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How Architects Can Help The UK Homeless

There have been several reports about homeless people living on the streets in many villages running along Tottenham Court Road. It is really hard to believe how so many people had lives that led them to this dark and tragic place. Most of these homeless people sleep outside expensive shops where shoppers spend countless pounds for their purchases.

Even harder to understand, there has been a 20% increase in the homeless population since last year. You have to ask yourself how this is even possible in our socio-economic country? I don’t have an answer because I am certainly not an expert regarding the issues these people face in a society that is so advanced.

Homelessness Runs Deeper Than Sleeping On The Streets

I’d like to believe that those of us who are architects and designers, can come up with a solution but often ask myself if we are so involved in our own profitable lifestyles that the needs of the homeless seem to get pushed away? I would hate to think that’s the answer but I do know we need to, first and foremost, understand what’s going on.

Why are these people sleeping on the streets of these villages? The most basic human need is having shelter so it’s up to the rest of us to realise they are worthy for a safe, clean place to sleep and places where they can be fed.

It’s pretty obvious that if you do not have a roof over your head, you are homeless. Also, there are many other people who have temporary shelters, food services, or living in very bad conditions that have a permanent effect on their health including being in harm’s way from assaults.

The homeless problem is much deeper and more complicated than you can imagine. Recent statistics from Shelter, which is a homeless and housing charity, showed there are well over 120,000 homeless people in England, Scotland, and Wales. Approximately 9,000 of those people are in England and not just in London.

Like any problem, you have to weed out the cause in order to find a solution. Unfortunately, when addressing the homeless, the causes are many. That means there must be many different solutions to address the problem.

A report by Dezeen talks about 2 men who ended up living on the streets, one of these men ended up in this situation because he lost his housing accommodations and the other lost a loved one. What’s really scary, it can happen to anyone! The leading causes of homelessness are an addiction, poverty, family problems, lack of employment, and the lack of social housing. Homelessness is not limited to Britain, there are many other countries including the U.S where there’s an unbelievable population of homeless people who are military vets who came home from war with so many mental issues.

In order to have constructive changes, architects must evolve and join together to collaborate. They must use their special skills to solve these problems, offer innovated ideas, coordinate their information and ideas, and form a think tank for different stakeholders. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get architects, those in authority, charities, and the government to actually work together which doesn’t happen very often.

In most cases, architects want to believe their designs will have an important impact on the homeless and actually solve these rising problems. So, how do architects create a living environment that will help the homeless while still being aesthetic in appearance?

Will a particular slant on design really cure the homelessness situation? Architects will focus on creating shelters for the homeless using their latest trendy jargon such as green, smart, modular, mobile, etc. Simply creating a beautiful structure to the side of a building will probably not solve the increase of the homeless population. In a nutshell, it’s not understanding the causes and problems that surround these people’s lives.

All the collaboration and planning might be a way to start addressing the issue, but the authorities in the UK are under a great deal of pressure to correct homelessness. The pressure has increased even more since passing the Homelessness Reduction Act. The act has placed legal responsibilities on the authorities to take positive steps to prevent and decrease the number of homeless people. They are constantly trying to be seen as proactive in dealing with the growing problem but they rarely have the budget to make things happen. In turn, they will not be able to manage the situation or decrease the level of homelessness.

It is quite obvious that all involved including the authorities, designers, charities, and even the homeless must address the situation through housing and support. There must be a new and immediate solution to the number of homeless people. There have been several solutions submitted including Reed Watts’ temporary modular sleeping pods as a way to help solve the problem. The government must take further steps, proactively, so why not use temporary sleeping pods and place them in public areas and buildings?

The homeless could have temporary protection from the cold, snow, and rain and prevent hypothermia and possible death, These sleeping pods could be placed in community halls, sports halls, or even in Birmingham’s Grand Central Station.

On a temporary basis, another solution must be found for the large number of homeless that are in shelters, hostels, or other accommodations, Unfortunately, these places are not able to provide a safe, secure environment and are often no more than gathering places for people suffering from addiction, depression, and many mental health issues.

Another good avenue would be creating small scale housing units that will allow these people to slowly start feeling like they are a part of a community. They could be allowed better access to health care, education, and even financial support so they can eventually move into more permanent housing.

ISO Spaces is working with councils and developers to offer units for temporary housing by converting shipping containers into housing units on sites that are presently unused. These sites could become a part of an overall master plan. ISO is currently presenting the concept at the housing festival in Bristol.

The British government has been looking to other countries, including Finland, to find some solutions they have used to end the problem instead of just managing the situation through the Housing First model.

social housing

The Long-Term Solution Should Be Social Housing

Unlike the housing model for most welfare systems where homeless people improve through rehabilitation programs to eventually receive their own housing, the Housing First alternative gives people a home during the first stage.

