Communal Living, delivering housing diversity

A study trip to Amsterdam by the MArch and MAAD Communal Living studio at Cardiff University was the starting point for research into how housing typologies can support communal living in the widest sense. The studio visited the morphologically ambitious Wozoco and Silodam by MRDVR. On the way to Borneo Sporenburg we discovered Funenpark a collection of apartment villas in a shared park landscape and to the west the similarly arranged GWR Terrein. The studio also looked at work communities NDSM and Ru Pare. Recent models were compared to 20th century examples like the Duiker Open Air School built at the centre of a housing courtyard and Bijlmermeer the 60’s slab blocks now being reconnected with the ground. Honing in on recent co housing the studio studied apartments built in a serviced plots at Amstelloft and the exemplary Vrijburcht where 52 dwellings have been built by a co-housing group to also provide; childcare, a sailing school, café restaurant and shared gardens. Back in Cardiff we looked at published case studies such as Big Yard in Berlin with its two terraces across a linear shared garden and the New Ground Co Housing by and for senior residents and Collective Old Oak for young professionals in London.

The studio studied the land use arrangement and morphology of each type. These tissue studies are 4Ha or 200x200m, many of the buildings would suit a 0.5 Ha site. The recent NPPF called for Local Authorities to allocate 20% of land in smaller plots of 0.5 Ha – large sites are also beginning to propose 5% for self-build. The studies show how the different models of delivering housing that share land resources can lead to more diverse architecture and homes that have access to valuable amenities and enjoyable public spaces.

Design for the public realm, the social and civic life of high streets

In order to adapt High Streets, we need to rediscover their role at heart of communities as primarily social spaces. Seven years on from her review of high streets Mary Portas says high street retail will survive the growth in online shopping if it makes its business social and focuses on people’s experience. The public realm is an important interface in this transition. Well managed and organised public realm can improve people’s experience by making routes into and through Town Centres legible, easy and enjoyable to use. A review of public space can also identify historically important spaces that have been subdued over time and new axes of movement based on leisure, service and civic activities. By also taming the vehicle dominance of key spaces new opportunities can be created.

Brentwood Town Centre, resilience and sustainability

Our study of Brentwood Town Centre with Cottrell and Vermeulen Architects developed the client’s themes of; identity and character, resilience and sustainability and access and flow in a series of initial diagrams. This diagram for resilience and sustainability looks at how a civic axis might become the organising route for a series of public rooms or renewed public spaces. It also explores how as well as movement generated by parking movement related to schools could be evaluated – to consider more strategically how to support healthy patterns of travel. Incredible Edible Todmorden have developed a successful visitor experience based on a route around a network of community growing projects so that visitors can interact with the contemporary social ecology of the town. Stamford and Keswick both revived their market function with elegant and robust public realm improvements that set off the activity of the market and historic buildings.

Keswick Market

Understanding how the history of a place can be an important foundation for public realm improvement. Landscape Projects Bath Pattern Book (2012) is based on careful archive research of the city’s history and careful observation of its character in use by Gehl Architects. The pattern book identifies different historic street typologies in section, describing their role in relation to building frontages, their differing scale from street to mews, their surface materials and edges, their below ground and surface service function and identifying room for adaptation – e.g. where tree planting could be introduced. The study also reviews where the city’s rich history can be evidenced and better interpreted, it also reviews the space for performance, the quality of existing lighting and public art legacy. A movement strategy was developed to improve existing routes and extend the town centre public realm towards new areas of development. 

The pattern book contains concept designs for seven streets and spaces. These show how; a common palette of materials would be applied to suit the specifics of each site, how businesses could occupy areas of street and where public art could be integrated and how street furniture, landscape and lighting would be located. The guide presents the designs as plans, 3d overviews and in day and night time illustrations. Precedents are also used to describe the design teams’ intentions.

housing exemplar / fresh talent brought to affordable, sustainable and adaptable homes


We were client advisers/enablers commissioned for a design competition for a housing exemplar for Whitehill Borden Eco Town. Exhibition Mews, the three terraced houses built as a result of the competition was recently shortlisted for the Stephen Lawrence Prize. A prize intended to reward fresh talent working with smaller budgets. As the CABE Enabler we supported two different project managers to develop the design brief and promote a design competition, providing continuity to pursuit of the project aims. As well as achieving high standards of energy efficiency the aim was to create a replicable, carbon neutral, terraced housing typology that could contribute to the character of the new Eco Town in the South Downs.

The client was dissuaded from holding a single stage open competition as this calls on too many practices to invest free time that is of little benefit to the client. Because early stage design development can’t be tested in dialogue with the client. Instead a two stage selection process called for expressions of interest and shortlisted five teams to develop sketch designs in conversation with the client team. We designed a competition brand and the brief was carefully set out to signal the creative aspirations for the project. Adverts were placed in key design journals and fifty-four submissions were received.

We devised selection criteria that would prioritise the client’s wish to identify an imaginative team who would be able to extend the design brief whilst working with budget constraints.  In the judging of the competition; creativity, the ability to develop environmentally responsive design, technical capability and communications skills were given 70% of the score, track record and range of appropriate expertise were given 30%. Financial and insurance requirements were set to pass or fail but with a threshold that would not exclude SMEs. A category into which most young and often fleet footed practices fall.

The competition was won by Ash Sakula Architects because their approach was considered by the jury to be most liveable. In their design every day needs for storage and domestic activities are carefully considered. The cubic form of the house is extended into the front garden with and un-insulated entrance porches and store and space for laundry is made on the upper level. The construction is timber framed and timber shingles are used to clad the rear elevation.


