Christmas without a home in Sutton, London

Hundreds of households in Sutton are at risk of homelessness, according to recent statistics published by the government. Homelessness means not having a home, and whilst this is often associated with living on the streets (‘sleeping rough’), according to the homelessness charity Shelter, being homeless can also include staying with friends and family, in a hostel or bed and breakfast, or being at risk of violence or abuse in the home (known as ‘homeless at home’). Reasons for becoming homeless could be financial or social. People can become homeless due to eviction by a landlord, splitting up with a partner, the loss of a job, or family or friends asking the person to leave. Big cities such as London also tend to have higher rates of homelessness. The Covid-19 pandemic is also adding to financial hardship and it could have a knock-on effect. 

In the financial year 2019-2020, 871 households in Sutton were considered to be owed a duty from Sutton Council under new legislation, the Homelessness Reduction Act, to prevent homelessness or to provide relief from homelessness. Around 5 households per 1000 in Sutton were assessed as being under a threat of homelessness. The reasons for threatened homelessness included a change in personal circumstances, a landlord wishing to sell or re-let the property and family or friends no longer willing or able to accommodate them. Other reasons include a relationship breakdown with a partner, domestic abuse and the end of a private or social rented tenancy. Typically these situations lead to financial hardship. In 2018 Shelter placed Sutton in the top 50 local authorities for homelessness in England, at 35th in the national ranking. 

The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force in April 2018, imposes new duties upon local housing authorities to prevent homelessness and to provide relief measures to those who are homeless. The new legislation includes single adult households, who were not previously afforded protection as a priority need under the Housing Act 1996. This has resulted in a rise in single adult households receiving local authority assistance. These households are most likely to seek relief assistance when they are already homeless, whilst households with children are more likely to seek prevention assistance at an earlier stage, before homelessness. If a household is considered ineligible by the council or if they disagree with aspects of a decision, a person may ask for a review of the decision within 21 days of being notified. The decision will then be reviewed by a senior officer who was not involved in the original decision. 

There are currently around 1600 households in Sutton on the waiting list for council or housing association accommodation. The council makes clear that homeless people are unlikely to be placed in council housing due to the long waiting list. Instead those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness will be assessed by the council and assigned a caseworker. The caseworker will draw up a personalised housing plan to prevent homelessness or assist in finding new accommodation. This can include liaising with a landlord to resolve issues, contacting family or friends for temporary accommodation and assistance in finding employment or privately rented accommodation. The caseworker can also assist the person in making a claim for benefits or discretionary housing payments. They may be placed by the council into temporary accommodation, although the availability for this is limited.

With a long waiting list for council housing, temporary measures will only delay the problem. This is why charities such as Shelter are calling for a ‘New Homes Rescue Fund’ to build 50,000 social homes, particularly as the pandemic exacerbates the situation. Sutton Council, in its Homelessness Strategy 2020 report, noted that there was a ‘rehousing shortfall’, admitting that there was ‘insufficient housing to discharge the main homelessness duty’. This is the reason for the temporary accommodation measures, which currently provide homes to 700 households, possibly rising to 1,200 households in three years’ time. Sutton Council has stated in the report an objective of increasing council housing stock as well as working with private sector landlords to increase the amount of properties available in the borough, as well as reducing the reliance on temporary accommodation. Sutton Council has a programme of buying back ex-council stock and has returned over 100 properties through this programme. The council is currently looking at a new acquisition programme to increase social housing stock. It primarily deals with homelessness and housing advice though its trading company Encompass, and this year its total budgeted spend was over £2.5m.

In response to the increasing homelessness figures, Sutton Council has commissioned the charity St Mungo’s to assist people in Sutton experiencing homelessness. The three year contract, awarded in 2019, is worth £2.8 million and will provide services including housing and a tenancy support service. It will particularly assist single vulnerable adults who were considered at risk. Councillor Jayne McCoy said:

‘St Mungo’s will help us make sure single, vulnerable adults can continue to live independently. Increasing rents, low incomes, changes to the welfare system and personal challenges mean more vulnerable people face eviction. We’re ambitious for all Sutton’s residents, whatever their situation, and working with St Mungo’s will help us provide the employment, education and training support our most vulnerable residents need.’ 

