A letter to the Architect’s Journal:

Wayne Hemingway’s lecture at this week’s affordable housing conference was a great start to the day. With perceptive observations that were very well presented, he was one of the few people to talk about how to deliver cultural sustainability in affordable housing as well as environmental sustainability. I was glad of the opportunity to raise some points during questions and would like to repeat them here for wider comment and make a further connection that I didn’t explain clearly on the day.

The request: that Wayne should endeavour to bring his message to students in the country’s schools. Whilst I have no doubt there are many architects that could present a similar position just as successfully, the fact is that when guys like Wayne speak, students listen.

The observation: that the problems highlighted in many of the examples of poor housing developments were the result of applying an urban sensibility to what should have been suburban solutions. My concern was that this was at odds with the infamous ‘Wimpeyfication’ letter to The Independent that had carried the title ‘Why I Hate Creeping Suburbia’. I was relieved to find that he’d suffered at the hands of the editor and in fact the opposite was true. He loved suburbia.

The connection: How long has it been since schools of architecture taught about suburbia? How many of us in that room could have professed an enthusiasm for, or interest in, suburbia? We spend our formative years being obsessed by the city and considering suburb as a dirty word freely interchangeable with that even filthier term, sprawl. We need to start teaching about suburban communities positively.

The proposal: Over the last couple of weeks we’ve all crept out of the woodwork and started shouting about how long we’ve loved Jane Jacobs and how important her 40 year old book is; and rightly so. One of the most interesting discussions I’ve heard so far was on radioopensource.org, during which one of the panel suggested that what we needed today was a Jane Jacobs of suburbia. I propose Wayne Hemingway steps up to the challenge.

Rob Annable

Axis Design Collective

Suggesting Wayne Hemingway could be in some way comparable to the mighty Jane Jacobs? That should get a few lively responses.