‘Drawing on a broad range of international examples, this book provides an inspiring survey and forms a comprehensive guide to designing great places to live. From pioneering postwar estates to community-led housing and exemplary student accommodation, it is an essential toolkit for architects and clients alike, with topics ranging from typologies and densities to external space and how to successfully mix housing with other uses.’ Oliver Wainwright, architecture and design critic, The Guardian
www.routledge.com Routledge titles are available as eBook editions in a range of digital formats
The Housin Desi n Handbook
‘This collection of short essays and good practice examples is an invaluable source of inspiration. In spite of scarce resources, it shows that we can create and maintain high-quality, lower cost homes. It challenges many assumptions about design, density, and the way integrated communities can work.’ Professor Anne Power, London School of Economics
The Housin Desi n Handbook
‘There is much talk these days about design in housing but less understanding of what that means in practice. This unique compendium illustrates housing that raises the bar in terms of quality and shows how good design can create great places to live. It is a must for all those involved in the design, construction and commissioning of housing.’ Peter Murray, Chairman, New London Architecture
David Levitt and Jo McCafferty
Written by David Levitt and Jo McCafferty – two recognised authorities in the field – and with contributions from more than twenty other leading practitioners, The Housing Design Handbook is an essential reference for professionals and students in architecture and design as well as for government bodies, housing associations and other agencies involved in housing.
This book sets out design principles for all the essential components of successful housing design – including placemaking, typologies and density, internal and external space, privacy, security, tenure, and community engagement – illustrated with case studies of schemes by architecture practices working across the UK and continental Europe.
A guide to good practice
Everyone deserves a decent and affordable home, a truth (almost) universally acknowledged. But housing in the UK has been in a state of crisis for decades, with too few homes built, too often of dubious quality, and costing too much to buy, rent or inhabit. It doesn’t have to be like this. Bringing together a wealth of experience from a wide range of housing experts, this completely revised edition of The Housing Design Handbook provides an authoritative, comprehensive and systematic guide to best practice in what is perhaps the most contentious and complex field of architectural design.
David Levitt Jo McCafferty
A guide to good practice
This book is dedicated to the memory of David Bernstein (1937â€“2018).
The Housin Desiâ€‚ n Handbook
David Levitt Jo McCafferty
A guide to good practice
Biographies Authors David Levitt trained at the University of Cambridge and worked for five years as an assistant to Patrick Hodgkinson on the design of the Brunswick Centre. He co-founded Levitt Bernstein with David Bernstein in 1968. At the same time, they started what is now one of the UK’s largest housing associations. David Levitt’s involvement in commissioning and designing housing – and his interest in the concerns of clients and residents – produced The Housing Design Handbook in 2010. Eight years later, and with the housing crisis ever worsening, he has returned to co-author this new edition. Despite retiring from practice in 2005, David has continued as a ‘design champion’ for housing developers and housing associations and as a board member of Design for Homes. Jo McCafferty studied at the University of Liverpool and the University of Washington, and has worked with practices in Switzerland, Ireland and London, including Arbeitsgruppe, an architectural collective specialising in housing design, in Bern. She joined Levitt Bernstein in 1997 and now leads the practice’s major housing studio. Her key role has been championing inventive solutions at both masterplanning and detailed-design scales, and to work with communities to empower residents through the design process. As coauthor of this edition of The Housing Design Handbook, she brings her experience on current projects and emerging policy. Jo sits on the RIBA Awards National Panel and is a CABE Built Environment Expert. She is also a guest critic at the University of Newcastle, University of Cambridge and invited lecturer at the Architectural Association. Contributors Alexander Abbey has more than twenty years of architectural experience in a range of sectors, with an interest in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings in construction and use. Having specialist knowledge in modern methods of construction, he recently developed an offsite, quick-build timber system for schools, and is researching how to apply this to housing. He enjoys teaching, and lectures widely. He also leads the practice’s development team, ensuring the advance of skills and knowledge, and sits on the TRADA Advisory Committee.
June Barnes worked in housing for more than 35 years, retiring in 2014 as chief executive of East Thames Housing Association. Throughout her career she promoted the design of attractive homes that would be valued by their residents and easy and cost effective to manage and maintain. She is currently a board member of Urban&Civic plc, a large developer; of the Building Research Establishment Trust and of Hornsey Housing Trust. She is also a member of the Jersey Architecture Commission.
the country. She has published research and contributed to several publications. Teresa Borsuk is an architect and senior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the housing, mixed-use and regeneration sectors, and has both designed and delivered a series of successful and award-winning projects. She has a keen interest in the underlying issues that influence the design, planning and delivery of better homes and places.