Properties across 40 sites in Sutton will be included in this programme.

Sutton Night Watch, a homelessness charity in Wallington, has recently teamed up with the clothing brand Phase Eight to launch a new clothes outlet to generate income for the charity as they face challenging times, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The charity is currently handing out food parcels and attending local boot sales and fairs to raise funds. During the pandemic a local costume maker, Heather Filby, is donating money from face mask sales to Sutton Night Watch. However, the charity has seen its opening hours cut back during the pandemic and many homeless people have found themselves slipping through the cracks during this time. Fundraising events by the charity have been cancelled or scaled back, and donated items have had to be quarantined.

Sutton is also benefitting from the work of the charity Caysh, an organisation that specifically assists young people aged 16-21 who are often facing homelessness. It operates services in Sutton, as well as in Bromley, Croydon, Royal Greenwich and Lewisham. The charity works through a referral system, with referrals coming from local authorities. In Sutton its youth homelessness pathway can be accessed through the housing centre at Sutton Civic Centre. They offer lodgings, a housing pathway, and advice and support to help young people to live independently.

The implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 should go some way to alleviating the homelessness problem through its preventative and relief measures. Compared to inner city London boroughs such as Lambeth, Hackney or Tower Hamlets, the homelessness rate for Sutton is considerably lower. However, the rate for Sutton is higher than some boroughs outside of London. Homelessness in Sutton is very much a live issue, and the borough still has some way to go. The new St Mungo’s contract and the ongoing work of charities in the area are contributing towards the reduction of homelessness. However, many homes are living precariously at the edge of homelessness with tenancy issues, unable to make the rent. This Christmas, spare a thought for those hundreds of households in Sutton who are teetering on the edge of homelessness.

Installation art – a feast for the senses

Installation art is a relatively new artform. It is an immersive experience, whereby the viewer enters into a simulated, multi-dimensional world. Artworks in this genre can be seen in major art galleries including the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Notable contemporary installation artists include Olafur Elliasson, Bruce Nauman and Cildo Meireles.

Initially this artform was met with resistance from art galleries in the 1950s, and artists showcased their work in alternative, underground spaces. The first installations were called ‘environments’ or ‘happenings’ and artists such as Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman, part of the Fluxus movement, were among the first artists to showcase installations as part of artist collectives. Kaprow considered traditional art galleries to be ‘sterile’, preferring the ‘organic’ setting of spaces such as the Reuben Gallery and the Judson Gallery. These gallery spaces were rundown, and did not attract many visitors. Kaprow used second hand and found objects to create live environments and he was fascinated by the objects of everyday life. Interestingly, many Fluxus artists such as Kaprow had been influenced by the experimental composer John Cage, who also involved the audience in his works such as ’4”33’ a piece which is completely silent and instead focuses on the audience and the sounds of the room in which it is performed. This focus on the audience experience is central to installation art.

This art form does not easily lend itself to the commercial sphere. You are unlikely to see an installation at an art auction, for example. Installation art is notoriously difficult to exhibit and to reproduce. Many of these artworks are site-specific, created for the space in which they are exhibited. Installation art challenges the traditional art market and for this reason it is sometimes considered subversive. Galleries such as the Hansa Gallery were not part of the traditional, commercial art world and they allowed for more experimental artworks such as installation art. The non-commodifiable nature of installation art not only challenges the art market but also challenges the sense of ownership and property altogether. In this sense it questions so called “bourgeois” ideals. 

Dan Flavin: untitled (To A Man, George McGovern) 2, 1972

It has taken time for art galleries to accept this artform, although now they often dominate such spaces. As art academic Julie Reiss notes, ‘by the end of the 1980s it had become widely prevalent in the art world, and its status became that of an accepted genre that was not only accommodated but actually sought after by major museums.’ Installation art now forms a regular part of curators’ collections across the world and the general public is now more accustomed to seeing installation art in addition to Monet and Picasso. This reflects society, as we have embraced technological innovation so too we have accepted innovations in art. 

