herbert Ohl), and one entry (Christopher Alexander) supported by a split jury.

Having covered the background of PREVI, a glimpse of the competition Brief and the resulting buildings, with particular reference to James Stirling’s proposals, were explored in my first Blog, now I would like to go through the original winning entries and their progress over last 40 years.

You would recall that the jury chose 3 winning projects from 13 International architects in 1969. Atelier5; Kikutake-Kurokawa-Maki; and Herbert Ohl were the official winners but there was a split in the jury and Centre for Environmental Structure by Christopher Alexander was considered by this jury to be worthy of a winner.

Jury thought that Atelier 5 scheme used an interesting method (possibly economical) of construction using pre-cast concrete panels small enough to be built on site and manhandled for wall and roof construction. They considered that two storey house plan appeared complex with patios and internal spaces. The external communal spaces and separation of traffic was well liked.

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In a recent interview Alfredo Pini of Atelier 5 said that their invitation to PREVI was a result of their successful Halen project. They were full of praise for the aims, objectives and the process of the competition. The implementation of their 25 units took place in accordance with their plans but the distance and complexities made the involvement difficult towards the end. They were pleasantly surprised to see the attention and care given to external public spaces after decades of use.

Pini did not consider the present situation a chaos – “…it is a fine chaos. I have nothing against it – in fact, I positively like it. That is a positive drive…. The extensions and interventions of inhabitants were quite good.”

Kikutake, Maki and Kurokawa and Associates also used pre-cast concrete system with different loadings which also included foundations, again considered well worked out and likely to save costs. House plan grouped service areas with potential of local industry producing equipment/units for Kitchen, Toilets and storage in future.

The external spaces in this scheme also separated cars from pedestrians but some jury members considered the spaces were possibly too extensive for effective use.

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Fumihiko Maki in a recent interview recalls the original brief. The large growing families would reflect the growth of houses, an important metabolist concept. He welcomed the changes to the houses but was concerned about the extra floors being built on modest original foundations in an earthquake zone.

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Herbert Ohl scheme was problematic from start. Design was sophisticated use of extensive large pre-cast elements using complex arrangement resulting in a shell which could accommodate internal changes with ease and flexibility.

There was proposal for an underground ‘service spine and car parking’.

Minority jury disliked Ohl’s scheme and considered it regimented, inhuman and expensive.

The ‘travelling crane’ in their view became a designer rather than a useful tool.

Architect anticipated a democratic interchange between human and technological factors, stimulating multiplicity, flexibility, micro and macro relations; … all using dimensional and functional modules. The mobile crane was able to provide universal frame structure at any time without disturbing the community.

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As feared, the complexity and difficulty of producing even a small part of this scheme failed to be built in the ‘sample’ project constructed under Peter Land’s supervision.

The science fiction approach may have been exciting to explore but was very unrealistic and removed from the objectives of the competition. I am surprised it was one of the 3 schemes chosen as winners.

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Interview by Martanne Baumgartner and Tomeu Ramis, ETH Zurich.

This split jury thought that Christopher Alexander’s proposal was a ‘milestone’ which addressed the brief and Peruvian conditions and produced an imaginative solution for low income housing and offering maximum freedom of individual choice. The praise continued “….a freshness of approach, a commitment to the dignity and worth of individual , a recognition and understanding of the complex linkages between the individual, his family, his belongings, his neighbours and the entire community are implicit in each part of this proposal.”

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The building system uses fewest standard components to provide maximum variety and choice of solutions… the proposed use of bamboo, urethane, and sulphur structural members may not be new or proven but was in keeping with the spirit of this competition.

It is difficult to explain the concepts behind the ‘cell structure’ of the housing layout in this short introduction but it is a fascinating report to study if you can lay your hands on it.

The house layout considers various traditional aspects of Peruvians social/living habits.

The house construction was aimed at using local materials and traditions where possible. The foundations were floating slabs supporting load-bearing walls and a lightweight plank and beam floor/roof. An ingenious interlocking mortar-less concrete-block for wall construction, reinforced with sulphur, with cavity for plumbing and conduits. The planks and beams are made of urethane foam-plastic and bamboo, reinforced with sulphur-sand topping; all are earthquake resistant methods of construction.

Information attributable to the following sources;

AD 4/70, Competition drawings and Thick Walls AD Feb 1968; Domus, April 2011,’ Metabolist utopia’; ‘The validity of PREVI, Lima, Peru, 40 years on’ by Julian Salas and Patricia Lucas.

Introduction to Architectural competition, Brief and building of samples of entries focused on James Stirling’s proposals. 1965 to present.

