Monday, 25 July 2011
A load of rubbish - paladins and Palladio
It's unsightly to have a collection of rubbish bins right next to your front door - and unpleasant, and smelly - but many homes in London have to put up with this. Here is a terrace of houses on a main road in north-west London - Finchley Road in the London Borough of Barnet - where outside every door there are several bins - on a permanent basis, as far as I could tell.
'Dignity never been photographed', according to Bob Dylan - it certainly hasn't been here. This is no way to live, and I bet refuse was dealt with in a more dignified way fifty years ago. Getting rid of waste and sewage is one of the basics of civilised city life - it is common to hail Bazalgette as a greater hero of Victorian building than any mere architect - but here is an area where progress has gone into reverse. Across much of Hackney, massive plastic bins sit outside the fronts of houses right next to already obtrusive but now redundant purpose-built bin enclosures that are not high enough. Bins permanently on the street have become a commonplace sight as methods of collection have been reorganised, and no thought appears to be given to the consequences for people's homes or home lives.
Any half-decent architect could come up with a solution that would suit the requirements of the collectors while providing the amenity that a householder ought to be entitled to. Local authorities do not seem prepared to make any effort - but is it likely that the people in charge would think of it as a design problem, and if they did, would they think of architects as the people to sort it out?
Might architects be seen as (1) having loftier things on their minds and (2) not much good at the practical stuff? Probably - and if so, they should be doing something about this image problem if they want to survive. One of the pleasures of design review meetings is to see a concept-heavy presentation followed up by a Q and A which begins with a question about the bin store is. The ideas merchant looks affronted - but he shouldn't. A greater readiness on the part of architects to pay attention to problems that are lower down the hierarchy of needs might result in a greater readiness on the part of clients to let them spend their time on things that are higher up. Architects need to understand paladins as well as Palladio - if they could show that they did, they might get more work, and the world might be a better place in all sorts of little, practical, everyday ways that taken together, make a big difference as to whether city life is civilised or brutish.