Installation art is inherently abstract. In this sense it is a logical progression from the abstract expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, who had turned painting away from the representational. The key difference is that installation art focuses its abstraction on space and perspective. This is a form of ‘decentering’, where the viewer is no longer dominant, choosing to cast their gaze upon a painting and interpret it, but is instead thrown into the artwork itself. The viewer walks through the artwork, experiencing different parts of it at different points in time. This time-based element places it closer to performance art than to painting. This ‘decentering’ aspect, a plurality of experience and multitude of perspectives when viewing installation art, has also drawn in feminist theory as it contrasts with the masculine centred gaze, where the world is presented in art to a centred, knowing subject. Installation art instead suggests that the subject is fragmented, that perception is fluid and changeable and our experience of art is likewise fragmented. There is no single way of viewing the world, and to say that there there is only one viewpoint is hegemonic. In this sense installation art is emancipatory. 

These artworks are also known for their scale. Take Olafur Elliasson’s ‘The Weather Project’, that filled the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, or Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Sunflower Seeds’, exhibited in the same venue, for example. Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds, each meticulously hand painted, brings up notions of mass production and the factory assembly. It is the scale of these projects that leaves an indelible impression upon the viewer, a sense of expanse and overwhelm that causes you to ponder and reflect on the world. 

Multimedia is a common feature in installation art. The ‘dead room’, a darkened room with black sound proofed walls, video screens and speakers is specifically designed to accommodate multimedia artworks in art galleries. Art is now becoming increasingly mediated, existing along a continuum of media. Light, sound and video as well as sculptural elements and writings are now typically encountered in a work of installation art. For example, Bruce Nauman is known for making use of neon lights and words to create provocative and thought-inspiring pieces. He is also known for his video installation of a raging clown, known as ‘Clown Torture’ (1987), a piece that blurs the line between video art, performance art and installation. Steve McQueen is also known for his controversial video installations, such as Illuminer (2001) where a man watches a video about soldiers in Afghanistan in a hotel room, bringing up questions about surveillance and control. 

Bruce Nauman: The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths (1967)

Art has often been used as a political medium, and installation art particularly lends itself to political messaging. Some academics have suggested that by requiring the spectator to be ‘activated’ when viewing the piece, a form of democratisation is taking place. Art is no longer kept at a distance, to be revered, but is messy, chaotic and participatory. Installation art encourages independent thinking, questioning the art gallery space. It challenges, stimulates and provokes the viewer with the unexpected. It places the artist, the gallery, and the viewer on the same level. It is antagonistic, creating a relationship between the viewer and the artwork, whether they wish to be in dialogue or not. A viewer will leave an exhibition of installation art thinking differently, feeling differently and seeing the world differently. The viewer’s consciousness is very much a part of the artwork itself; the artwork is only one part of the experience, the rest being distinctly unique to the viewer. In this sense installation art resembles life, as we navigate our experiences through the world, installation art leaves us with a similar sense of disorientation. 

Cildo Miereles is a Brazilian installation artist, whose piece Red Shift (1967-84) is an installation spanning three rooms in which all the objects are red in colour, creating a visual sensory overload. Babel (2001) is a large scale installation consisting of a tower of second-hand radios, whilst Missao (1987) is an installation that deals with the religious conversion of the indigenous Tupi-Guarani to Catholicism, made of coins, communion wafers, cattle bones and black cloth. Brazil was under a harsh military dictatorship until the 1980s, making it difficult for Miereles to create artwork of this kind during that time. 

Cildo Miereles: Babel (2001)

Rirkit Tarivanija’s installation art pieces were created with the idea of groups of people participating in the artworks. This social element, of human interaction, is a key element of his style. He is known for ‘live’ installations, with actions such as cooking in a kitchen in his piece Untitled (tomorrow is another day) (1997). This style of installation art became known as relational aesthetics, and is focused on active participation rather than solitary contemplation. The works are distinctly egalitarian; through giving freedom to the viewer to participate, the artwork is no longer in a hierarchical relationship.

