A group known as Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is gaining attention after stating its intention to hold a protest at the RIBA Stirling Prize Award ceremony tomorrow evening. Their protest is directed at the shortlisting of NEO Bankside, the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners-designed luxury apartment complex on London's south bank, which they say "has not only broken every planning requirement for social housing in Southwark, but in doing so has set a very dangerous precedent for the mechanics of social cleansing in London."
ASH are far from the first to point out NEO Bankside's anomalous inclusion in the Stirling Prize. In a shortlist that is notable for five unassuming yet tasteful buildings, critics were quick to ask questions of the RIBA; in a round-up of opinions by The Architects' Journal, architecture critic of The Financial Times Edwin Heathcote remarks that NEO Bankside is there "to remind us how money is driving housing as asset class rather than home." Former director of FAT Sean Griffiths, meanwhile, makes a point to explain that his favorite, MUMA’s addition to the Whitworth Gallery, "was done for a budget that probably wouldn’t buy you a one bed flat in Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ Neo Bankside."
The most scathing remarks of the AJ's round-up come from Catherine Slessor, the former editor of The Architectural Review. Describing NEO Bankside as "cross-gartered silos of stratospherically priced non-dom accom depressingly emblematic of how London is turning into a coarser version of Paris (unaffordable core, atomised banlieus)," Slessor states that "you do have to wonder what goes on in the mink-lined bunker of [the RIBA Headquarters at] Portland Place these days."
With all of this discussion around the controversial project, it didn't take long for further scrutiny to arrive, with Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian publishing an in-depth evaluation of how the project's developers allegedly avoided the affordable housing obligations usually required by the local council.
For their part, ASH have provided further evidence for the prevailing stereotype of NEO Bankside as a development more subservient to abstract capital than local people. Using data collected by UK current affairs magazine Private Eye, they highlight that of the complex's 217 homes, 45 of them aren't owned by people at all but by foreign investment companies, most of them registered in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands.
However BD's Amanda Baillieu has countered the views of ASH, arguing that in the fight against gentrification "NEO Bankside, despite being very expensive with many of the apartments bought by foreigners, is not the right building to pick on. No community has been displaced – there were some warehouses on the site – and while the apartments are out of the reach of ordinary Southwark residents... they are out of reach for most of us."
Whether ASH's protest will have an effect on the Stirling Prize, the RIBA, or architecture as a whole remains to be seen. But for the first time in Stirling Prize history, those inside Portland Place on Thursday night will have to share the spotlight - and control over the future of British architecture - with those standing outside.
For more information about the protest plans of Architects For Social Housing, visit their Facebook page.
Correction update: Following contact from developers Native Land and Grosvenor, this article has been amended to state that Oliver Wainwright's article for the Guardian evaluates "how the project's developers allegedly avoided the affordable housing obligations usually required by the local council" (emphasis added to show additions). These changes were made because it was not ArchDaily's intention to make any new accusations, simply to summarize existing ones. It should be noted, however, that this change does not necessarily imply an endorsement of the developers' side of the debate, and what their social housing obligations were and should have been remains a highly disputed issue. Readers can make up their own minds by reading Oliver Wainwright's article and Native Land's press release about their social housing provision for both sides of the argument.