“PREVI, Spanish initials for “experimental housing project”, was conceived in Lima in mid 60s. In 1965 Peru’s Architect president Fernando Belaunde Terry began consultations to explore the ways of controlling the flow of people seeking urban living and spread of self-build informal barriadas in urban Peru. The proposals were submitted to UNDP in 1966 and approved in 1967. The work started in 1968 with the intentions of carrying out three pilot schemes over three years.

Three original winning schemes could not be built in accordance with earlier intended scale or details. In the end jury decided that the best way forward was to build all 26 submitted proposals because of their high quality. Most of the competition invitation work and implementation of building of 24 out of 26 schemes was masterminded and overseen by the British Architect Peter Land.

The forty years that have lapsed in the interim and the ongoing transformation of the homes by their dwellers afford an opportunity to reflect on the suitability of the construction technologies proposed in the competition. Ongoing growth and the rationalization of construction methods were two of the basic premises underlying the competition. The remodeling that has taken place in the interim stands as proof of the success of the first premise, but the use of traditional techniques to build the additions calls some of the most sophisticated proposals for industrialization into question. At the time, the tendency was to rely on large-scale industrialization, as can be seen in the German, British and Polish architects’ proposals. Nonetheless, many of the PREVI proposals opted for rationalizing construction and precasting short series of small elements, rather than huge three-dimensional members. In the situation presently prevailing in Latin America, the viability of some of the technological proposals deployed in the PREVI might be profitably revisited.”

Abstracted from a paper by : Julián Salas and Patricia Lucas  (Italics additions by self)

The process of building in PREVI was originally intended for large scale provision of housing, which was to create a transformable core model with one room and provide basic utilities for the unit. The idea was that the new owners were free and encouraged to expand in accordance with the needs of their growing families and their own financial situation.  In these new projects the hope was that rather then using salvageable and recycled materials suitable and dependable construction would be used and paid for by the owner/occupants. This process allowed the owners tenants to control their own social, family and cultural needs making them more involved and motivated towards the project. It was also hoped that the ideas generated by the competition would introduce new methods of creating energy efficient, seismic resistant and cost effective building techniques.

The architects and project managers under the lead of Peter Land took a holistic approach in building the fruits of this rare International competition for social housing.

“If Weissenhof Siedlung is the natural childbirth of social housing in the First World, PREVI is the coitus interruptus of Third World housing”

I sincerely hope that success of this project (although far from pretty in comparison with seductively dressed social housing schemes on offer in better-off countries) hidden in a remote part of world will offer useful lessons of construction and design to professionals and students with strong social conscience. The lessons should be absorbed and filtered down to educational curricula throughout the globe to inspire future generations of architects in solving the international housing dilemma facing millions throughout the world.

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General notes.

The Government of Peru formulated an experimental project in housing which had an objective of developing new concepts of forming experimental neighbourhoods and techniques utilizing Peruvian and foreign experience. In 1965 its Architect president Fernando Belaunde Terry began consultations to explore the ways of controlling the flow of people seeking urban living and spread of self-build informal barriadas in urban Peru. The proposals were submitted to UNDP in 1966 and approved in1967. The work started in 1968 with the intentions of carrying out three pilot schemes over three years.

In PREVI, 13 internationally renowned architects were commissioned to develop prototypes of urban housing that would internalise programmes for any future transformation. Thus each unit contained the terms of its own growth, recognition of the value of the dynamic of growth adopted in the informal slums. In contrast to a growth model based on large, out of scale gestures – from megastructures to gigantic superblocks – the PREVI experiment fielded new dynamics based on a model of low-rise, high- density housing.

When in 1968 a military coup led to the overthrow of the president-architect who had promoted the PREVI project, the involvement of UN prevented the project’s cancellation.

The jury met in 1969 and having chosen 3 winning projects from 13 International architects ( Kikutake-Kurokawa-Maki 4; Atelier 5 and Herbert Ohl), resolved to initiate the construction of all but two of the proposals in 1974, the first phase of 500 units was finally built and left to its fate of growth and progressive oblivion.

The 13 invited International architects were; Toivo Korhonan 6; Charles Correa 1; Christopher Alexander 8; Iniguez de Ozono  & Vazquez de Castro 10; Georges Candilis; Alexis Josic; Shandrach Woods 13; James Stirling 7 ;  Esquerra & Samper 2; Aldo van Eyck 9; Kikutake, Kurokawa & Maki 4; Svenssons 3; Hanson & Hatloy 11; Herbert Ohl 12; Atelier 5 5. (Jose Antonio Coderch from Spain was one of the Jury members)

The numbers after the name refer to general layout marked with numbers. The brown areas on the layout indicate subsequent additions extending the original built forms.

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Summary of the brief.

Mandatory requirements were that each dwelling plot was to be between 80-150 m2, of which dwelling was to occupy between 60-120 including all floors.