Finally, something should be mentioned about the body when discussing installation art. Embodiment, where perception and sensory experience inform how you interpret and perceive your surroundings, is a more recent way of understanding our place in the world. Previously, the focus was on the mind as the centre of understanding. Installation art brings embodiment to the fore; the body is required to move through artworks to gain the full gamut of experience. So you must walk through the artwork and experience it at different points, as the body makes sense of it. 

To an extent, we are drawn to the spectacle when it comes to installation art. But that is not to downplay its deeper, more cerebral characteristics. Viewed alone or as part of a crowd, the works invite you to connect and to respond and react as you wish. It is not telling you what to think or feel (although sometimes there will be direction). Its use of media makes it inherently modern, as does its call for active participation. It is a fitting artform for the 21st century.

Coronavirus: the pandemic that caught the world unawares

Covid 19 is a new infectious viral disease. A severely acute respiratory illness (caused by coronavirus known as SARs-Cov-2), it is transmitted through air droplets from person to person. Symptoms include fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing. The virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China, and by the time it came to public attention it had already spread across the world, quickly turning into a worldwide pandemic. This is in contrast to the SARs virus outbreak of 2002 (SARs-Cov), which was contained in Asia.

The elderly and those with underlying health conditions are particularly likely to develop severe health problems with fatal consequences if they contract Covid 19. Allowing herd immunity to develop through natural means, whereby the disease spreads until a significant proportion of the population becomes immune, would result in many deaths. Scientists are instead working towards a vaccine to achieve herd immunity. 

Once it became clear that the disease was easily spread through human contact, governments across the world quickly imposed movement restrictions to limit its spread. The harshest measures require people to stay indoors and minimise contact with others, known as a lockdown. This has resulted in adverse economic and social consequences.

The number of cases of coronavirus worldwide. Source: Johns Hopkins University.

Effect on the economy

Businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic due to the lockdowns taking place worldwide. In the retail sector, consumer spending relative to January 2020 was down by 30%, before gradually increasing as stores were reopened. According to the Altman-Z score, 33% of companies that were in good standing in 2019 are now considered to be in a grey zone or experiencing stress. The hospitality sector in the UK, for example, has suffered from extensive restrictions requiring them to close or only open during limited hours. 

It is difficult for businesses to plan during a crisis, and employee layoffs are a by-product of managerial fears in response to the pandemic. For example, in the United Kingdom the government has made attempts to stem the tide of unemployment through a ‘furlough’ scheme, whereby the government pays some of the employee’s salary in situations where there would otherwise be a risk of redundancy. The government scheme came into force in the United Kingdom in March 2020, at great expense for the government, who are spending an estimated £14 billion per month to support it. Following the introduction of further coronavirus restrictions in the United Kingdom, the scheme has been extended until 31 March 2021.

As lockdowns took hold, the stock markets began to see volatility from March 2020 onwards. For example, the UK FTSE 100 was particularly affected, dropping from a share price average of over 7500 in February 2020 to just under 5000 on 23rd March 2020. It is currently at 6400, in part buoyed by hopes of a vaccine. The Dow Jones, NASDAQ 100 and S&P 500 saw similar movements and it is likely that markets will continue to be jittery until the pandemic is over.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK saw a GDP drop of 19.5% in April 2020, improving slightly thereafter and by August it stood at 2.1% growth. This growth is 9.2% below the February 2020 level. World GDP is projected to drop in 2020 by 4.9%, according to the International Monetary Fund.

International trade has also been badly affected by the pandemic in the major economies. According to the World Economic Forum, China saw a severe drop in exports, from over $180 billion in January to under $80 billion in February. It has since recovered and now stands above $200 billion. The US and Germany also saw a fall in exports from $120 billion in January to $80 billion, with these countries taking longer to recover. 

Impact on working practices

In developed nations with internet access, another effect of the pandemic has been an increase in remote working for employees. For employees, an advantage of home working is the reduction in time spent commuting, and there are also advantages for those with child-care responsibilities. The costs to employers of renting and maintaining office space could be saved and this has generally led to a wider discussion as to whether remote working could continue after the pandemic. 

