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Who cares if a building has failed - as long as it wins architectural prizes...

My old sparring partner David 'I nationalise old things' Lammy has done it again: he has given a grade II* listing to Newcastle's Byker Estate. I cannot pretend to be enormously au fait with all things Novocastrian, so this calls for a little digging.

Lammy reckons: "The Byker estate is an extraordinary and outstanding piece of architecture which has won awards and attracted attention throughout its life. Its influence, both on design and the way we involve communities in the planning process, has been profound".

Carol Pyrah of English heritage, about whom I could uncover nothing of note comments, "English Heritage is delighted that the Byker Estate, one of the nation's most important 20th century housing schemes, has been listed. The Estate's groundbreaking design has been influential across Europe and has proved a pioneering model for its approach to public participation. Residents of the Estate and Newcastle City Council have long recognised the architectural value of Byker".

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Although one would expect architectural merit, however defined to be the key issue in a discussion of listed status, there is not a mumbling word to be said about what it is like living there. So....


"Byker has suffered the kinds of the social problems common to other inner-city urban housing areas, including juvenile crime and vandalism. In parts of Byker turnover of tenancies is high and limits on the money available for maintenance and repairs has led to further deterioration. Neighbourliness has been undermined as families have moved away - particularly those in employment. Some shops and services have been abandoned and boarded up. Open landscaping invites vandalism and youth crime includes break-ins and muggings. In the mid-1990s it has been estimated one in three of Byker's adult inhabitants was unemployed.

The demand for rented accommodation in Byker is depressed. There has been a general decline in demand to rent council housing across Newcastle upon Tyne city. In some parts of the Byker estate it may be possible to convert dwellings into family homes with defined gardens for which there is greater demand. It should be noted that house prices in Newcastle are lower than many other British cities and there is a good supply of rented housing in 'upmarket' areas such as Heaton and Jesmond where there has been considerable gentrification". Source


It was also the home of 'Ratboy': "The six-year criminal career of a youth known nationwide as Ratboy was halted yesterday when he was locked up for four years. Kennedy was nicknamed Ratboy because, when frequently on the run after absconding from council care, he used to hide in central-heating ducts in the Byker Wall flats complex. He generally targeted old people and was finally caught by police as he climbed from the window of the home of an 84-year-old man". Source

I have a vague race memory of another prize winner, James Stirling, having designed public housing which also proved hellish to live in.

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Anonymous Anonymous said... 12:10 pm

There are lopts of example of listed buildings that should be knocked down simply because they have no merit of interest. You can imagine the sort of people who decide which should be .

I remeber a radio interview abaout the amount of miney that is wasted keeping up buildings that are good example of the 1960s moderne thast were not built well enough to stay up in the first place.  



Blogger Croydonian said... 12:31 pm

My 'favourite' is the listing of the gasometers that overshadow the Oval. What a great use of prime real estate - industrial 'heritage'.....  



Anonymous David Allen said... 12:45 pm

Byker is so beloved of the architectural heritage Left because its development followed a collectivist model _ hence the "pioneering model for its approach to public participation" line from the shadowy wonk at English Heritage. Many a worthless thesis has been mis-earned off the back of Byker.
With regards to listing, historical significance is also sometimes (rightly, I think) a sufficient cause for listing, regardless of architectural merit. One wonders how Byker qualifies on either count. it must however inspire everyone who passes by it to feel relived when they get home to their Victorian terrace or developer new-buiild in Jesmond or Heaton tho...  



Blogger Croydonian said... 12:57 pm

And naturally the Left can play all their favourite games with social housing and so forth, as a council estate does not have to rely on anything approaching a supply / demand model.

Funny how private developers never create anything quite like Byker or Parson Cross etc etc....  



Anonymous Anonymous said... 1:02 pm

historical significance

Yes of course which comes under the heading "Interest" but a lot of buildings are preserved because they have some questionable significance to the history of "Architecture ",in the 20th century.Itself a narrative available only after special pleading
This is not "of interest ". All buildings have a place in the history of architecture being typical of something or other. I camn see space for one or two but not torrents of crud at huge expense.

"Historical interest" should not apply exceptwith the provenance of specific events out side the 2oth century. When you think of the people on these boartds, and what they did to the urban landscape of the country in their youths ...well!
I heard an architect saying that meeting a British architect active in the 60s and 70s is like meeting someone who was about the right age in germany during the ......etc.
I take the Godwin`s law prize for today thankee kindly  



Blogger Croydonian said... 1:09 pm

Consider yourself crowned with the laurel wreath.  



Anonymous David Allen said... 1:20 pm

C is right about "the Left can play all their favourite games with social housing and so forth, as a council estate does not have to rely on anything approaching a supply / demand model"
But come 'Right To Buy' in the 80's, this became a matter of 'design (excuse the ghastly pun) rather than being simply a happy coincidence for experimental Lefty architects. Local authorities (and housing associations pre-emptively) began deliberately to design social housing that looked nothing like the private sector developer model as a 'shark repellant' to RTB. In other words, try and make the place look as UNLIKE anything which a fledgling bourgeois might want to exercise their RTB over. Make it a guaranteed turkey on the private resale market. Hence the explosion in wacky designs, bizarre colour schemes, 'non-traditional' methods of construction _ and at all costs minimise or eliminate convenient/ secure parking!  



