Power & Architecture: Who has the right to the City?

15 Apr 2019 - Viewpoint

University of Westminister 15th April 2019

Opening with an image of the burning tower of Grenfell, Yasmin Shariff spoke out to urge architecture students to tackle climate change, misogyny and racism. Her concerns focused on how architects are marginalised and the opportunity to design the city to be inclusive, been virtually snuffed out.

Located in the richest borough in the country, in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, Shariff explained that Grenfell disempowered citizens in a brutal act of urbicide. Built to provide decent social housing, Grenfell was vandalised by incompetent and powerful agents of state through acts of incompetence, greed and prejudice. The residents of Grenfell have had their rights to the city extinguished. The loss of life is a tragedy too distressing to speak about.

Power in London remains strongly guarded by aristocracy, corporations, academia and the state. Relatively recently in the last few decades, foreign investment has poured into London as it is seen as a safe and tax free haven- commodifying housing and the city. The main reason for housing in London is to provide shelter for funds not people. ‘Public’ spaces and new developments are increasingly privately owned by the global elite. The rights to the city are mainly determined by a white male network of MIPINised agents of monopoly board players with no interest in diversity or climate change.

Architecture students are under great pressure. A seven year course to registration is unacceptably expensive. Even worse most students won’t even make it to registration. Imagine if medical students trained for seven years and most of them failed to register as doctors. Power will rest with the elites as long as the we are complacent and compliant with the existing system. Universities do not train architectural students with the essential skills needed to tackle social inequality, diversity, and climate change. It is time for change.

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