However, working from home is not without its drawbacks. High level negotiations are often better conducted in person and collaborative projects are slowed down by remote working. Whilst technology such as Zoom and Teams virtual meetings are now in wide use, spontaneous idea exchanges often occur in person. Rapport with colleagues is absent and isolation has increased. There is also the issue of not being able to ‘switch off’ from work, with employees working during the time they would normally be commuting and into the evening hours.

Social Impact 

The pandemic has had an impact on the mental health and social lives of those living under lockdown. With increased time alone, many are experiencing loneliness and the adverse mental health effects of isolation. According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK over two-thirds of people surveyed said that they were worried about the effect that coronavirus was having on their life and over 4 in 10 adults said their well-being had been affected by the virus. 57% percent of those surveyed said that they felt stressed or anxious. 

Those renting in inner cities in small apartments have had financial issues to deal with as well as a lack of space, and according to the ONS one in eight Britons lack access to a private or shared garden. The lack of easily accessible outdoor space can have a detrimental impact on wellbeing.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also warned that they will likely see a ‘tsunami’ of mental illness patients and that mental health services in the UK could potentially become overwhelmed by cases. Such cases are coming through as emergencies, as patients wait until they are at a crisis point before accessing mental health services. 43% of psychiatrists surveyed reported an increase in their urgent and emergency caseload.

Developing countries and Covid-19

There are also concerns for poorer countries during the pandemic. These countries are vulnerable to the coronavirus due to overcrowded living conditions and poor sanitation. Hospitals in African countries, for example, have less access to personal protective equipment (PPE). As of April 2020 there were just 2000 ventilators serving hundreds of millions in 41 African countries, according to the World Health Organisation, and 10 African countries had no ventilators at all. These countries will also have more difficulty accessing vaccines once produced, as richer countries have the means to develop, buy and store them. The World Bank has approved $12 billion in financing to this end and the World Health Organisation is seeking to ensure fair access to the vaccines world-wide.

The economic prospects for these countries, who were already struggling, has worsened as a result of the pandemic. For this reason the World Bank has called on wealthier nations to  temporarily suspend the debt obligations of countries currently facing hardship. Over 70 countries are currently eligible for the debt suspension and participants include Cameroon, Myanmar and Tanzania. The UN predicts that Mali will see a drop in GDP of more than 80 percent, with an additional 800,000 people living in poverty, whilst in Afghanistan it is predicted to drop by 7.4 percent. Poverty levels are expected to rise in Pakistan by 50 million to a total of 125 million, whilst in Lebanon poverty levels could reach 50 percent. 

A hunger crisis is also deepening as the pandemic continues. The UN World Food programme has warned of a looming hunger impact from Covid-19, affecting Africa as well as countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Asia. The pandemic has disrupted imports and supply chains for food and labour shortages in the agricultural sector could also affect harvests. Yemen, for example, was already receiving food aid before the pandemic and millions are now at risk of starvation as the pandemic has exacerbated the situation.

The UN in July 2020 put forward a Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan in recognition of 63 countries that would not otherwise have the financial means to support their economies through the pandemic. At $10.3 billion, the funding appeal covers health and non-health measures. Health measures include cover tests, PPE, essential health care services and mental health services. Non health aspects include water, sanitation and hygiene supplies, food and agriculture assistance, distance and home based learning support, and community engagement. Protection services for refugees, internally displaced persons, women’s sexual and reproductive health, gender based violence services, and logistical support are also funded under the scheme. 

Vaccine hopes

The pandemic has seen the world’s scientists coming together to find a vaccine in the hopes of achieving herd immunity amongst the population. This would mean an ‘epidemiological end point’ for the pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation, there are over 100 vaccines currently in development, with most of them at the human trial stage. The UK has just approved a vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech, whilst another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, is currently seeking US and European approval for its vaccine. Roll-out of these vaccines will take some months and their effects will likely be seen later in 2021.

