Wayne was asked by The Big Issue about his views on housing. Find out what he had to say!
Are architects reluctant to get their hands dirty with affordable housing?
It’s a difficult time for a lot of architects to earn money. Even really good ones can take on housing development and get bullied – to some extent – out of delivering their original vision by the developer. And some of the big architects who don’t need the money don’t bother with housing because it can get just too fiddly. They prefer big commercial projects. And of course, some of the big housing developers don’t really use architects, just architectural technicians who are not about creativity or liveability – just basic engineering. Architects have to be able to have the discourse and, if needed, the arguments with the builder.
Has housing policy – and obsession with house prices – influenced the kind of architecture that has held sway in Britain?
Enormously. If you’re building a house with a view to making money rather than thinking of it as a place to live, it has an impact. Buy to Let is not about liveability – the people buying often don’t care about a sense of place or quality. We need more choice, and that means a massive building programme. There seems to be too many people keen to maintain the status quo, it not being in their interest to flood the market with a choice of new homes and rental options.
And surely a better range of options would include much more social housing?
Yes, whatever you call it – I prefer to use council housing – we need more from councils, RSLs and private landlords with a conscience. There’s a whole generation out for whom council housing can be a very good option, despite the fact the term has had very negative connotations. I think there’s a generation who’d welcome it rather than having to deal with some of the private landlords out there. But there is a new crop of landlords out there like Get Living London who are starting out with a refreshing attitude.
You’re an advocate of renovating empty homes. Are there any building types than can’t be re-modelled?
Some of the stuff from the late eighties and even more recently, in the early noughties, is so bad it won’t be able to be re-modelled. It’s so characterless and was built in characterless areas, with no thought about public space. That kind of housing is what happens when greed takes over, and housing becomes about quick return and not somewhere to live, when there’s no thought about aesthetics or the long-term future of an area.
Is there any architecture that’s resistant to fashion, of a quality that makes it timeless?
I think the Victorian and Edwardian terraces prove it can be done. Some new developments like Accordia in Cambridge, I think will last. I like to think what we’ve done in Gateshead has avoided the vagaries of fashion. House interiors, and often exteriors can be changed, but place is the most important thing: what you feel like when you arrive back in your street. People buy into places well connected to what you need – access to shops, schools, bus and train stations, places to kick a football, walk the dog and ride a bike. Given these things, human beings are very resourceful in taking a building and adapted it to their current lifestyle and taste.