Simon Bayliss is an architect and urban designer, passionate about designing better homes and places to live. He is managing partner of HTA Design, an interdisciplinary practice of architects and designers working to improve all forms of housing, which has been responsible for the design of some of the most innovative and influential housing developments of the past twenty years. He is a regular contributor to the debate on housing design, as both speaker and writer.
Andy von Bradsky is an architect with more than 30 years’ experience in the design and delivery of housing and regeneration for the private and public sectors, drawing from extensive experience as former chairman of PRP, a practice specialising in housing. He is an architectural advisor at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government supporting planning, design, supply and regeneration programmes. He is also chairman of the Housing Forum, a crosshousing-industry organisation committed to more and better housing.
Claire Bennie has been working in housing design and commissioning for more than twenty years, both as an architect in practice (including at Proctor and Matthews Architects) and until 2015 as development director at the London housing association Peabody. Claire is known for her championing of high-quality design and has now founded Municipal, which is advising ambitious commissioners (including the Nationwide Building Society) on the delivery of lasting, attractive homes. She also enjoys living on a 1930s estate in south London.
Nick Bristow has been a project architect at Mæ since 2016. Led by Alex Ely, former head of sustainable communities at CABE, Mæ design buildings that seek to address today’s urban, social and environmental challenges. Nick works primarily on housing and is currently leading the design of an estateregeneration project for the London Borough of Lambeth. His wider interests extend to planning and sustainable development, both internationally and in the UK.
David Birkbeck helped to set up Design for Homes as a social enterprise and has been the director of the Housing Design Awards since 2005. He wrote Building for Life in 2002 and co-wrote a revised edition in 2012, backed by the National Planning Policy Framework. He initiated John Prescott’s £60k/house competition and was its only private-sector judge. David also contributed to the 2009 HAPPI report, which showed how homes designed for older people can be at least as appealing as general-needs homes.
Russell Brown formed Hawkins\Brown with Roger Hawkins in 1988, after working for Rock Townsend and Peter Eisenman. He has experience across the whole spectrum of housing, from comprehensive estate regenerations for Notting Hill and Peabody to commercial towers in Canary Wharf. He also leads the practice’s research into rental developments, co-living and micro-flats for all forms of tenancy. He believes passionately that people benefit from living collectively, and that being a good neighbour is an essential civic skill.
Dinah Bornat is an architect, urban designer and co-founded ZCD Architects with Cordula Weisser in 2013. The practice has a commitment to projects with a social purpose and a particular focus on neighbourhood design for children and young people. Dinah is a London Mayor’s Design Advocate, a design review panel member for Harrow Council and works with a number of other boroughs across
Clare Cameron, a director in the Later Living team at PRP, is an architect and expert in the field of design for older people, dementia and those with physical, cognitive or learning disabilities. In her 22 years at PRP she has led the design team on a series of award-winning projects in the sector, written several design guides and undertaken multiple portfolio reviews of specialist housing stock for
clients. Clare has a real passion to share her knowledge and to bring innovation and delight to ‘age-friendly’ housing. Zohra Chiheb is an architect at Levitt Bernstein, specialising in the design and delivery of large-scale housing projects, and a researcher with a focus on offsite technology and alternative models of housing delivery. In 2016 she co-founded Appropriate Housing, a community-led housing-enabler service and research collective. She is also a nonexecutive board member for CDS Cooperative Housing Association and chairs the steering group of the London Community-Led Housing Hub for the GLA. Neil Deely established Metropolitan Workshop in 2005, and is experienced in leading complex mixed-use residential masterplans, collaborating with many of the UK’s best housing practices. He has designed major urban projects and buildings in sensitive conservation, heritage and green belt contexts such as Durham, Oxford, Cambridge and London. Neil serves on a range of design review panels, including Design Council CABE, Croydon, Newham and Harrow, and provides Urban Design London with training programmes for local authorities on the principles of urban design. Kate Digney, head of landscape at Levitt Bernstein, applies her extensive experience of placemaking, landscape design and ecology to bear on a broad range of projects, from complex urban regeneration sites to sensitive rural landscapes. A specialist in designing residential-led landscapes, she has a particular aptitude for engaging communities to ensure the successful delivery of projects. As well as her project work, she sits on a number of design review panels and writes regularly for industry journals. Hendrik Heyns trained at the University of the Free State in South Africa, working in Johannesburg before joining Allies and Morrison in 1999 and becoming a partner in 2015. He has been involved in a range of residential, retail, education and regeneration work. He led the award-winning St Andrew’s project in Bromley-by-Bow, producing the initial masterplan of 964 homes. Currently, Hendrik is working on several residential projects in London, including West Hendon, Aldgate Place and the Lampton Road masterplan. Stephen Hill is a chartered planning and development surveyor. Since 1970, he has worked in every house-building sector:
local authority, commercial development, housing association, government agency, and community-led housing, latterly as a consultant advising all those sectors. As a market and policy disruptor, he has helped to bring community housing back into the policy arena, enabling communities to build the type of homes they really want and need, and that public policy and the market have not been offering. Richard Lavington established Maccreanor Lavington with Gerard Maccreanor in the 1990s. The practice is recognised for its research in masterplanning and the built environment, setting the agenda within the housing sector and focusing on estate regeneration and growth opportunities within outer London boroughs. He has led the practice on many award-winning projects, including the RIBA Stirling Prize recipient Accordia. He is also a London Mayor’s Design Advocate and has taught at Cambridge, Bath, Nottingham, Canterbury, Belfast and the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow. Barry McCullough is a director at Levitt Bernstein, leading on the design and delivery of new housing projects across the country. With significant experience in masterplanning and regeneration, he is an expert on revitalising urban housing stock and recently co-wrote Thinking Ahead: A Best Practice Guide to Estate Regeneration. He is also a keen advocate of community consultation and collaborates closely with clients and others to establish the best approach for each project. Andrew Matthews and Stephen Proctor are founding directors of Proctor and Matthews Architects with more than 30 years of experience as architects and urban designers. The practice has an extensive portfolio of award-winning work including mixed-use regeneration projects, education and community buildings and new residential neighbourhoods. They have been lecturers, visiting critics and external examiners at schools of architecture across the UK and abroad, including the University of Sheffield, where they are currently visiting professors. David Mikhail is a co-director of Mikhail Riches, founded with Annalie Riches in 2014. He studied at Cambridge and Westminster Universities, and has a wide range of experience in housing. The practice’s projects include: 105 Passivhaus homes in Norwich, four sites in Croydon for Brick by Brick, 40 homes for Mid-Devon District Council in Tiverton and 100 new homes
in Hackney. The practice is also working with Urban Splash on 200 homes as part of the regeneration of Park Hill in Sheffield. Julia Moulder is an experienced development and regeneration professional. She worked for twenty years in executive director roles at Catalyst Housing, where she was responsible for their 1,000-unit per annum mixed-tenure development programme, and for asset management. She chaired the g15 development directors’ group between 2013 and 2017. She has now set up her own consultancy business, focused on increasing the supply of good-quality new homes through process and product innovation, and improvements to development-client skills, knowledge and resources. Clare Murray is head of sustainability at Levitt Bernstein, where she champions the importance of new buildings being sustainably designed using a holistic approach, and oversees the sustainability strategies for all projects from concept through to post-occupancy. She is responsible for the practice’s sustainability strategy and has also contributed to a range of research work and publications, campaigning for sustainability to be a key consideration within policy and design. Most recently, she co-authored the NHF Housing Standards Handbook, providing guidance and standards on a range of sustainability topics. Dominic Papa is a founding director of S333 Architecture + Urbanism, whose work has become a benchmark for urban, residential quality in the Netherlands and New Zealand. He is a Fellow of the Commission for the Royal Exhibition of 1851, researching intense forms of housing and urbanism, and delivering guidance for better-quality family living. He is also a tutor at the Architectural Association, chair of Islington’s Design Review Panel and part of a team advising the federal government of Brazil on housing policy. Julia Park has spent most of her 30-year career as a housing architect at Levitt Bernstein where she is head of housing research. She now concentrates on housing policy, research and writing and has published three books: Age-Friendly Housing, One Hundred Years of Housing Space Standards: What Now? and the NHF Housing Standards Handbook. Currently chair of the RIBA Housing Group, Julia advises government, is a London Mayor’s Design Advocate and gives evidence to inquiries and examinations.