Whilst the world awaits the vaccine, countries remain either in lockdown or under similar restrictive measures. There have been protests against what is perceived as a curtailment of civil liberties due to the strict nature of the restrictions. Meanwhile, the economy continues to be affected whilst populations across the world keep their distance from each other. 

The pandemic is one of the biggest threats to humanity aside from war and conflict. Never before has science had such power in society. We are all now acutely aware of the spread of disease and our daily lives are all affected. 2020 was the year of coronavirus, but 2021 might be the year of the cure.

France and the ‘Banlieue’

France’s ‘banlieue’ is a term often associated with the impoverished suburbs on the outskirts of cities such as Paris, known for mass public housing, crime and deprivation. They came to the attention of the media and the international public during the early 2000s, when civil unrest led to widespread rioting and arson. These ghettos became infamous as they burned, shining a light on the socio-economic divisions in French society. Civil disobedience in the suburbs was coupled with police brutality as they attempted to clampdown on the disorder, leading to claims of racism, as these areas were largely inhabited by North African populations, the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan African populations. More recently, these suburbs have been blamed for cases of Islamic radicalisation. 

The development of these suburban projects began after the end of the Second World War. Post-war France had a need for low-cost housing to rebuild the cities as the population grew. During the trente glorieuses, the three decades of economic growth following the war, mass housing became a part of the modernisation of France. From the 1950s to the 1970s, over 6 million new homes had been built in social housing estates, demonstrating the scale and speed of construction. This was not only peculiar to France but part of a global post-war renewal as also seen in Britain and the United States. 

The choice of architecture in these projects was heavily influenced by the famous modernist architect Le Corbusier. The Swiss-French architect was a pioneer of the International Style, consisting of repetitive forms, the rejection of ornate decorative elements and a preference for simple forms as well as the use of industrial materials such as concrete and glass. Le Corbusier developed the principle of Unité d’habitation, a residential housing principle that resulted in large-scale apartment blocks that were functional and typically high-rise.

Le Corbusier had a vision of multi-storey tower blocks in Paris, devising his ‘Plan Voisin’ in the 1920s. A controversial plan, it involved demolition of the current streets of central Paris to make way for uniformity in the form of distinctly modernist concrete high-rise blocks and skyscrapers,. Whilst the ‘Plan Voisin’ was never realised, some of the ideas and aesthetics can be seen in the functional housing developments on the outskirts of the city.

What was not envisioned, however, was that these spaces would turn into ghettos. During this time, a wave of immigrants from France’s former colonies began to settle in France and by the 1970s they began to occupy these social housing projects. Middle-class French families moved into home ownership through the state sponsorship of low-interest loans, and away from these areas, resulting in a social segregation.

As the social housing projects took demographic shape, policy was revised. Urban planning gave way to the realities of these lived spaces. Mass housing is inextricably linked with notions of welfare and by the 1980s the French government began to formulate social policies to tackle the social problems that had begun to occur in these areas. The ‘Urban policy for Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods’ was introduced in the late 1980s and was focused on improving community relations, rather than the construction and housing aspects. However, by the 1990s the policies had altered to redesign these neighbourhoods, resulting in the demolition of tower blocks to attract more affluent inhabitants. By 2000, a policy of social mixing had ensued. This social mixing policy required a certain proportion of social housing in municipal areas with mixed tenants in an attempt to reduce the social segregation that had occurred and promote an ‘urban renewal’, essentially to destigmatise the banlieue.

Whether the social mixing policy has worked is questionable. Due to the Republic’s motto of ‘Libertéégalitéfraternité ‘, census information about ethnicity was not included when formulating policy, but the reality is that these impoverished areas are home to large populations of ethnic minorities. Additionally, the policy of demolition has reduced the amount of affordable housing stock in these areas as part of the urban redesign. These areas are still deprived and the social problems remain. 