This approach has been adopted by many countries including the UK in which the government has set up a three-year pilot program. One of these programs is being used in the West Midlands, they have been given £9.6 million to offer the homeless a stable home. The program in West Midlands includes the Authority’s Homelessness Task Force, a collaboration group of local authorities, charities, and government agencies. The problem, where are the creative people and problem solvers?

The authorities need to provide 675 homeless people with a home during the three-year program which equals approximately £14,000 per person to get a home and the support they need. It has been suggested that they could convert offices into residences for the Housing First units. To date, this is the best solution yet for moving people from the streets to high-density blocks. Unfortunately, will this be the same scheme produced in the 60s with the same errors by recreating the council tower blocks?

Two other approaches have taken place in Manchester and Liverpool for the Housing First pilots. Hopefully, they will take some good ideas from other sources and collaborate ideas provided by the world of design. BDP has developed a model to use gap sites with the collaboration of councils and contractors. The Gap house would use small sites that are normally considered unfeasible but will create opportunities to offer affordable modular micro units and thereby offer a solution under the Housing First model.

There are other approaches in the works including training homeless people so they can get a job or allow open-source WikiHouse projects to have groups of people with the help of designers, charities, and authorities to build their own homes using modern technologies!

Chris Hildrey, RIBA Research Medal winner and fellow RIBA Journal Rising Star Winner, has proposed a project called ProxyAddress. This focuses on the leading causes of homelessness by providing people with an address so they will have access to the support required to get back up on their feet again.

The bottom line, it is really important that everyone works together and learn from each other to solve the homeless problem. A friendly smile or conversation could make all the difference to these people and possibly create excellent changes.

Main image photography by:

Tom Parsons

The New Generation Of Architects Looking For Positive Changes In Russian Architecture In Cities

Russia’s cities and urban areas have grown and become quite modern since the end of World War II. For some time now, they have used applications of architecture’s modern movement which have had a major effect on the country’s development and for urban expansions. The new generation of professional architects is moving forward to make even more changes that will benefit habitants.

Pressure being placed on the modern movement has caused a higher level of focus on urbanization and a great deal more attention on increased development vs any other issues.

Housing has become the major concern within the urban development plan which has led to massive construction of residential complexes while promoting the values of Communism in every aspect of the building process.

No matter what the Modern Movement’s intentions were for recreational spaces that would complement new housing, their over-zealousness for living spaces caused public spaces to be placed on the political back burner.

This has caused poor designing of public spaces, causing a negative effect that is not inspiring to the people who are living in these communities.

After so many decades of Soviet Modernism, the same old model is still being used by the architects and planners who are behind the development of Russia’s cities. This can be a problem because there is a need for support from both the state and private investors. Constantly relying on the Modern Movement as the foundation for design and construction has caused a division within urban development. Over-emphasis on spaces for automobiles has forced the needs of human inhabitants to the side.

The upside, the new generation of professionals understand all too well that Soviet architecture is not the right solution for today’s Russia. They are actively looking for new approaches, moving away from rationalists, schematic model to something that realizes that cities are living organisms that will grow on their own.

This new generation of architects is looking for new ideas for developing cities as a support for the complexities of human lives and their needs. This, in turn, takes time to analyze and the ability to comprehend the spacial challenges that come with it.

They are looking to promote a changeable structure design that has the ability to foster diversity and spontaneity which in turn will arouse the human aspect of Russian cities.

To ensure that future generations of professionals support and continue making changes, Strelka Institute, along with support from DOMRF and the Russian government, has created the ARCHITECTS RF Program in order to tap into the personal and professional potential of its participants. Its goal is to develop their softer skills while providing them with the tools that are necessary to create new urban spaces and plans for Russia’s future cities.

There are so many wonderful opportunities that have come about during times of change, this is the perfect time for the young up-and-coming architects of Russia.

The ARCHITECTS RF Program has chosen 100 Russian architects that are willing to take on and confront the challenges that lay ahead. These professional architects are under the age of 40 and are working to bring about interesting projects that will change the mindset of their fellow professionals as well as the mindset of their compatriots by offering them a cutting edge for contemporary life.

One of the major players leading the movement for change is Strelka KB. This organization has spent the last 5 years pushing authorities, architects, and academics to see Russia’s cities as integrated systems.

They are also demonstrating that urbanization should embrace the needs of the people who drive it:


Recent Issues Surrounding Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica

Even though this basilica in Barcelona has been under construction for over 130 years, it seems no one had the proper paperwork or building permits! Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica is a UNESCO world heritage site that has been attracting more than 20 million people every year.

