Lawyer Monthly - Legal Awards 2019

19 LEGAL AWARDS 2019 | WWW.LAWYER-MONTHLY.COM United Kingdom Trowers & Hamlins LLP By 1984 Hulme Crescents had become so despised that Manchester City Council, which lacked sufficient funds to demolish the housing scheme, stopped housing new council tenants there and stopped charging rents from existing tenants. At this point the properties quickly became of interest to impecunious students from the nearby Manchester University. I can recall the occasion when after a hard day spent in the architectural studio designing pods I returned home to the flat in Hulme I shared with other students to be confronted on the doorstep by what appeared to be two astronauts in white space suits and full breathing apparatus. Having introduced themselves, the astronauts, it transpired, were not from NASA but were council workmen in full protective suits replacing a defective wall mounted kitchen fan in the neighbour’s flat next door. These kitchen fans were modest bits of kit measuring 6 inches across but it took the two astronauts two whole days to remove, dispose of and replace a single fan. Why? Well it turned out that the kitchen walls that the fans were mounted in were made of asbestos. After central government provided Manchester City Council with enough funds, the Hulme Crescents were eventually demolished between 19931995, a mere 20 years after they were built. Hulme has subsequently undergone a £400m redevelopment programme with input from the residents, most of whom have elected to return to traditional forms of terraced and semi-detached housing. Ronan Point – East London Ronan Point was one of a range of tower blocks built throughout the 1960s as cheap, affordable, prefabricated housing for the less well-off inhabitants of East London. The 22 storey tower was built using a technique known as “Large Panel System” building (LPS) which made use of large, concrete prefabricated sections which were cast offsite and then bolted together onsite. Ronan Point opened in 1968 after two years of construction. Two months later an explosion in a gas stove in a corner flat on the eighteenth floor demolished the load bearing flank walls of the flat. Those flank walls were supporting the four flats above and what happened next was the sudden progressive collapse of that corner of the building. Four of the 260 residents were killed and 17 were injured. The government enquiry into the tragedy decided that Ronan Point’s designers had complied with the building regulations current at the time however the regulations were subsequently altered to prevent similar designs being used in future. Ronan Point was rebuilt, but subsequent investigations revealed that significant remaining construction defects had left unfilled gaps between floors and walls throughout the building which were hidden only by skirting boards and wallpaper; loads from structural concrete wall panels were not spread evenly along supporting panels and instead were taken up by point loads the concrete had never been designed to withstand; and strengthening put in during the rebuild was in turn found to be entirely inadequate in its method of attachment to the original building. In 1986, the Council eventually evacuated Ronan Point, demolished it and followed up by demolishing a further nine blocks on the same housing estate comprising some 1,000 flats. The area was subsequently redeveloped with two storey houses with gardens. It is estimated that there are some 1,500 buildings like Ronan Point still standing in the UK. So the history of “modern” approaches to building homes in the UK has not been a happy one. As one well known architectural critic put it: “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe: when it knocked down our buildings it did not replace them with anything more offensive than rubble. We did that.” HRH Charles, Prince of Wales (In a speech to the Corporation of London Planning and Communication Committee at Mansion House, 1987). However I would defy anyone who has ever actually spent any time labouring in the freezing mud and rain of a building site in the depths of a British winter (and I can find no comments from anyone with HRH in their title directly on this point) not to have asked themselves if there is perhaps a more efficient way of going about building homes than by placing one brick on top of another. To avoid the unfortunate connotations associated with the word “modern” perhaps we would be better off calling “Modern Methods of Cathederal Tower Front elevation

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