Biographies iv Good design in housing – no excuses 1 Introduction 2 1 Places that get better over time 4 Claire Bennie 6 Byker Estate 8 Old Royal Free Square 12 Ruskin Park House 15 2 Typologies 18
Student accommodation and Build to Rent 96 Russell Brown 98 Goldsmiths student residences 102 Campus Hall, University of Southern Denmark 106 Quigley Residence, University of Limerick 110 3 Density 114 Built form as densities increase 118
Low density (35–90dph) Andrew Matthews and Semi-detached 18 Stephen Proctor 122 Neil Deely 20 Abode at Great Kneighton Horsted Park 22 phase 1 124 The Guts, New Islington 26 Derwenthorpe phase 1 128 Lime Tree Square 132 Terraces 30 Types and density 32 Medium density Nick Bristow 36 (90–250dph) Hammond Court 38 Teresa Borsuk 136 Accordia 42 Harvard Gardens 138 Chimney Pot Park 46 The Malings 142 Sutherland Road 146 Flats 50 Richard Lavington 52 High density Ryle Yard 56 (250–350+dph) Darbishire Place 60 David Birkbeck 150 Piraeus 63 Camden Courtyards 154 Via Verde 158 Maisonettes 66 Royal Road 161 Jo McCafferty 68 Vaudeville Court 70 Tall buildings (350+dph) Highgate New Town 74 Hendrik Heyns 164 Silchester Estate 77 Aldgate Place 168 Ruskin Square phase 1 172 Housing for an ageing Colville Estate phase 3 175 population 80 Clare Cameron 82 Windmill Court 86 Buccleuch House 90 Almshouse 94
4 Internal space 178 Julia Park 180 Essex Mews 182 Growing space 186 100 ways to use 100m2 188
10 Tenure and sustainable communities 272 Barry McCullough 274 Aylesbury Estate phase 1 276 Kings Crescent 280
5 External space 190 Dinah Bornat and Kate Digney 192 Christchurch Estate 194 Barrier Park East, buildings A and D 198 Bo01, Västra Hamnen 202
11 Estate regeneration 284 Andy von Bradsky 286 Portobello Square 288 Ocean Estate 292 Park Hill phase 1 296
6 Mixing homes with other uses 206 Dominic Papa 208 Schots 1 and 2, CiBoGa Terrain 212 Brunswick Centre 216 M9-C, Rive Gauche 220 7 Privacy 224 David Mikhail 226 Church Walk 228 One Tower Bridge 232 Pinnacle N10 235 8 Security 238 Simon Bayliss 240 Officers Field 242 Brentford Lock West, building G 246 St Andrew’s 250 9 Bins, bikes and cars 254 Alexander Abbey 256 Spring at Stonebridge Park 260 Aura, Great Kneighton 264 Dujardin Mews 268
12 Co-design 300 Stephen Hill 302 Spreefeld 304 New Ground 308 Marmalade Lane 311 13 Sustainable design and construction 314 Sustainable design Clare Murray 316 Goldsmith Street 318 Hanham Hall 322 Sustainable construction Zohra Chiheb 326 Town House 328 Trafalgar Place 332 14 Cost in use 336 June Barnes 338 Cost in use: a whole-life approach Julia Moulder 342 Abbreviations and glossary 344 Sources of information 346 Index 350 Acknowledgments 353
Good design in housing – no excuses A foreword by Richard Best
The good news is that all the key policy makers are now signed up to a huge increase in annual housebuilding. The new homes – at least 300,000 of them each year – are badly needed to make up for decades of undersupply, which has meant that almost everyone under 40 today faces a housing problem. The bad news is that most of the new homes will be built in defiance or in ignorance of what constitutes decent housing. Increased production is essential, but it is not sufficient. The UK is heavily dependent on a handful of volume housebuilders motivated by short-term profitability. This model has served us badly. It has, of course, failed to create more than about half the new homes that the country needs. But more fundamentally, it has failed us in the quality of design and placemaking. As well as poor workmanship, abysmal space standards and an absence of investment in innovation and building skills, the major housebuilders have let us down by reneging on promises to include affordable homes.