The buildings initially were to be 1 or 2 storeys designed to support the third floor and were to be based on100 mm module. The ideas were to explore and develop techniques in architecture and construction within general area of low rise, fairly high density and compact housing in terraced, row and other formation. High rise developments were ruled out.

Detailed designs of dwellings were to be submitted with only a schematic general design for the community. All dwellings were to be flexibly planned for eventual accommodation of eight children of different ages, and one elderly couple, in addition to the owners.

Each dwelling had to provide living, dining, kitchen, bedroom(s), bathroom(s) and service patio. The relationships between rooms and external spaces were defined. Roof areas were required to be suitable for outdoor space.

The dwellings were to be conceived not as a fixed unit but as a structure with a cycle of evolution with appropriate construction technology to achieve this aim.

The initial basic unit was to be built by the main contractors and technical advice and assistance in building will be made to families completing their houses.

Car parking spaces were required to be on individual plots although at this time most of the families did not own cars.

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James Stirling’s Proposals.

After the ‘first build’ by the contractors it was intended that the house should be completed at ground level and above by house owners in self-building styles.

The growth plan drawing shows in stages of self-building a 4P house becoming a completed ‘one storey house’ (8P+) considered the most typical method of growth. Thereafter expansion takes place on the floor above, either as a separate dwelling or, in the case of a large family, as additional bedrooms and living spaces, in which instance part of the ground level accommodation could be used for other purposes (i.e. shop or garage etc.).

When the house was at its smallest (4P), the kitchen, dining and living area were shown combined. As the house increased in size to approximately 6P the dining and living areas were separated from the kitchen by a wall and doors. This wall (knock-down or moveable) appeared in a new position when the house becomes 8P and 8P+, increasing the living space of the house as the family size grows.

Each house had two front entrance doors. One door led directly into the living area (social/traditional), the second (functional) into the house circulation area leading via the staircase and garden patio through to the service patio.

All rooms were planned with through ventilation i.e. separate openings on opposed walls to create cross draughts.

The ‘first-build’ by the contractor takes advantage of the large-scale initial production (cost and speed of erection) and was an assemblage of precast concrete walls and floor units. Party walls and outside perimeter walls were of sandwich construction and were precast units rising from ground beams incorporating windows and door openings and also parapets – these were crane erected.

Roof/floor units were lightweight r.c.beams with hollow pot infill which could be man erected allowing self-help methods of construction t as expansion was required.

Just as the individual rooms of the house were grouped around the garden patio, similarly the various sizes of house groupings were linked with differing scales of social and community space.

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The hierarchy grew from the individual house to the immediate neighbours by making an initial group of four houses above common party walls (and common services) grouped around the service patios. These clusters of four house units were then grouped around a common entrance patio forming 20 or 21 houses. Thereafter this larger group becomes the basic cluster unit forming the neighbourhood (approximately 400 houses) and was related to access roads and car parking. There are four such neighbourhoods the allocated site area (1500 houses) and each is separated by a Public Park (planted, informal garden valleys) in which were to be sited the schools etc.

Flanking the approaches to the neighbourhood parks and enclosing the end of the housing areas were reserved for commercial buildings, shopping and community centres.

Stirling in 60s.

James Stirling was well informed as far as CIAM and its views on housing were concerned. He had already carried worked on proposals for a village scheme using vernacular and simple construction. At this time Europe was swamped with large concrete panel housing construction showing off their economy due to scale and rapid construction. Stirling had already seen this in action on his own Runcorn scheme, disliked by most users and demolished within few decades. Some of the wiser architects at this time were already aware the inflexibility these systems would left for future generations, the of a simple RC Frame skeleton for Park Hill is the sole reason for its re-use by Urban Splash at this very moment.

To be fair to him, the Brief originally intended to build huge chunks (up to 1500 dwellings) of neighbourhoods which were feasible to build using large precast panels but uncertainty of South American politics and the difficulty of calling a huge crane for modest additions to dwellings were unrealistic proposals which people like Van Eyck and Charles Correa avoided by using small scale self-build type constructional systems.

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Having made the comments above I have to point out that crafty ‘Jim’ came up with cracker of a type plan. It provided simple bases for natural growth in many combinations, providing four columns forming a permeable enclosure to the courtyard, itself a traditional feature in Peru and excellent source of natural ventilation, greenery and daylight. The originally built walls in large precast concrete panels were ideal to build against or to support any kind of future construction above these by residents. I understand a four storey structure has now been incorporated in and around Jim’s house forming a school. His signature porthole windows and rounded door heads have become a pointer to visiting architects to spot Jim’s contributions now almost buried in this DIY zoo/archaeological site this area now resembles. James Stirling would have laughed to see his original panel used in the same manner as beautifully crafted huge stone walls built by Inca civilizations were used to support later light weight structure for centuries after the original construction. This is what I would suggest a good example of history repeating itself.