Photograph: Stephen Gardener – Ground Floor View – Ash Sakula Architects


elegant houses in simple terraces make characterful use of Stroud site

Building Communities at Applewood (Cashes Green) – Stroud – Gloucesteshire.

78 Homes – completed 2014.


Building on the successes of Hab’s Swindon Project; The Triangle, Applewood uses elegant house types in simple terraces with parking located in front of buildings. Despite the small scale of the site it has a diverse and generous green infrastructure. The process of creating the development has been carefully choreographed and is seen by HabOakus as community building. For example an early opportunity to bring associated redundant allotments back to life has meant that existing and new residents had a meaningful shared space early on.

The developer has put emphasis on spatial quality of the interiors providing residents with light and space, something we all recognize when we see or feel it. The new buildings are super insulated and triple glazed and each has a gas boiler and Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery Systems. There has been attention to detail in the design of key elements such as the front door and in the careful location of service outlets to the back of the houses.

Mike Robert’s from HabOakus says well functioning communities enable people to live longer in their own homes and this has been shown to be the case for cohousing. Where small groups of homes are built as communities first and foremost. Research in Denmark and the United States has shown that the people who live in cohousing live independently in their communities for longer.*


new Bristol and London mayors set out ambitions for progressive and inclusive cities

Since arriving in office this year the new Labour Mayors in London and Bristol are both working to reduce housing inequalities and increase the availability of affordable housing to ordinary people. These mayors understand that for their cities the lack of affordable housing and increasing wealth inequalities as well as being morally wrong have a significant social and economic cost. For Sadiq Khan in London, delivering genuinely affordable housing in new developments was such an important part of his election campaign that is was so called ‘a housing policy referendum’. He is planning to set a minimum standard of 35% affordable housing working towards a target of 50%.

But importantly these city leaders are also aware that to make a more inclusive city in future it will be important not to only consider housing but the wider built environment.In October the London Mayor published ‘A City for All Londoners’. This celebrates how London ‘attracts and integrates people from all over the world’. Issues of being excluded from the economic life of the city and the need to share “prosperity, culture and economic development” are identified. To achieve this the document highlights the value of housing with good transport accessibly and mixed use development to enable people to access housing and jobs, culture and social infrastructure.

Marvin Rees the Mayor of Bristol is also setting out an ambitious agenda for an inclusive city. He is developing strategies to share prosperity in a city where life expectancy can vary by ten years from place to place. He is aware that public institutions and public spaces can deliver flexible spaces to support; health, well being and social inclusion. The city is creating a housing delivery company and acknowledges the value of linking the creation of housing, education and health – with employment accessibly. In future Bristol plans to densify existing mono functional areas of housing creating not only new homes but building communities.


A City For All – Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees’ Annual Address and Debate 2016


high quality design is crucial say’s the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission


Has there has been a shift in thinking about infrastructure planning and provision in the UK – one that recognises that ‘ad hoc’ approaches allows regions and communities to get left behind?

The Government states it is committed to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) launched this spring and has published a charter (12.10.16). the NIC’s role is to advise government to support growth, improve competitiveness and improve people’s quality of life. The Commission will carry out a National Infrastructure Assessment once every parliament, commission studies on pressing challenges and monitor progress.

It’s encouraging to see that earlier in September Commissioner Sadie Morgan (co- founding director of dRMM Architects) visited design studio Publica to identify four principles for integrating infrastructure planning with high quality design. They identified that good design is essential and cities can use infrastructure effectively to become ‘more liveable, sustainable, productive and resilient places’ by;

  • Increasing capacity for future generations
  • Creating liveable neighbourhoods (and cities)
  • Supporting and promoting density and diversity
  • Animating the ground plane and creating a sense of civic identity

At the event professor Sadie Morgan said: “As the National Infrastructure Commission seeks to transform the way we plan and deliver major infrastructure projects in this country, harnessing high quality design will be absolutely crucial.” It could be that the choice of Commissioners that includes expertise in; culture, transport, design, technology, regeneration and economics also sets the scene for infrastructure to be considered more holistically in future.

Image: Stadsbalkon, Cylcle Park and Station Forecourt, Groningen – KCAP, NL



ten days in Las Vegas


Nolli’s Map of Rome – Learning from Las Vegas 1972.

Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D., Izenour, S. 1972) is an example of a research project that led to new ways of thinking about design. In 1968 the researchers and a group of students spent ten days in Las Vegas with free board and lodging at the Stardust Hotel. Having spent three weeks in the library they carried out observational research recording the characteristics of the town.

The surveys were designed to explore the relationship between; movement, iconography and public space in the car orientated landscape of the Las Vegas strip. Each element was recorded as layer of a map recording the disposition of: undeveloped land, asphalt, autos, buildings, ceremonial space and finally ‘Nolli’s Las Vegas’ which brought the layers ‘asphalt’ and ‘ceremonial spaces’ together to show how the commercial strip was structured as a series of public places.

leaning-from-las-vegas-asphaltLas Vegas: Asphalt – Learning from Las Vegas 1972.

Since then designers routinely use layers to observe and analyse the key features of a site, adapting and extending this set of layers to describe a design proposal. Some layers record a general background understanding of the site but some like the layers in Learning from Las Vegas are much more specific  about the particular drive of the project or the specific character of a place.