A year after Grenfell, quality in housing can wait no longer
Even before the Grenfell disaster many of us who work in housing had identified that delivering quality and performance in the built environment was a major issue – it has become so much more pressing in its aftermath. In April, I was delighted to be asked by the government to chair the opening session at its design conference Achieving Well-Designed Places. I emphasised that poor quality living conditions are a global challenge; that we won’t meet the needs and aspirations of a diverse population unless we have a diverse and appropriately empathic profession; and that improving society’s ability to predict and deliver buildings and places that reliably support human wellbeing is self-evidently a pressing need. It’s great to see the government and politicians backing the view that good design has a major role in solving the housing crisis, with a Cabinet seat for a housing secretary (at last) and a significant team at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government to tackle quality.
What do we mean by quality? Quality outcomes are those that we can show, with supporting evidence, benefit human wellbeing.
We must be clear that performance is about environmental sustainability, physical and mental health, education, economic success, community and a sense of belonging, and safety – and especially in these dark, post-Grenfell days, fire safety. Aesthetics, ‘poetry in the economical use of scarce resources’, as Ralph Erskine would say, is an important indicator of our success in weaving all these aspects together. We need to measure and evaluate these outcomes, feed them back and build a shared body of knowledge for success. And we need to engage with stakeholders and local communities, from the very start, so they have a meaningful voice in setting objectives and a say in delivery.
Touring the country, I have been struck by the efforts being made among local branches to collaborate on quality, nationwide. The issue is not just to ensure that important national documents such as the National Planning Policy Framework encapsulate adequate definitions of quality, but that we see local leadership setting out and enforcing quality standards and design codes in local and regional plans. That is why I am promoting initiatives to bring key stakeholders together to deliver best results.
A joint memorandum on procurement for sustainable quality outcomes between RIBA, CIOB and RICS aims to drive change in quality procurement at a time when policy makers, developers and local authorities are open to the lessons of poor procurement as never before. I’m developing the London Housing Expo, in collaboration with New London Architecture, the Design Museum and Future of London to showcase innovation in homes and placemaking and leave the capital a high quality legacy. I’d love to see RIBA branches working on similar projects.
As a first step towards more universal post occupancy evaluation I have asked the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group to work with others on an overlay on the Plan of Work that would enable all practitioners to set out a template with their clients for agreeing a process within their standard service offering. And I’m working with the Royal Town Planning Institute, Local Government Association and Chartered Institute for Housing on a project called ‘Future Place’ to champion best practice and actively support local authorities to improve the quality of their placemaking.
Improving the quality of our housing and communities will take action. RIBA and its members have access to the expertise and can articulate the solutions. When I meet the new secretary of state, James Brokenshire MP, I’ll be emphasising that if we don’t start improving quality now, before building many more homes, the opportunity will be lost.
On 11 December 2017 the RIBA Hearings Panel found Mukundkumar Dolatbhai Vashee of London guilty of breaching the RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, in particular: Principle 2.1, Principle 2.2 and Principle 2.3, in that he failed to undertake an accurate survey of the property sufficient to enable a viable scheme for planning purposes. The errors regarding site dimensions were significant and had a significant impact on the scheme as drawn for planning purposes. The panel decided that the appropriate sanction was a retrospective suspension of membership for a period of six months, which has now been deemed served.
On 29 November 2017 the RIBA Hearings Panel found Laura Petruso of London guilty of breaching the RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, in particular: Principle 1.4 and Principle 2.1, in that she was party to a conflict of interest and did not either remove its cause or withdraw from the conflict. There was a conflict of interest in that she was both the architect for the build and a director and shareholder of the contractor company. This was in circumstances where the building contract she endorsed required a Contract Administrator; a role that the contract stated the contractor company would fulfil. The panel decided the appropriate sanction was suspension from membership for six months.
On 14 December 2017 the RIBA Hearings Panel found that Igho Tabor of London was guilty of breaching the RIBA Code of Professional Conduct, in particular: Principle 1.1, Principle 1.2, Principle 1.4, Principle 2.1, Principle 2.3 and Principle 3.5 in that she failed to comply with an adjudicator’s decision and repayment schedule and failed to respond to a complaint/dispute appropriately. Further, the potential for a conflict of interest was created due to Ms Tabor’s positions of responsibility including: project manager, contractor and architect. The panel found that the terms and conditions provided to her client were not sufficiently robust and she failed to adequately keep her client informed of the progress of a project. The panel decided that the appropriate sanction for this was suspension from membership for a period of 24 months with the requirement that Ms Tabor only be eligible for reinstatement following the completion of 35 hours of targeted CPD training.