“James Stirling interpreted the future behaviour of the families with certain amount of accuracy: Stirling houses were the most requested and those that display PREVI’s finest qualities of occupancy” Garcia-Huidobro, Torriti & Tugas.

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Summing up can be best by quoting from Justin McGuirk’s article in Domus, April 2011, ‘The metabolist utopia’.

“Some of the houses are extraordinary works of transformation whose occasionally surreal suburban grandeur belies their setting. Tinted windows and hacienda styling many not meet with architects’ approval but they speak volumes about owners’ pride and aspirations. Therein lies one of PREVI’s great successes. People didn’t move out as their financial situation improved. Residents stayed and turned a housing estate into what feels like a middle-class community.”

The details of original competition are from AD  April 1970;  abstracts, quotes, layouts and photographs from Domus of April 2011. Small aerial inset of Stirling’s housing is copyright of Peter Land. All with thanks.

The story of early housing in Milton Keynes now looks at Central Milton Keynes grids with higher densities.

Fishermead was developed at a higher density than that of housing in other areas of Milton Keynes. In this scheme the residential density range is 219-224 people per hectare. The result provides an interesting comparison with the draft government circular published in 1966 which suggested that the suburban densities could be raised to 120 persons per hectare where appropriate.

The Central Area consisting of nine grids including Fishermead was to house approximately 30,000 people, together with related local commercial, social and educational facilities. At the time of inception 75 % of dwellings were designed for renting and 25% for sale (this proportion is possibly reversed by now). Various reserved sites were retained for future growth and possibility of change. Because of the flexibility in the structure plan, it was hoped that the continuity, growth and change could be accommodated consistently rather than fortuitously.

The predominant housing form is three-storey perimeter development around the edges of 180 x 130 m grid enclosing semi-private spaces which are directly accessible from the gardens of the surrounding houses. These spaces provide protected, safe areas for toddlers’ play, sitting areas and landscaping. The back gardens opening into these spaces were originally designed with little visual protection resulting in under use due to lack of privacy but at first opportunity timber and brick walls started appearing almost excluding the visual connection between home and the landscape space in the middle. Architects realized the need for privacy in these higher densities and the fencing for 2nd phase offered more privacy to the tenants.

Family houses are built in terraces along the streets and the smaller dwellings are accommodated in corner blocks. Space is reserved at each corner to provide for possible future community use: shops, office, residents’ club room etc.

If you have seen my previous Blogs on early grids of Milton Keynes, you would have noticed there are lots of common factors at work to make this look like a ‘deprived’ estate.

At one time the property prices were rock bottom and people were not prepared to live here unless there was no other available option. The economical factors have made this estate a ‘honey-pot’ for recent Somalian migrant population in Milton Keynes. The original architectural intentions to obtain flexibility on corner spaces to cater for ever-changing future needs seems to be working. There are thriving grocery shops and fast food stalls in corner locations serving the specific needs of the currently occupying community. This gives a certain ‘cohesive’ feel to the place and in some ways comes quite close to Jane Jacobs’ ideas of communal living.

Once again the original dream of housing a burgeoning middle class community with ‘Habitat’ furnishings and ‘comfortable’ living had a head on crash with the arrival of ever-changing disadvantaged communities struggling to survive. If you are prepared to ignore the architects compulsion to follow niceties about correct appearances, colour matching, sympathetic alterations and litter in key positions, you would have to concede that the discipline and the rigour of the original design has done its job differently, but adequately to offer a safe haven to a distant community (among others) whose arrival could not have been further away from the minds of architects of this remarkable office at the time of designing this project.

PVC windows are the biggest destroyers of the architectural fabric, closely followed by flimsy asbestos panels as these buckle, fade or get damaged. The age old wish to put personal stamp of ‘ownership’ results in a Netherfield type ‘rainbow’ effect which goes against the intention of the original design. The overhanging eaves of added pitched roofs tend to softens the personal touches and strengthen continuity.

The poor maintenance of infrastructure and building fabric remains woefully inadequate but the landscape continues to give this area a real environmental boost basically because it mostly looks after itself. What a shame that before selling the properties some long term strategy could not be created in an attempt to encourage and help the new owners to understand their role in maintaining their houses to enhance the original intentions and consistency required for a healthy and safe community living in a nice place.

The B&W photos, plans and some of the information is attributable to an article by Michael Foster in AJ of 11th May 1977. Old photographs are taken by Martin Charles.

Robert Mawell continues to consider the decisions architects took to produce these schemes which are poles apart, representing the opposite ideas of environmental quality.