The geography of these housing projects is surprisingly specific and represents a spatial segregation along socio-economic lines. Paris is a stark example of this, with certain arrondissements considered to be ‘no-go’ areas.  Websites offer advice as to the areas to avoid, and these are largely in the Greater Paris region, such as the 93 in the north-east of Paris, Seine-Saint Denis, the poorest region in the country, as well as Clichy-sous-Bois where the 2005 riots began, and Grigny, in the southern suburbs of Paris. The north quarters of Marseille and communes such as Vénissieux and Saint Fons in Lyon follow a similar pattern. ‘La Haine’, a film by Mathieu Kassovitz, depicted life in the banlieue in the 1990s, portraying the lives of gang members and their interactions with the police. The banlieue, then, is a part of the social fabric of France, filtering into its cinema and art.

In central Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Seine are all synonymous with great history. These residential developments are noticeably absent from the city centre. These zones of social exclusion are hidden in plain sight, with ten million Parisians living in these suburbs in contrast to the 2 million living in central Paris. The government’s response to social unrest in these areas has been harsh policing and a zero tolerance approach. For example, former President Sarkozy, in response to the 2005 riots (then Interior Minister), said that he would clean the streets with ‘hoses’, to get rid of the ‘rabble’. Such words only serve to further the sense of alienation amongst these communities. In spite of his harsh rhetoric, in 2008 Sarkozy set out social programme of public spending in the poorest neighbourhoods in France, a so-called ‘Marshall Plan’. The three year plan included increased policing, job training for youths and further education opportunities for people living in these areas.

In 2018, President Macron rejected the idea of another ‘Marshall Plan’ to renew these suburbs, due to the fact that previous attempts have already taken place with only limited success. Instead he is taking a socio-economic approach that focuses on increased hiring by businesses of those who live in the banlieue and reducing discrimination in hiring practices as well as improving standards of education at primary schools. The measures follow a report produced by centrist minister Jean Louis Borloo, recommending vocational training, apprenticeships and renovations of dilapidated buildings.

The recent gilets jaunes movement that saw protests rage across France in 2019 has exposed to the world the gap between the rich and poor in France. Now with a spate of terrorist incidents in France there is a suggestion that Islamic radicalisation is taking place amongst the disaffected youth living in the banlieue. Such suggestions could further demonise the inhabitants of these impoverished areas, and it seems that the social schism is becoming harder to ignore.

The ‘banlieue’ is a fading remnant of modernist idealism. Whilst Corbusier is not entirely to blame, mass housing in this style didn’t take into consideration the everyday realities of the people who would come to live in them, stuck in a housing socio-economic trap, their lives dictated by their postcode. The broken window theory that keeps people in a cycle of poverty needs mending from the ground up so that these neighbourhoods are no longer swept under the rug. 

Tehran’s Architecture

Tehran is not a city one typically thinks of when considering architecture. The city has been known for its somewhat chaotic and piecemeal skyline, housing some 10 million people. Following the Islamic Revolution, the assumption is that there would not be room for modernisation amongst its skyline aside from religious monuments, but this is not the case. Whilst traditional Persian architectural elements persist, some with heritage status, a new wave of ultra-modern buildings has swept across the city, and it is home to skyscrapers such as the Tehran Tower.

The ancient period of Iran’s architecture is both pre-Islamic and post-Islamic. The Achaemenid and Sassanid periods saw buildings consisting of multicoloured mosaic tiles, domes and arches as well as ornate decorative elements such as the stucco. During the Safavid dynasty from 1500 to the 1700s, mosques, palaces and shrines were built. The city of Tehran was chosen as the capital of Iran in 1796, under the Qajar dynasty, and was a walled, gated and fortified citadel containing the main municipal buildings. 

The Golestan Palace in Tehran, previously the royal palace of the Qajar dynasty, is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an example of the ancient traditional architecture contained within the citadel, as is Nīāvarān palace. During this Qajar period architecture was ornate, with tiled geometric designs, mirrors and motifs, and included religious buildings such as Sepahsālār Mosque.

Pahlavi Modernism

In the 1940s, the Pahlavi dynasty came into power, bringing with it the opening up and modernisation of the city. Reza Shah ushered in elements of Western civilisation alongside more traditional references to the ancient history of Iran. This resulted in his founding of the National Monuments Council to preserve and restore historical monuments, as well as replicating ancient features in new buildings, resulting in a pluralism of styles. However Pahlavi also pulled down city walls and destroyed ancient buildings, getting rid of the citadel to create more open, public spaces. 

