Studio E has taken the brunt of negative headlines so far, but that is only because the architects were the first to give evidence, writes Elizabeth Hopkirk
You could be forgiven for thinking architecture was on trial at the Grenfell Inquiry after a run of pretty awkward headlines.
Coverage so far has not cast the architects in a great light, with stories such as: “We wouldn’t have won Grenfell refurb in competitive process” and “Grenfell architect did not check fire safety guidance for tall buildings”.
Architects with no connection to the tragedy tell me they are getting a hard time from friends who previously showed little interest in their work, asking if it’s normal for architects to be so unaware.
It’s certainly not the profession’s finest hour and it’s right that tough questions are asked, but it’s also important not to jump to hasty conclusions.
We are in the opening weeks of an 18-month process. As I write, only three witnesses have been called and they all worked for Studio E. In the months ahead, every contractor, subcontractor and consultant who worked on the project will face the same level of scrutiny from the inquiry’s barristers, as will everyone client side and in building control. There will be plenty more negative headlines.
Each story will be a small fragment of the whole picture because it is impossible to report every angle covered in 1,500 hours of evidence. Some stories will feel unfair, such as the focus on Neil Crawford’s unqualified status. As all architects but few members of the public know, it is not at all uncommon for even the principals of well-known practices not to have their part III – Sadie Morgan and Thomas Heatherwick among them. This does not mean they are inexperienced or incapable.
The purpose of the inquiry is to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire which caused the deaths of 72 people. It’s crucial all the mistakes are brought into the light, not only to ensure lessons are learnt but also to satisfy us that nothing is being covered up.
It’s going to be an uncomfortable 18 months but we must wait until the whole jigsaw of evidence has been assembled before making judgements about where the blame for this disaster lies.