Eaglestone in superficial sense is jumbled, seems to be representing rural individuality and dominance of of the parts over the whole and suggests that there are qualities of  megalomania. Perhaps betraying a loss of confidence in the capability of design to satisfy people. Maxwell says that a great many critics make a moral identification in favour of informality, spelling freedom.

Netherfield on other hand is considered  to be regimented and stands for urban regularity and dominance of the whole over the parts. Unlike Eaglestone we encounter qualities of accident. Formality is considered by most an imposition and ‘inhumane’.

Next few paragraphs are devoted to the observed behaviour of residents of both schemes by the community worker who looked after both schemes and noticed no sign of misery in one and happiness in the other estate. She only saw residents identifying with their estates and good community spirit. Please remember that article has been written while the schemes were still under construction and only partially occupied.

“It is more particularly to architects that Netherfield and Eaglestone appear utterly different. They perform very similar functions, but they do not mean the same things. To read their meanings, we have to know something of the specialised codes of the language used, of the images projected. Close examination suggests that both are intended to supply a map of social realm, to project an attitude towards life. Without some such intention it is hard to see how they could end up so physically different.”

EAGLESTONE

The decision was made to place houses in  compact groupings and the open space thus saved was spread among the housing, creating varying situations with individual character to each part.

The ring of housing was connected at various key points to the outside world for both pedestrians and cars. The peripheral feeder road served a series of square garage courts, walled and roofed like houses exploiting the hill top nature and irregularities of site. These tightly varied house groupings, consisting of rental and for sale units, located entirely on pedestrian network, and giving a nearly complete Radburn-type separation of vehicular traffic.

There has been a complete avoidance of repetition of standard houses. Partly by jumbling the mix, partly by variation of window and door positions, each little group is made in some way particular. The variations of building materials, their colours and textures,  size and proportions of openings, porches, dust bin enclosures; are all used to achieve lack of repetition which remains homogeneous despite regular rectangular house types.

It is a world of total design, and yet made up of  entirely banal and familiar elements, the construction kit of the spec builder.

From outside the estate gives impression of hill village or casbah, narrow passages with Newmanish sense of closely observed lanes frequently opening in play areas and greens. By boxing of the cars into a built form the mechanical appurtenance of New Town life is suppressed, and the quaintness is possible.

Two first schools, and the village centre  are located to give a social hierarchy a topographical basis. Starting with the individual family we progress through the shared play group space, the garage court, the first school, the second school  and the community centre.

If we can try to interpret the language of architecture, this architecture speaks of community, of social identity and cohesion, of the self-reliance and exclusivity of the tribe. Values such as these have a wide appeal today ( reminder: 1975 – I wish it was true for early 21st century) …. particularly for architect who are uneasy about the role of the self-conscious designer in mediating the expectations of the user through some filter of ideology. Eaglestone fulfils just this, combining a due modesty towards the user while projecting  an unmistakable belief in efficacy of good design. It comes plumb in the line of descent , through William Morris and Patrick Geddes, the moral mainstream of what was to be termed the garden city tradition. This line runs backwards through time to a romantic medievalism and the image of the city of God. It speaks of regeneration, of the retrieval of wholesomeness, of sharing of beliefs and habits. Garden city socialism is both genteel and pious. It is an escapism which questions consumerism but underlines the virtues of family and home. Escapism, nonetheless.

NETHERFIELD

Netherfield belongs to to a straight-line tradition which must appear anathema to jumble lovers, who no doubt are Eaglestone enthusiasts. Its evident formal precision and geometric purity indicates a direct interest in volumetric composition, independent of social symbolism. It bears the imprint of Corbusian purism rather than Miesian classicism_that is to say that it deals in tense dialectic between order and accident, a dialectic in which each quality is mutually intensified by the other.

While Eaglestone is carefully assembled in a irregular jumble of  box like houses, Netherfield has been assembled with the boxes carefully slotted into six parallel lines in three pairs. Varying contours on site have not been allowed to alter the roofline which remains constant but houses between one to four storey sit under this reference line, achieving a homogeneous building form, rather large in scale, yet also made up from modest elements.

Clues to location and identity is not achieved by jagged roofs or varied materials or fenestration but by use of  ground and topography, retained old hedgerows  and trees crashing through rows of houses; a constant dialogue between design and incident, not diffused like Eaglestone but celebrated here.

Ed Jones told David Maxwell that they were working within the tradition of English landscape design which contrasts formal precision of archetype and informal variation of nature. The contrast, in which both nature and art are juxtaposed, but not opposed, is conducive to a sense of life as a lived art, of life enhanced by art. The audacity consists in reviving this attitude, not for the setting of an aristocratic mansion but for people’s housing. The houses, as in the terraces of Nash, coagulate to form an image of civility and aspiration: the individual house  shares, not in a community, but in a life-style.

