Jo Negrini, Croydon Council’s new chief executive, has been made an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Trouble is, no one seems to know quite why…
RIBA made its announcement of its latest 18 fellows yesterday, when they explained that, “Honorary Fellowships, whose recipients may use the initials Hon FRIBA after their name, are awarded annually to people who have made a particular contribution to architecture in its broadest sense. This includes its promotion, administration and outreach, and its role in building more sustainable communities and in the education of future generations”.
According to the Architects’ Journal, which reported the news, Negrini is one of 18 “leading figures from the worlds of journalism, local government, art, architectural history and design” who will be collecting their gongs at a lush ceremony sometime early in 2017. They describe Negrini as “the design-savvy chief executive of Croydon Council”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Inside Croydon went to RIBA to ask what it was in particular about Negrini’s work as a local authority official which had drawn the attention of its honours committee. Apparently, they are waiting for the citation to be written… by Negrini.
They did direct us, though, to the website of a body called New London Architecture, which lists Negrini as a “speaker” and which has among its “supporters” Croydon Council. They also list as a sponsor the Mayor of London, who we know is on selfie-taking terms with Negrini. So NLA may not be an entirely objective judge.
According to NLA’s profile of Negrini (which might also have been written by Negrini), “Jo has been a regeneration practitioner in the UK for 28 years.”
A “regeneration practitioner”. Fancy that.
“She has a wealth of experience in driving regeneration and delivering development, gained in her previous roles at Newham and Lambeth.”
In other words, Negrini’s done her job at a couple of other London councils. But still no real clue to what it is that caught RIBA”s attention and marked out Croydon’s CEO – annual salary £185,000 – for what is, no doubt, described somewhere as a “prestigious” honour.
Perhaps its some of the new architecture that has been built in Croydon?
It can’t be the recently completed Saffron Square, which was short-listed among Britain’s ugliest buildings for the Carbuncle Cup, because in fairness to “regeneration practitioner” Negrini, the design and work on that gigantic purple erection was all done and dusted long before she joined Croydon Council as “executive director, Place” in January 2014.
Nor can Fisher’s Folly, the council offices built at a phenomenally expensive £140 million, be a reason for Negrini to be honoured, because it was built before she arrived in Croydon, too. So she can’t even take credit for the no doubt suitably juicy architects’ fees which were all paid out of public money.
How about the £1.5 billion Hammersfield regeneration scheme in the centre of Croydon? Hmm, hard to see that as being a reason to honour Negrini, as her Aussie mates Westfield, with whom she worked so closely when at Newham, have yet to start work on their latest megamall, a mere four years after initial agreement to go ahead.
Maybe Negrini is to be made an honorary fellow for her brave move in re-introducing the borough architects’ department at Croydon Council. Though, on second thoughts, as that seems to have a staff of just one, that hardly seems likely.
Maybe it was her department’s decision to provide a £3 million public loan, plus additional subsidies, to Boxpark to get them to set up in Croydon? Perhaps not: if everyone started to build things out of disused shipping containers, half the trendy architects’ practices in London would be at risk of going out of business.
No, Negrini’s “particular contribution to architecture” seems more likely to be that the private house-building company she has established, Brick by Brick, which will use millions of public money and acres of publicly owned land to build 1,000 new homes (half of which will then be flogged off as private housing), has gone out and contracted no fewer than seven firms of architects to conduct the design work.
Now that really is a particular contribution to architects.
You can imagine the conversation…
Negrini: “Hello trendy architect. I’m a regeneration practitioner. Would you like to design a few houses for us in south London at public expense?”
Trendy architect: “Honoured.”
Inside Croydon asked Jo Negrini herself why she thinks she is to receive the honorary fellowship from RIBA. But at the time of publication, she had not responded.
So we will all have to wait for the council CEO to write her own citation for RIBA to find out the real reason.
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