Sharks and rooftop pavilions: Time for planning laws 'middle way'

'Potemkin Theatre', 2019 by Maich Swift

'Potemkin Theatre', 2019 by Maich Swift - Credit: Antepavilion

Ever since Julius Caesar invaded Albion in AD 43 and set about rebuilding and regulating Londinium, there has existed a tension between a landowner’s right to build what they like, and the authorities attempts to regulate them.

Planning laws since this time have steadily accumulated, leading to regulations that increasingly seek to control and regulate everything from the size of a building, its architectural style and even material.

Planning regulations are commonly held then to be a bad thing, as laws that stop us doing what we want, from choosing to paint your house a zany colour to extending your home, are clearly resented by all. 

Contrary to popular opinion though, planning regulations have radically improved the lives of many people throughout its long history. 

'HVAC', 2017 by PUP architects

'HVAC', 2017 by PUP architects - Credit: Jim Stephenson and Antepavilion

In more recent times, planning regulations have for instance, required architects and house builders to provide adequately sized rooms, windows large enough to avoid dark and under ventilated spaces, modern kitchens and bathroom facilities.

It’s maybe hard to imagine then what it would be like to live in a house with an outside toilet and no bathroom or central heating. But such conditions were common before the Second World War and it’s mainly due to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act that local authorities could start to require that new houses and flats be designed to the best modern standards.

However, the test of any law in a liberal democracy, is how it is used to both maintain high community standards, whilst also not inhibiting creativity and individual everyday actions.

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A good example of the tension between the state and the individual are the Antepavilion projects commissioned by Shiva, who have for the last four years been realising through open competition, a series of self-build experimental structures on the banks of the Regents Canal in Haggerston, in apparent contravention, according to Hackney Council, of the local planning regulations.

'Sharks', 2020 by architect Jaimie Shorten

'Sharks', 2020 by architect Jaimie Shorten - Credit: Antepavilion

The projects range from ‘H-Vac’, a rooftop pavilion by PUP architects, ‘Air Draft’, an inflatable space on a steel barge by Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers, ‘Potemkin Theatre’, a rooftop performance space by Maich Swift and ‘Sharks’, a series of life-size fibreglass sharks that appear to emerge from the canal (currently at a temporary home at Islington Boat Club in the City Road Basin), by architect Jaimie Shorten.

Hackney Planning Department claim however, that a number of the pavilions have contravened the local planning regulations, and so in each case, Hackney Council has issued a planning enforcement notice to attempt to get the various pavilions removed, in the face of much local opposition and the obvious cultural significance of each of the pavilion projects. 

The Antepavilion project may show then how the current planning regulations, which although in principle are made and enforced for the public good, can sometimes nevertheless be applied in a doctrinaire fashion, with the result of perhaps promoting legal rectitude over a local culture of artistic and entrepreneurial experimentation.

I wonder therefore if a middle way can be found by all parties, to allow the Antepavilion projects to continue to delight and inspire and add to the creatively anarchic, but always positive diverse culture of Hackney, whilst also allowing local planning laws to be maintained? As I for one, am certainly looking forward to seeing the next pavilion!

'AirDraft', 2018, by Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers

'AirDraft', 2018, by Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers - Credit: Jim Stephenson and Antepavilion

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