Each and every house has a car access to road frontage leading to the front door, enjoys similar conditions to each other, not unlike Georgian and Victorian terraces in towns and cities. Differences of furnishing and furbishing, which are muffled at Eaglestone by Erskine’s eagerness to have each house different, stand out here through the coolness  of the format as entirely individually  motivated gestures.

The houses are aligned for car access to road frontages, facing across the road to common parkland. Behind the houses are private gardens, back to back, occasionally interspersed with mews.    Every house enjoys exactly similar conditions   but completely open at either end to the outside world_ the world as it is, production, consumption and all. For this estate is not a model of a community , but of a class: the extended middle class made up of people who feel freer from penury and exploitation than did their grandparents: who feel that now they can look after themselves.

One can, I think, dismiss the idea that straight lines are harmful in themselves, that they must always mean regimentation. It seems more likely that if the houses are full of successful people, making their way in life, the image of the estate will be beneficent: if times get bad, if the consumer society breaks down, if deprivation sets in, things could be very different.**

But what New Town is aiming at such a future? .. it must.. promote the good life. Netherfield does not depict a scarcity economy, and so is politically defined on the side of choice and variety.

Is Netherfield an architectural conceit, an artifice, because it deploys a clear formal order? Or because it revives and recasts an eighteenth century aesthetic? Clearly it is no more and no less  artificial than Eaglestone, which deploys an expressionist language of nooks and crannies, and revives and recasts a medieval aesthetic.

Maxwell thinks given the exigencies of construction of large number of houses… Eaglestone ‘jumble approach’  has little to do with realpolitik of the package deal. Netherfield is closer to our time in a practical as well as ideological sense, its terraces absorb the industrialised construction smoothly and sweetly: indeed it is a pleasure to see industrial regularity  being civilised by a powerful aesthetic instead of being itself the content of the aesthetic, as with the modern movement.

If we are on the brink social revolution, the choice of an aesthetic will seem pretty irrelevant. Such a choice will only have a meaning if our society finds away of preventing exploitation and promoting welfare and justice through continuous evolution. A dialectic of ideas requires the generation of alternatives, not the imposition of dogma. If I were to live in Milton Keynes, I would choose Netherfield rather than Eaglestone: you might choose otherwise. In any case, to enjoy the experience we would both have to feel some identity of views with some of our neighbours.

To expect architectural design to contain the element of choice is to give architecture too important a role, for it elevates it to the level of state instrument for manipulation of the masses. Hannes Meyer tried to combine dogmatic functionalism with dogmatic socialism in 1929: it is synthesis which the modern movement never quite pulled off. Let alternatives flourish. Through free experiment we will invent new interesting extensions of traditions to which we belong.

PRESENT STUATION

Having finished quoting (and some poor summarising) this admirable article by Robert Maxwell originally published in Architectural Journal of 1975, and a time lapse of 35 years, I would attempt to bring you up to date.

These schemes were built in heydays of MKDC’s most creative period of existence. Every project was attempting something new and it was difficult to absorb the full scope and direction this work was taking, as there was a lot of work coming out of the office and I was a bit too close to it to be very objective. When I recently re-read the article and re-visited the schemes quoted above, my respect for author shot sky high for his clear historical grasp and  brilliant  observations  making sense of the town planning and detailed incisive analysis of the two housing schemes with such differing characteristics. To cap it all, his prediction about the ‘disaster **’ Netherfield could face made me jump and led me to form this ‘one man fan club’.

If you recall, the difficulties of building at this time lead to the choice of specific contractors and the chosen methods of construction. The housing within the adjoining grids at Beanhill (Norman Foster), Coffeehall (MKDC) had similarities both in construction and formality of layouts. It is no coincidence that this pressure to build up to 4000 homes a year, quickly started to lead to building failures in all these schemes soon after the completion. The leaking roofs, condensation, mould growth, sound transmission between houses, badly fitted and leaking windows created a nightmare situation on all these grids. It is also worth noting that the first sets of tenants for mostly rental housing came from some of the most socially deprived areas of London and Birmingham.

The first test waiting for these new communities was to react to this ‘hell’ they were provided to live in. As Maxwell predicted, the communities under a common threat reacted in unison despite their embryonic state. The first test of cohesive layouts and anticipated community spirit was passed with flying colours. The galvanised community sprung in action forming successful protest/pressure groups to demand quick and effective remedies for these problems. The social mix of tenants and failure of construction ensured that these estates started to look and feel deprived and failing in almost every sense very soon after their construction. The new tenants were refusing to move in, and only desperate, reluctantly accepted the offers to move in. Tenants had little opportunities and freedom of choice and they felt trapped in declining estates. This reputation still remains to this day and the tenants, particularly recent immigrants with little or no income are being housed in some of these schemes. I personally felt very uneasy when taking photographs in Netherfield and my subsequent visit to nearby Eaglestone was a relaxed walk in Newmanish surroundings with children playing everywhere.

