We were client advisers to the design competition for a housing exemplar for Whitehill Borden Eco Town. 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.
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The research identifies the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’.
Dinah Borat of ZCD Architects has published a summary of research into the sociability of streets and public spaces in housing design in the Architects Journal. This offers findings from studies of six 20th Century Estates in Hackney and a further 10 recent schemes across England. The study recorded activity in the streets and public spaces of housing developments over twenty-four hours over two days. This used Jan Gehl’s categories of activity; necessary, optional and social – also recording the gender and age of people and the numbers talking or playing together at any time.
The research identifies how the streets and public spaces provided, function in terms of their accessibility and describes their success in supporting activity to understand how well ‘social activity, children’s independent activity and their extended use of space’ is supported. The research demonstrates the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’. Which is evidence for my more empirical observations in an earlier blog ‘Playing Out’.
The research found play to be the dominant outdoor activity and discovered that when there was room for this other activities followed with more sociability occurring between adults as well. The full report will probably tell us more – but the plan diagrams (see above) recording accessibility seem to suggest that the position of the street or space in the layout is important as well as the types of street and range of spatial types used – with developments that are more generic supporting less social opportunity.
The Architects Journal; Designing Green Spaces that people want to use, Dinah Borat – AJ 21.04.16 VOL 243/ISSUE 10
Research funded by; The Homes and Communities Agency, NHBC, ZCD Architects, University of East London, Levitt Bernstein and the Hargrave Foundation.
Housing as if people mattered, Clare Cooper Marcus and Wendy Sarkissian, 1986Child’s Play – Rob Wheyway and Alison Millward, 1997.
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Permeable new housing development promotes the establishment of sustainable movement patterns. In the revised and more focused national housing design standard; Building for Life 12 a significant improvement was the moving of the question “Does the scheme integrate with existing, roads, paths and surrounding development?” from the 14th to the 1st consideration for new housing development.
Achieving a design that meets this recommendation can be frustrating for developers as often the ability to make this happen rests with local authorities and existing communities. It is quite common for example for existing communities to resist the use of footpaths by new development so that the same route has to be (less well) duplicated. Frequently new developments are created as giant cul de sacs – internally well connected but detached from their surroundings and unlikely to encourage sustainable patters of movement. In effect adding traffic to existing networks that local communities will also have sought to resist.
That this lack of connectivity is something quite common to current patterns of development was borne out by the transport planner Phil Jones in his review for the Urban Design Group of how well the design principles of Manual for Streets 2 are being embedded in current practice – http://www.urbannous.org.uk/manual-for-streets.htm – His view is slowly especially at the macro or strategic scale of development. Creating good connectivity requires a clear strategic vision about the integration of new homes from the local authority so that stakeholders and neighboring landowners can be encouraged to work together to link developments.
Image – A Plethora of Poundburys, from Streets and Patterns by Stephen Marshall, Taylor and Francis, 2004.
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Who’s building housing with the kind of joie de vivre it deserves? Two custom build projects are being developed in Devon and Cornwall each developing different ways for buyers to influence the design of their home.
Localizing Custom Build, Trevenson Park, Pool, Cornwall, 54 custom build (part of 144 mixed tenure development), in progress completion in 2017
HTA have designed a masterplan for new housing surrounding the Heartlands Park in Pool, Cornwall. The Park is itself a new project a ‘cultural playground’ designed around former tin mining works it was awarded £22.3 million Big Lottery Living Landmarks Grant in 2007 and opened in 2012. The housing development will create a new residential community around the park linking it to adjacent residential areas. A ‘not the village green’ to be designed collaboratively with residents.
The developer Igloo have selected by competition six architect led ‘home manufacturers’ to design kit houses for the custom build part of the site. These collaborative teams include Mae with prefabrication specialists Riko; AOC with Cathedral Builders; Ash Sakula with Easebuild and FrameUK; Dwelle; HTA Design with Potton; or White Design with Modcell and Cadfan. Based on the Dutch example in Almere, Igloo intend to developed this model across the UK sourcing different home manufacturers in each location.
A slice of Eco Life, Bickleigh Custom Built Eco Village, Devon, 91 Self build plots, in progress.
This project is a joint venture between an experienced project manager and architect; Charles Everard and Bill Dunster. The site overlooks Dartmoor in Devon and is close to the village of Roborough. The 91 serviced plots are available for ‘kit homes’ provided by the developer or custom built homes where the ‘kit’ is adapted individually.
The homes will be insulated to give low heat loss at a U value of 0.15 W/m2k. This far better than current Building Regulations and is the equivalent of Code 6 ( the highest standard under the old Code for Sustainable Homes). The low energy fabric together with the integration of solar PV and a ‘heat hub’ drawing heat from a ‘solar loft’ for hot water will create a net zero energy home. To maximize solar energy generation the buildings are mainly set out along east/west facing terraces with roofs perpendicular to the face of the house or in short north/south facing terraces.
By advertising the project early on with a demonstration exhibition a ‘Slice of Eco Life’ in Plymouth City Centre the developer generated 300 expressions of interest in the project and and secured 30 reservation bids for the first phase of homes. The price of a three-bed eco-home is likely to be £185-195,000. Community building is also an important part of this development. One of the first buildings to be built is an agricultural shed that can be used for the assembly of the kit homes and when the development is built out can be used for social or economic functions.
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Building for Life was re-launched in 2014, ten years after it was first devised. The national housing design standard has been simplified to make it more useful. It has been refocused as a place making or urban design standard concerned primarily with the bringing together of homes to make enduring residential neighbourhoods. The intention is that the design and construction of individual homes is to be covered by national space standards and Building Regulations. Good urban design and place making are so important because they have a long legacy. As the urban designer Sue Mc Glynn would say new street layouts last much longer than buildings defining places for 100’s and 1000’s of years. Everyone interested in creating truly sustainable places to live should be interested in good urban design and place making.
Building For Life is still the national standard because there is still an urgent need to drive improvement in our collective expectations for housing design. In the last decade national housing audits showed that up to thirty percent of all housing built shouldn’t have had planning permission and another thirty percent were just average. Building for Life can be used as a tool to actively test the quality of a design early on by assessing how it answers twelve key design questions. As a tool Building for Life 12 is designed to have ownership by communities, residents and developers. This shift in emphasis was used successfully in North West Leicestershire. In 2009 they adopted BFL as a standard in planning policy and made it into a place mark or quality award called Our Place. By persuading developers to use the standard themselves early in the design process and offering incentives to do well they were able to drive some really significant changes in overall quality.
Building for Life is set out in three sections covering three different scales of design; neighborhood, place and street and each containing four simple questions: Integrating into the Neighborhood – These are the neighbourhood scale questions these are about the give and take relationship between a new neighbourhood and existing settlements.
Creating a place – These questions focus on how the new place is being created and signals how new places are built up from a number of different components… sequences of buildings, types of streets, materials, form and the intelligent use of (and in addition to) existing qualities of place.
Street and Home – This last section is about the design of the street itself – about the careful integration of functions to create predominantly social spaces. It is a good idea to test a development early on. In fact it could often help the quality of development if local authorities did a strategic BfL assessment of sites before any designs come forward. There are far too many missed opportunities in connecting new development into existing streets and footpaths. If we really want to make sustainable places we have to get this right.
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