Reza Shah hired European-schooled architects and urban planners such as Vartan Hovanessian, Mohsen Forughi, Ali Sadegh and Gabriel Guevrekian. Wide boulevards were constructed further to the Road Widening Act and the state purchased homes to achieve this end, with Tehran becoming a network of wide avenues. The first skyscrapers were built in Tehran by 1941. 

Austrian American urban planner Victor Gruen had a significant influence on the city during the Pahlavi era. Gruen, who had been known for his design of US shopping malls, devised a master plan for Tehran in the 1960s under invitation by the government and in line with the top down modernisation programme.

The city of Tehran under Reza Shah became a city of public life in contradiction with the traditional Iranian culture and home life, which was previously private and introverted. Home life took place behind closed doors, and public life was kept to a minimum. There were few public spaces to congregate and to express openly. Over time, the culture became more extrovert, due to Western cultural influence. Entertainment venues and other public places were erected such as parks, cinemas and squares. Sporting stadiums and free primary and secondary schools were created, leading to a new urban middle-class. 

The Senate House built in 1955 under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, was designed by Heydar Ghiabi and Mohsen Foroughi. Ghiabi studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. It consists of modular concrete squares on the exterior, giving an impression of transparency, and is featured on the reverse of Iranian 100 rials banknotes. 

The Azadi Tower, a Tehran landmark, was also commissioned under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as part of the ‘White Revolution’ programme, and was completed in 1971. The building was designed by Hossein Amanat, an Iranian-Canadian architect who graduated from the University of Tehran. 

Islamic Revolution

Disillusion with the Pahlavi regime and the increasing Westernisation of Iran led to an Islamic Revolution in 1979 under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The result was a refashioning of infrastructure along the lines of Islamic faith. Buildings with non-Islamic symbols were demolished and the Committee of Cultural Revolution was formed to promote Islamisation of governmental bodies, with many architects leaving the country. The subsequent Iran-Iraq war also added complexity to the landscape. Following the war, new architecture began to emerge, with modern and international styles taking to the fore. The Navvab project was a large municipal project in post-revolutionary Iran, linking the north and the south of Tehran, consisting of high-rise apartments and bringing a distinctly modern aesthetic to the city. 

Whilst Pahlavi-era projects were halted, the architects that emerged following the 1979 revolution were trained by the previous generation, who in turn were trained in the European style during the Pahlavi period. It was also impossible to halt the influx of Western aesthetics due to globalisation. Many of the Pahlavi-commissioned projects also remain as landmarks in Tehran. The Milad Tower, or Tehran Tower, is an example of a Pahlavi-era commissioned project that was completed after the 1979 revolution. Opened in 2007, it is one of the tallest buildings in the world. 

Millennial Iran

More recently, new millennial Iranian architects have begun to contribute to the skyline. One example is Leila Araghian, who designed the Tabiat Bridge when she was 25 years old, with completion of the bridge in 2014. 

In particular, following the lifting of economic sanctions in 2016, new constructions have begun to take place. Next Office, Ayeneh Office, TDC Office and Keivani Architects are all part of the new wave of ultra-modern architecture sweeping through Tehran since the lifting of sanctions. The nascent contemporary architecture in Tehran does not necessarily have the design freedom of Western cities, due to the political and cultural factors that constrict the city. 

Since Donald Trump came into power in the United States, tensions between the US and Iran have heightened. This has led to the withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the nuclear deal). Whilst Iran is involved in such political and economic tensions, as was seen during the Iran-Iraq war, it is likely that the development of the cities will take a back seat. Architects will continue to build, but urban renewal might not be at the top of the agenda for Iran whilst the nuclear deal hangs in the balance. It will be interesting to see how Iranian architects navigate their desire for modernity in design with respect for the Islamic tradition and political uncertainty in post-revolutionary Iran.