Architecture = (Wealth x Class x Race)^2 Part 2 / Grenfell

The 14th of June 2020 was the three-year remembrance of the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. This awful incident claimed the lives of 72 people and distorted the lives of their families and of the residents that managed to escape. The life they had nurtured was pulled right from underneath them so horrifically and unexpectedly.

Driving along the A40 in London where I would often visit my partner in Hammersmith, a tall ambiguous building stands. Draped over it is a thin veil of plastic, covering the burn scars. The words ‘Grenfell, Forever in Our Hearts’ are written along the top, visible for onlookers.

This tragedy is a reminder of how Architecture is not for everyone.

A building that encapsulated the lives of so many and stands so high among the urban landscape of London but yet remained invisible; an unnecessary contradiction. The Grenfell tragedy exposes a flaw within our built environment; reiterating the notion that economic profit is much more valuable than human life.

Three years later, and still no one is being held accountable; the victims of Grenfell are still awaiting justice. Thousands of high-rise council buildings are still concealed in the same flammable cladding that destroyed Grenfell. The continuation of the inquiry into Grenfell that was supposed to happen between January and February was delayed; due to witnesses from parties involved in the installation of the flammable cladding applying for criminal immunity (the audacity). 

Why is it taking so long for justice to be served? To understand why the tragedy happened, and why no one has been held accountable, we need to look at where Grenfell Tower is and whom it was built for. 

The tower is located within the borough of Kensington and Chelsea. According to, the average price of the property in the borough is £2.1m, making it one of the most expensive areas in London to buy a property. 

The average salary within Kensington and Chelsea is £123k (one of the highest within the UK); whereby the median salary in the borough is £32.7k (the point at which half the population is above and half below) (Economist, 2017). The disparity between the two is vast, illustrating the differential of class captured within one of the richest areas in the UK. 

Grenfell itself is not a reflection of the high economic wealth that Kensington and Chelsea is known for; located in North Kensington, it is one of the most deprived areas in the borough. Jane Tretheway described it in an email as “one of its worse property assets, where re-cladding would prevent it looking like a poor cousin(The Guardian, 2020). Tretheway was the Housing Strategy and Regeneration Manager for the borough at the time. As shallow as her comment was, it also stresses the utilisation of Architecture for superficial purposes.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council deemed the appearance of Grenfell a serious issue; so serious that £9.7m was allocated to Grenfell in 2016 for a refurbishment. The works included were re-cladding and upgrading of communal mechanical and electrical services (The Bureau Of Investigative Journalism, 2019)

Originally a fire-resistant zinc cladding was approved for use in January 2014. However, in July 2014 the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation wanted a cost-saving product. Therefore Aluminium Composite Material was adopted instead which saved a sum of £293k but is a much more flammable product. 

Appearance does contain some importance within a property; however, safety should always come first. The building did not fulfil several building regulations at the time; there were no sprinklers, which are essential for high-rise residential buildings where there is only one means of escape – Grenfell tower only had one means of escape. Compartmentalisation for the fire within the flats failed, due to the failure of self-closing devices in fire doors. Smoke and intumescent seals were also not installed within these doors. These are all regulation requirements within high-rise residential buildings that should have been fulfilled. 

It is clear that appearance and money was much more of a priority than the lives of the residents to those involved in the refurbishment, which in itself is a crime through gross negligence. However having those involved taking accountability for their actions has proven to be much more difficult than it should be. 

The responsibility clearly falls on a conglomerate of professionals, governing and regulatory bodies who are all liable for designing, managing, facilitating, and maintaining the building; ultimately having a duty of care in securing the safety of the people who resided there. They all failed to some degree but yet blame is passed on among themselves like hot potatoes.

The Grenfell residents’ fate emphasises the way in which politics, profit and more importantly class, in this scenario determines the quality and safety of architecture and the worthiness of those who occupy it.

What has Architecture got to do with it?

Studio E was the Architect studio acting as the Principal Designer for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment in 2016. According to Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 a Principal Designer should have:

  • The technical knowledge of the construction industry relevant to the project.
  • The ability to understand, manage and coordinate the pre-construction phase (including ensuring that significant and foreseeable risks are managed through the design process) and any design work carried out after construction begins. 

However Bruce Sounes, the architect of the project admitted that:

“He did not read building regulations aimed at preventing cladding fires and had no idea that panels used to insulate buildings could be combustible” and “he did not see a diagram in building regulations guidance showing how external wall systems on buildings of different heights must meet safety rules” (The Guardian, 2020)

Sounes’ deadly unawareness exposes a gap of knowledge within the UK Architectural Education – the importance of understanding building safety and building regulations. It is an educational responsibility to make sure future Architects are equipped with the knowledge in designing buildings that are safe and complies with building regulations and current health and safety policies, so we do not become responsible for manslaughter through gross negligence and greed.

As much as it is imperative for a building to be aesthetically beautiful and conceptually executed, we must also question if this is beauty when lives and livelihood are not at the forefront. Otherwise, our perception of beauty is then insincere and something to feed our ego as Architects.

To conclude, taking a stance that ‘Architecture is for all’ in the present day is untrue. Unfortunately this is not the utopia we live in, however this ideology should be what we strive for in a society that is far from it. 

Architectural education has an important role to play in this. This includes teaching students how Architecture fits within the reality of our society, where class and economic wealth are often determinants of the spaces we occupy

It should first and foremost start with addressing the lack of representation within the Architectural education landscape. After all, diversity of backgrounds, thoughts and experiences at an educational level will positively influence our ability to empathise when designing for communities and individuals that are similar and different to our own.

I would like to thank Abi for spending so much of their time sitting down with me and editing the article. And for always providing feedback and suggestions.   

How to help



  1. Rethinking The Economics Of Land And Housing, By Josh Ryan-Collins, Toby Lloyd and Laurie Macfarlene.
  1. Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Grenfell tower inquiry: phase 1 report overview, report of the public inquiry into the fire at Grenfell tower on 14 June 2017