Architects for Social Housing: For a Socialist Architecture (Ask These Questions)

Architects for Social Housing: For a Socialist Architecture (Ask These Questions)


July 2019 - December 2019

Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is a Community Interest Company from London, England, that organizes working collectives for individual projects. Their unifying principle is that refurbishing and increasing the housing capacity on London’s council estates, rather than demolishing and redeveloping them as properties for market sale, is a more sustainable solution to the housing needs of London’s communities. 

ASH has produced design alternatives to demolition for six London housing estates. Between 2015 and 2017 ASH led Open Gardens Estates, a London-wide annual event hosted by 17 estates threatened with demolition. ASH has published over 200 articles, reports, presentations and case studies on their website, which include The Truth about Grenfell Tower (July 2017), Mapping London’s Estate Regeneration Programme (September 2017), and The Costs of Estate Regeneration (November 2018).

After nearly five years of operation, ASH takes its Fellowship with 221A in order to reflect and restrategize around the civic housing crisis that has afflicted London, and most other cities in the global North West. The founding members, Geraldine Dening and Simon Elmer, will spend a month in residence in Vancouver, mid-July to mid-August, where they will host four public workshops at Pollyanna 圖書館 Library and draft a manuscript for a forthcoming publication entitled, For a Socialist Architecture (Ask these Questions). Throughout this period of work in Vancouver, and until they publish the manuscript later in the year, ASH will consult, learn and share their strategies for organizing and proposing meaningful alternatives to existing policy, urban planning and architecture, which puts long-term and fixed income neighbourhood residents at greatest risk.

Research Preface

Throughout their workshops and writing, ASH will problematize the liberal notion of the 'Right to the City,' which is based in human rights that guarantee, in principle, our right to compete in the market free of prejudice based on gender, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation, but not on socio-economic status. The limitations of these 'rights' are most clearly manifested in the housing crisis with the right to return.

This is accorded to both tenants and leaseholders evicted from their homes due to redevelopment, and this right is entirely conditional upon residents' financial ability to afford increases in rent and sale prices, in a context where land speculation is sufficient enough to exclude them from doing so. Rights, here, are nothing more than the right, for example, to rent or own a property at market cost.

Further details will follow on ASH’s public workshops at Pollyanna 圖書館 Library, which will take place each Friday afternoon, July 19 - August 9, 2019.

Preliminary principles for a socialist architecture

  • A socialist architecture must be critical of, and involve itself in, the funding, procurement, design, construction, management, maintenance, use and re-use of its product, which must take precedence over the purely formal qualities of the architectural object.
  • A socialist architecture must take the refurbishment of existing homes, the improvement of communal amenities and, where possible and with the agreement of existing residents, the infill of additional housing as its default option in any housing scheme, rather than the current orthodoxy of demolition and redevelopment.
  • A socialist architecture must consider the impact of, and respond to, the social, financial and environmental costs of its product, to both users and those affected by it, from the moment of its proposition through the lifetime of its use and after.
  • A socialist architecture must prioritise the use-value of its products over their exchange-value as commodities.
  • A socialist architecture must interrogate the client’s brief, and be prepared to reject a commission when it fails to produce the option best suited to the needs of the users of its products.
  • A socialist architecture must apply political and cultural pressure for the legislative and policy changes that will make it possible to further socialist practices within our current capitalist system.

Over the summer of 2019, as part of ASH’s Fellowship they hosted four lectures held on Friday afternoons between 19 July and 9 August, where they presented their thoughts about the necessity and possibility of a socialist architecture under capitalism. 221A invited individuals based in Vancouver to co-present at each of these lectures, These lectures were conceived as a forum in which they could present to and hear from residents, campaigners, academics, students, architects, environmentalists, planners, economists, developers, politicians and others affected by or involved in the housing crisis, both local and global.

Project Support

Province of British Columbia