Huge amount of pressure was exerted to put pitch roofs wherever possible; doors and windows replacement was extensive. The maintenance of these estates is proving a serious problem to Milton Keynes Council which inherited most of the socially rented housing and community buildings is unable to afford this onerous task. A sad and unfair distribution of responsibilities too complicated to explain here is making a bad situation worst.

Meanwhile, the tremendous force of Margaret Thatcher hit the country and the overwhelming flood of Thatcherism  brought Housing Act 1980 with ‘Right to buy’ legislation, where council tenants could buy the houses they rented at discounted prices. A hugely popular scheme which even the future Labour government was unable to repeal.

This was not quite the catastrophy Robert Maxwell had in mind**, nevertheless the fate of Netherfield was sealed. As the whole estate was built for renting, the random ‘ownership’ ensured that the cancer of ‘beautifying and personalising’ the newly bought pieces of real estate was  well spread and ensured the certain death of all laudable objectives architects stood for in its design.

It seemed that Eaglestone was designed to withstand this very ‘man/woman made’ disaster. The proportion of rental and private ownership was hardly going to make any difference: on the contrary  it was likely to improve the social homogeneity. The rest is history, the cries of  ‘Jumble Brigade’ shouting “We told you so!” have been loud and clear since those days ensuring that no quarter is given to these architects/ intellectuals trying to introduce these poisonous doctrines to the land of William Morris.


Non-Architects Build Small

October 4, 2010

The exhibition at V&A Museum,  ‘Architects Build Small’ and Studio Mumbai’s contribution to it caused a lot of interest in the subject of survival of poor on the streets of an affluent city. To look at this sad but brave attempt through a magnifying glass in a museum of a wealthy developed country and enjoy or indeed celebrate the artistic and spiritual aspects of these meagre attempts appeared a bit voyeuristic and left me slightly uneasy.

Last Year I was in Lahore for a family visit and saw something close to Studio Mumbai’s creation in real life. This humble structure standing on a ‘postage stamp’ size plot of land must have been housing 8-10 people. The structure was obeying all the basic rules of privacy (a crucial issue here), ventilation, thermal comfort and hygiene.

The honesty of this simple, economical construction to me looked stunningly attractive in its directness. I wonder to this day as to the layout and size of inhabited rooms here, but answer must be in Studio Mumbai’s  exhibit.

Following is taken from my Blog regarding this visit to Lahore

“I also saw the construction of humble dwellings for the people who were displaced from the  slums  where these huge roads are being built. They can only afford to  buy tiny plots of land and are forced to build 2-3 storey houses for large families or often for partial letting to make ends meet.

It was no surprise to know that without fail all of these structures were using a mixture of reinforced concrete walls/columns, floor slabs and stairs to save and gain precious inches of floor space and heights.”

The surprising thing is that no architect has been anywhere near this construction at any stage. In retrospect perhaps Studio Mumbai  was right and I must alter my stance accordingly.

Some other examples of  similar housing in the same area.

Having studied the Studio’s output, there is no doubt in my mind that these gifted architects are finely tuned to distilling the best of India in everything they do. I am certain that they choose the clients and projects carefully and work closely with their own craftsmen, with sufficient resources at hand, ensure that the finished products are a true synthesis of the best the country can offer.

This admiration did not rescue me from feeling slightly uneasy when confronted with their wonderful, intellectually teasing offering in V&A’s Cast Courts in among the Renaissance masterpieces.

The V&A’s brief to produce buildings representing refuge, shelter, contemplation and worship has been met and easily satisfied. Their miniaturised, compact, top lit world evokes visual images which can bring works of Bawa, Zumthor and Ando and many others within a touching distance.

What I found difficult to reconcile with was a direct comparison (as shown on  the video describing the exhibit) between the realities of this compact shack for eight souls made with found materials offering scant shelter from rain, cold and heat and the visual delights it exudes through the display. In this instance insertion of an extra word ‘survival’ could have made the brief more challenging and pertinent.

The placing of this ‘exhibit’ among the illustrious neighbours has to make you smile. Well framed views of David’s anatomy from within, give boost to Michelangelo’s efforts which he would have never dreamed of. Meanwhile, the frozen expressions on marble faces staring at this unexpected landing  look astounded after half a millennium of passive disdain.