Now, after two years of negotiations, an agreement was finally met to correct the problem. The trustees of the church have agreed to pay the $41M in fees over a period of 10 years. The city can then fund public transportation, improve accessibility, and make other needed improvements to the surrounding area.

There is no sign that the lack of intelligence will surface anytime soon. The genius, way far to the left Mayor, Ada Colau, said the Basilica’s board had never worked with the proper permit. He continued his accusations claiming they failed to pay the taxes and fees for the construction, and never submitted the required paperwork for tearing down neighboring residential buildings. According to the church (via the Times), they were given a permit back in 1885 by Sant Martí de Provençals, which was an independent town at that time. Officials insist the construction should have received new paperwork when the town merged with the capital quite a few years later.

The construction project, that is now well-known as the non-permitted site, will be completed in 2026 which is approximately 100years since the death of the architect. Adding to everything else, it seems there is a great deal of controversy over whether this famous landmark still reflects the intentions of Gaudi and is expected to continue for some time.

A Little History

Construction started in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. When he retired in 1883, Gaudi took over the project using his own architectural prowess and engineering style. He chose to use a combination of Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau design. Gaudi devoted his entire life to this project and when he died, he was buried in the crypt. He died in 1926, at 73 years-of-age, after being run over by a streetcar and only a quarter of the project had been completed.

Sagrada Familia’s progress was very slow due to relying on private donations and then interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. Construction then resumed in the 1950s but very slowly. Sine 1882, there have been huge advancements in technology including computer design and computerised numerical control or CNC, which has greatly improved progression. The construction actually passed its midpoint in 2010 but some of the project’s greatest challenges are still unresolved. There are supposed to be 10 more spires, each representing an important Biblical figure in the New Testament. To date, it is believed Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica will be completed by 2026 on the hundredth anniversary of his death.

The basilica has experienced a long history of trials and tribulations including a major division of the citizens over the belief it would outshine Barcelona’s leading cathedral, the actual design itself, and those who believed Gaudi’s death totally disregarded his design. Then in 2007, it was proposed to build an underground tunnel in Spain’s high-speed rail to France but it was decided it could make the basilica unstable. Paraphrasing the art critic Rainer Zerbst, he believed it is impossible to find another building quite like this one in the history of art. Paraphrasing Paul Goldberger, he said it’s the most extraordinary interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.

Josep Maria Bocabella, the founder of Asociación Espiritual de Devotos de San José, was so inspired by the basilica, he wrote The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia.

In 1872, after visiting the Vatican, Bocabella returned home with thoughts of building a church inspired by the basilica at Loreto. The apse crypt of the church was funded through donations and work began on March 12, 1882, which was the festival of St. Joseph. The design was that of Francisco de Paula del Villar who wanted a Gothic revival church in a standard form. The apse crypt was completed before Villar’s resignation in 1883 and then taken over by Gaudi who drastically changed the design. Although he was not appointed Architect Director until 1884, Gaudi started work in 1883.

Sagrada Familia Basilica

The Construction

Regarding the ever slow construction, Gaudi commented that his client was not in a hurry. At the time of his death, only 15 to 20% of the basilica was completed. Work continued under the direction of Domènec Sugrañes i Gras then ceased due to the Spanish Civil War in 1936. During the war, areas of the basilica were burned along with Gaudi’s models and workshop. The design presently being used is based on a reconstructed version of his plans that were also burned in the fire and some modern adaptations have been incorporated. Since 1940, Francesc Quintana, Isidre Puig Boada, Lluís Bonet i Gari and Francesc Cardoner continued the work and the illumination was designed by Carles Buïgas.

Current Members Of The Project

The current director, Jordi Bonet i Armengo, is the son of Lluís Bonet. In the 1980’s he is the one who brought in computers for the designing and construction phases. In 2012, native-born Jordi Fauli took over as the chief architect. Currently, Mark Burry serves as the Executive Architect and Researcher and sculptures created by J. Busquets, Etsuro Sotoo and Josep Maria Subirachs now decorate the façades.

Moving Forward

As of 2000, the central nave vaulting was finished and the main challenge since then has been the construction of the transept vaults and apse. As of 2006, the focus has been on the crossing and supporting structure of the main tower of Jesus Christ and the southern enclosure of the central nave which is known as the Glory façade.

The Sagrada Familia Schools building, designed by Gaudi in 1909, share the site with the church. This building was designed for children and construction workers and then moved in 2002 from the eastern side of the site to the southern corner and is now home to an exhibition.

In Conclusion

Since it’s original birth over 130 years ago, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica has gone through many difficulties and yet is still going strong. This church has lived through a war, human disagreements, and numerous architects but still holds on to its own. As a UNESCO world heritage site, this incredible building will be completed in 2026, a testimonial to human endeavor and perseverance.