Play and amenity space for apartment’s – the role of design guides

In the forthcoming Design Manual and Design PPG led by MHCLG how will play and amenity space for apartments fare? The London Design Guide has shown how design guidance can change the ground rules and promote equality and inclusion but it would be good to see more consistency nationally and less wiggle room generally. Especially as outside cities the guidance on play and apartments is often patchy. Even though the needs of a family living in an apartment are arguably similar. If anything, public amenity can be scarcer in less urban contexts. 

Over a decade the London Mayor’s Housing Design Guide (2010) and Housing SPG (2016) have had a clear impact on the design of housing by setting out forty-one clear quality expectations. These cover the placemaking role of sites, the provision of communal and play space and issues to do with building design such as; space standards, aspect and sunlight, ceiling heights, noise and privacy, resource use and durability. These spatial quality standards have had an impact on the quality of private amenity in new development. For example, the requirement for a minimum of 5m2 of private outdoor space for each dwelling has led to generous balconies becoming the norm and to GF apartments often having carefully considered garden interfaces.

The Bristol Urban Living SPD, making successful places at higher densities adopted in November 2018 follows on from this with general guidance about design at city, neighbourhood, block and building scale – with quality guidance is presented as 14 questions or tests.  Does the scheme provide sufficient outdoor space?Introduces the same standards for private outdoor space also allowing that space can be provided in private communal gardens. Does the scheme creatively integrate children’s play? Noting that in recent years the number of children living in the city centre had more than doubled the guidance requires the integration of informal doorstop play for the under 5s of setting a standard of 10m2 per child for developments with an occupancy of 10 children or more. 

Swindon’s Residential Design Guide SPD, 2016 requires a communal space equivalent to the footprint of the apartment building or 10m2 per apartment is also suggested. It also highlights the need for clearly identified entrances from the street, dual aspect orientation and private amenity space. Teignbridge District Council’s Draft Design Guide gives more detailed guidance about a similar range of issues with much emphasis on providing a ‘reference point for character and identity of settlements within the district’. When describing expectations for apartment buildings it also advises – street entrances, defensible space to ground floor habitable rooms, parking to rear but makes no specific requirement regarding amenity.

Sometimes developers will say that RSL’s wish to avoid the maintenance cost of private amenity provision but as a benchmarkPeabody’s Design Guidesays each dwelling should have access to private external amenity space to provide access and views of green spaces to residents. It also advises that design teams should include landscape architects a recommendation often made to clients in design review.

Image: Extract from Bristol’s Urban Living SPD

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

stadsbalkon-groningen-station-forcourt-and-bike-shelter_kcap

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.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/charter-for-the-national-infrastructure-commission

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/national-infrastructure-commission-visits-publica-urban-design-team

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

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