I would love to travel back to 1465 on a ‘time machine’ to Florence Cathedral yard to rescue the huge Carrara marble block awaiting Michelangelo’s final conversion to David . I would then transport it to one of the passageways of Mumbai slums of early 21st Century and ask a needy family of eight people to do whatever they would like to do with this piece of marble to turn it into their home. The final results of their efforts (including working chisel marks) would than be exhibited in the Cast Courts of V&A Museum in the summer of 2010.

I am looking forward to a brilliant future for  Studio Mumbai and sincerely hope that some time in future they may also turn some of their energy and attention to living conditions of tradesmen working with them and the temporary dwellers  occupying tiny spaces around their studio in Mumbai.

See video made for the exhibition here;

http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/architecture/smallspaces/videos/Studio-Mumbai-Architects/index.html

Studio Mumbai Web Site

http://www.studiomumbai.com/

The new city started to display its first housing grids between Bletchley and Central Milton Keynes during early 70s. Some of the first housing developments and unfortunately some of the first casualties of badly built building fabrics and ’social’ problems due to wrong allocation policies and mass import of problem tenants from London and Birmingham slum areas also took place at this initial stage. IMGCoffeeHallalt Coffee Hall grid (along with Netherfield and Bean Hill) was one of the earliest grids to be developed. The layout was a refined exercise in organizing a highly ordered and disciplined grid in and around existing landscape features. One and two storey terraced houses to Parker Morris standards were provided in fair faced concrete walls with flat roofs at fairly low housing densities. IMGMKAerial08_0001alt Coffee Hall never recovered from a disastrous start with a reputation of a failed estate in almost all aspects. The original housing saw some immediate changes to cure leaks and condensation and the empty spaces left un-built around the rigid geometric grid were soon filled in by badly designed housing, which I find too painful to photograph to this day. IMGHouApr08_0004alt1 The housing was built to generous Parker Morris space standards but built during a shortage of reasonable building materials and tradesmen. Leaking roofs and condensation started  to plague the estate right from the day one. Note the retention of existing hedges. IMGDome08_OK26alt CoffeeHallAug09 023alt A loving tribute to Corbusier was offered by the MK architects but for obvious reasons Villas were not on offer. However a church was perfectly in order. Unfortunately even this little modest offering has  suffered by thoughtless additions. This remains one of the few buildings worth a visit in this area. White paint is now cream and the grass mound has been replaced by an unsightly curved roof building. OxfordDec08_0010alt MacCormac & Jamieson produced this noteworthy housing for single people in 1975-77, when this slide was taken.  Even in the present state of poor upkeep, the building sits on site comfortably and retains its poise to enhance a depressing area. CoffeeHallAug09 057alt CoffeeHallAug09 IMGCoffeeHall1altIMGoffeeHall2a The northern part of the grid was reserved and planned for Woughton Education Campus to house three secondary schools, a Roman Catholic school, school annexes, a sixth Form College and a joint use recreation centre. According to the Head teacher of the Campus,” Woughton ward is among the 10% most impoverished in the country and the catchment area is the most deprived in MK” Panorama 16CoffeeHallAc CoffeeHallAug09 052alt The odd juxtapositioning above illustrates a competition winning low cost private housing scheme by Andrew Sebire & Kit Allsop built in 1982 , described by them as architectural equivalent of the Citroen 2CV. CoffeeHallAug09 042alt No one  imagined that one day it will be pitched against the juggernaut of an Academy next door. The grassed area on left is surrounded by the school (1978) on one side,now to be demolished and  Woughton Centre housing Sports Hall, Performance Area and Swimming Pool (shown on left) acting as a community building. There was some modest housing planned on opposite extremities of the education campus to create some mixed use, but the temptation to fill the empty green fields with housing (and once again of terrible layout and design) proved too great and the resulting mess of excessive but lucrative housing, failing schools, (some now pending demolition) and building of a new Academy in a ‘left-over’ corner of now crowded site hardly shows planning anticipation and aptitude of caretaker town planners of this new city.

The gloomy picture painted here is an attempt to record some of the disasters and occasional successes, before the haze of time and eventual re-writing of the local history distorts the facts beyond recognition for the future generations.

The photograph above showing the wall painting in Woughton Leisure Centre is a work called ‘ Situation Comedy’ painted in 1981 by Boyd & Evans. This was their first commission in MK and was followed by many other. The name reflects the inclusion of some existing building features within the painting, such as stairs and projecting balcony. The blue handrail in photo has an extra bar added, it used to be red as shown in the painting.

For site layout and location of buildings shown above look here; http://www.flickr.com/photos/iqbalaalam/3846824764/ The original Local Community Centre here; http://www.flickr.com/photos/iqbalaalam/3196544440/in/set-72157604170762836/