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Source or be outsourced

Part 2 Project 2002
Keith Owen
University of Greenwich London UK
Source or be outsourced

At what point do the transparent layers of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) overlap to form an opaque mesh that can only be read from within? How can this blurred view be challenged to achieve a truly public architecture?

This project has taken a journey from the bottom up. The top being the most influential and powerful people in today’s worldwide society, at the bottom the London city commuter. It challenges the role of the architect as not just a designer of space but also an instigator of urban stimulation.

The journey

It starts with greed not of the individual but of the multinational. Money talks, a cacophony of voices cast a web across the 1st world dictating the living Patton’s of the individual’s world. The individual in this case is the London commuter potentially the most powerful link in a PPP set to break the architectural bank, as we know it!

Acquire a company for a pound. Outsource a valueless public facility, and generate a value in it for wealthy stock market based investors. Sell them a share option in these now commercially valuable facilities. Pass the option profit through the company as turn over. Give all profit to the downtrodden owner of the worthless facilities, so as to supply more of the now valuable facilities increasing turnover. Float company on stock market. Sell 49% of shares to wealthy stock market investors; distribute 51% of shares to general public at facility. Walk away with 49% of company value!


Keith Owen

The programme for 2001 – 02 was an extremely demanding one for students that had been taught architecture as refined detailing and had already achieved a high degree of dexterity in manipulating space and creating designs as speculations of future build ability. They had only to replay what they were doing in practice in order to answer the part 2 joint arb/riba criteria.

Many students within the studio were studying in the part-time mode and consequently proving build ability on the ground on a daily basis. Quite reasonably, having by their final year co-designed and built often an array of projects and having proved their worth at the level of part 2, a number of the more adventurous students were looking for the next step and held their courage throughout the year.

Keith was among those students, but unusually demonstrated the ability to step far beyond the comfort zone of his established methodologies and practices and innovate at all levels of enquiry while managing to keep a clear trajectory within his work. He was able to throw off the build ability trap that so many of his fellow part-time students find so difficult to avoid, to find himself at the board table with George Sorros.

The territory of investigation for atelier 1 was that of the unholy alliances within PPP, the governments preferred procurement route for public projects. The challenge set before Keith was to engage the institutions of influence. Identify the terms of engagement, understand their multi layered strategies and how they are empowered, take control, challenge them and take a position as a citizen as well as an architect between the 3P’s. He was then to decide what he wanted to achieve and implement it.

This project encouraged Keith to work on-the-ground’ as much as possible. This was a project of maximum engagement with the grey and invisible influences within our towns and cities. It required him to invent new forms of notation to record and explain highly complex constellations of influence and relationships. There was no solace in reverting to previously known types. It was in his final year, a thorough and courageous field of investigation, which in the end became an education for us all in the school.

Typical of Keith’s approach, he also challenged his tutors and the school to speculate further upon the changing role of the architect and was able to describe and use his newly uncovered techniques as architectural tools, for use alongside AutoCAD and the dumpy level. This had particular resonance both within the school and for our delegates from industry, who as architects and constructors of varying persuasion, grapple with the lightening pace of change and the challenge for our industry of a more seamless approach to cross-disciplinary activity.

It was this acute relevance that saw Keith replace the partners of his practice at crucial meetings with Mapely, during the course. This that saw him negotiating bus-stop stock options with Coutts Bank. This that saw him negotiating the plight of the community and spatial possibilities with Stagecoach. This, together with the remarkable rigour, complexity, consistency and flair of his project that saw him to a distinction at diploma level and our recommendation that he be considered for this award.

Keith seems to be one of the pathway leaders for a new generation of students who see the problems and complexity and are not afraid to take it on. The old industry adage of ‘getting your hands dirty’ can at last have new meaning in their hands.

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