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Scarce Living

We talk to one city squatter who may change your perceptions on how the other half lives

Written by . Published on November 28th 2011.


Scarce Living

WHILE Occupy London made the news for taking over the UBS building in North London, a single individual has also been quietly taking advantage of London’s large supply of empty office buildings.

Texas-born Andy has been living in London for eight years working as an architect. I met Andy outside the eight-storey office building that he has called home for the last three months. But how did he end up living in the top floor ‘penthouse’ with stunning views, kitchen, power shower, heating, air conditioning and enough space to hold the mother of all raves, if he so wished?

The part of the building he was occupying to begin with was pretty basic but later he moved to the top floor after finding that there was a kitchen, shower, electricity, running hot and cold water and everything he needed to survive and the best thing it was all gloriously rent free.

“Well, I used to work opposite the building and being an architect I’m naturally curious about space. My office looked directly across the large office block complex which I noticed only ever had one floor with the lights on and looking used,” says Andy.

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Andy goes on to tell a familiar story for many Londoners, the problem of finding a place to live when the contract runs out on your old abode. With a chronic shortage of decent-ish living spaces and the exorbitant rents even if you do manage to find somewhere available. The Guardian reported that in some areas twenty people are chasing every available let.

Andy started off by using part of the building purely for doing yoga. “It’s hard to sometimes find quiet places in London and it was perfect,” said Andy.

As time went by Andy began to nosey about more around the empty building. When his landlord decided he wanted to sell the property that he was living in Andy found himself on the brink of being homeless. As a short-term solution Andy moved his stuff to the office building just to crash for a night or two but found himself staying longer than expected. The part of the building he was occupying to begin with was pretty basic but later he moved to the top floor after finding that there was a kitchen, shower, electricity, running hot and cold water and everything he needed to survive and the best thing it was all gloriously rent free.

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Outside the building Andy punches in the entry code, “I took it apart to decipher,” he says as I shake my head and smirk. We take the deliveries lift up to the eighth floor and Andy gives me and photographer Drew a short guided tour of the vast empty labyrinth of rooms and amenities. We then see his living space, there are travel posters adorning the wall, bits of tinsel and fairy lights, all stuff left lying around the building. It’s very cosy. His bedroom is a decent size but the first thing you gravitate to is the large windows all across one side of the room. Looking out I can see the Gherkin, Canary Warf and the London Eye.

Andy is keen to show me his ingenuity pointing out the bed, shelves and table are all made of materials that were lying around. “It’s amazing what you can find on YouTube,” jokes Andy referring to a number of ‘how to’ videos that proved invaluable in his alternative living.

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It’s getting late and Andy admits that he has to be at work early tomorrow so we thank him, shake hands and wish him well.

 

More Information

A study two years ago estimated that nearly 12% of all office buildings in central London alone were lying empty.

The Empty Homes Agency has estimated that there are 870,000 empty and vacant homes throughout the UK.

It also estimated that 420,000 new homes could be built with the current level of empty commercial properties.

The total number of affordable homes built last year according to latest government figures – a grand total 52.

 

Pictures by Drew Cox

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Drew Cox shared this on Facebook on December 9th 2011.
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