Anonymous Anonymous said... 1:26 pm

Funny how private developers never create anything quite like Byker or Parson Cross etc etc....

The lefts response to that is that planning permission makes the supply of land artificially restricted and given a free market they would. Subsidised housing is therefore a correction to the markets imperfection.

Nonsense in my view ;there is ample land but noone wants to build there. In any case I cannot see how making an imperfect market even worse can possibly be solving something unlesss, as I suspect its a super stealth tax on Property owning .

It is then as we first thought a means of wealth redistribution with its largest impact on marginal gain for working mortgage payers.

It has , in my view , many knock on bad affects and if I had to pick the central problem of contemporary Britain it is the housing policy  



Anonymous hg said... 2:04 pm

I didn't think there is a housing policy any more; where is it set out?

A lot of the London housing stock looks dreadfully run down when casually observed from the trains. What's the matter with everybody's roof? Have a look next time from Thameslink for instance.  



Anonymous Anonymous said... 2:44 pm

HG- There is a "policy" consisting of guidleines and so on and it is enforced through the Town and Country Planning Act as amendments to it. It is arrived at centrally and then disseminated through regional bodies and finally via Coucils .It is very hard to know who to vote against as a representative of the GLA said to me .

You might be seeing the Caledonian estate which has 30 years of deferred maintenance . That is why Bills for £40 k and more are hitting the Leaseholders.The Estates of Islignton are out of control in every way



BTW HG hope all well in Oz but I thought you said you lived near St. Pancrass. You mentioned it when you were telling me off for dissing Rachel ..(ick) of North London...that was you was it not ?

As you were quite frosty I `m hoping not but much asI prize my HG fan club membership I still can`t stand that self congratulatory moo.

Sorry  



Blogger Croydonian said... 5:51 pm

Interesting thoughts, for which thanks.  



Anonymous Mr R said... 9:44 pm

As a northerner whose parents were both Geordies i have been to byker and can categorically confirm it is a shithole. No-one in their right mind would choose to live there. Yes places like Jesmond have been gentrified but that is because some of the best schools in Newcastle are there - Church High for girls & Royal Grammer for boys. There's also some lovely large Victorian houses there too, although most of them have been converted into flats now.

HG - I agree, I take Thameslink every day and some of the roofs need a serious amount of work. perhaps if GB wasn't taxing everyone so heavily both directly and indirectly people could afford the proper upkeep of their properties.  



Anonymous hatfield girl said... 11:06 pm

N. 2.44 Guidelines aren't really a policy - no, gidelines aren't a policy at all. So presumably there isn't a housing policy so nothing and no-one can be got to grips with; like fighting jelly.

When was a housing policy abandoned? Margaret Thatcher had one, very successful too, but after that I can't think of anything except a lot of moaning about how wicked it is to let people, who paid as much in rent as in mortgages, buy out their houses.

Perhaps it's the lack of a post-Thatcher housing policy that has so warped people's household expenditure patterns? How can something as central as housing not have its own department?

On Rachel, she's the only one determined to get a proper inquiry; I think she's right in that. 'Frosty' is how 'still shocked' came out.

Mr R. Have you noticed the state of the pointing, and the bulging brickwork, and the bomb site impression from all those collapsing garden walls too? You're right, people are so squeezed and without choice they live in some pretty derelict buildings. It doesn't look like that coming into big stations in mainland Europe, generally very spick and span.

A housebuilding and house refurbishment policy would help.  



Anonymous hatfield girl said... 11:07 pm

N. 2.44 Guidelines aren't really a policy - no, gidelines aren't a policy at all. So presumably there isn't a housing policy so nothing and no-one can be got to grips with; like fighting jelly.

When was a housing policy abandoned? Margaret Thatcher had one, very successful too, but after that I can't think of anything except a lot of moaning about how wicked it is to let people, who paid as much in rent as in mortgages, buy out their houses.

Perhaps it's the lack of a post-Thatcher housing policy that has so warped people's household expenditure patterns? How can something as central as housing not have its own department?

On Rachel, she's the only one determined to get a proper inquiry; I think she's right in that. 'Frosty' is how 'still shocked' came out.

Mr R. Have you noticed the state of the pointing, and the bulging brickwork, and the bomb site impression from all those collapsing garden walls too? You're right, people are so squeezed and without choice they live in some pretty derelict buildings. It doesn't look like that coming into big stations in mainland Europe, generally very spick and span.

A housebuilding and house refurbishment policy would help.  



Anonymous Mr R said... 12:07 am

HG - I haven't noticed the pointing but I have noticed the collapsing fences and bulging brickwork. An integrated workable housing policy would be a good idea but I can't see one forthcoming anytime soon from the idiots in power at present.  



Anonymous Anonymous said... 1:11 pm

Byker?

For Gawd's sake. Has any of you actually seen this excrescence? Go and google a few images, honestly, it's so awful it's almost funny.

In fact it's so bad, that in my house the well-known saying is rendered as "worse things happen in Byker".  



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