Derwenthorpe is a mixed community, with 60% home ownership and 40% affordable housing. Home zones favour pedestrians, children can walk to school, the Sustrans cycle track takes you into town, new residents are given a year’s bus pass or a cycle loan, and a car club has started up. A combined heat and power plant, run on renewable energy, means lower fuel bills. A very active residents’ association works with the on-site management team and this new community is generating a rich social life for young and old. The children’s play areas are in constant use. High-speed internet keeps everyone connected and extensive activities bring people together, protect against loneliness and strengthen good neighbourliness. This is one of 60 case studies that feature in this book, illustrating how masterplanning, architecture and landscape can bring together housing and wellbeing and hugely improve quality of life. There is no excuse for continuing to turn out low-grade, poor-quality new places when positive alternatives like these are so clearly achievable.
This book is part of the fightback. From years of campaigning for housing of higher quality, David Levitt, alongside Jo McCafferty, has invited a galaxy of influential experts to share their collective wisdom and imagination across the whole range of housing typologies. The lessons learned from hard-won experience are encapsulated here to challenge and inspire us all to put quality – not just quantity – at the heart of future housebuilding. In Chapter 3 on density, one of the examples of good practice is Derwenthorpe, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation project with which I was involved, for about 550 homes on the east side of York. This new neighbourhood, echoing Parker and Unwin’s 100-year-old Garden Village of New Earswick close by, features Studio Partington’s brilliant designs for Lifetime Homes set in an uplifting yet practical landscape. 1
case study header
‘If only I had known then what I know now’. This is how the first edition to The Housing Design Handbook began, and some eight years on the old adage still rings true. In our preparations for this new edition, many of the subjects remain, but several new ones – including increasing density, co-design, the needs of older people, provision for storage and disposal of waste – reflect issues that have become much more urgent in the meantime. With new homes and the funds to build them in such short supply, some will ask if this is the time to put the primary focus on design. This new edition is intended to demonstrate that sacrificing design quality in favour of basic numbers would be both dangerous and counterproductive. We know that homes must be built to last and that replacing them after just a couple of generations is not merely wasteful but can be deeply disturbing for the people affected. It would be a tragedy if a significant proportion of homes built today simply replace those that have failed to last. Writing more than two thousand years ago, Vitruvius identified ‘Firmness, Commodity and Delight’ as essential components of a well-designed building. However, it appears that firmness and delight are often forgotten in new housing, despite it being the most significant built form in the urban landscape, while its ability to achieve a ‘sense of place’ provides an essential basis for social continuity. And in addition to housing quality, there is pressure on space itself: research published by LABC shows that space standards have been in continuous decline since a peak in the 1980s.1 Since the onset of the 2008 recession, a succession of government ministers enacting a programme of austerity has presided over the removal of direct subsidies for construction, particularly in the provision of affordable housing. This has had the inevitable consequence of increasing densities in a scramble for more private 2
sales to cross-subsidise the affordable homes that developers are obliged to provide. In London in recent years, local authorities have started to build their own housing again; some boroughs have even established their own development companies to circumvent lengthy procurement processes and increase borrowing capacity, while local communities are instigating co-housing projects. But, regrettably, these small-scale initiatives alone are not going to solve the housing crisis. Many have called for renewed state funding and a reskilling of borough departments or even a centrally funded national housebuilding agency. Without a radical rethinking of procurement and funding for truly affordable dwellings, homelessness will continue to soar, and with it a rising burden on all the major services – health, education and policing. Meanwhile, accessible central locations will be solely for the wealthy. This is the context in which we have invited some 26 of the country’s most esteemed designers and clients to discuss the challenges and principles in the design of good homes, drawing from exemplary projects in the UK and beyond. Much can be forgotten in the drive for numbers, but this manual aims to refocus attention on the importance of quality in the creation of the fundamental right for all: good housing that lasts. Beginning with Claire Bennie’s discussion of the factors influencing housing that gets better over time, the rest of the book explores a series of issues that designers need to consider – a base of useful experience from which their own creative contributions can spring. As a primer, this book is intended to provide a firm foundation of practical knowledge, an aid not only to architects but to everyone involved in commissioning housing. In essence, the creative skills involved in the design of good housing are much the same as those involved in the design of anything else, and for which there is no substitute. Architects feed their creativity as they gain experience until they build their own intuitive base, a kind of platform from which to develop their own innovations.
We have included only two examples from the heroic post-war period of UK and European housing. This is partly because the most celebrated are already well-documented and partly because they represent a ‘top-down’ period of architecture, when this book is devoted to the ‘bottom-up’ approach. The building now synonymous with the most notorious housing event of the period between 1945 and 1968, Ronan Point, which partially collapsed after a minor gas explosion in a kitchen, was indirectly influenced by Le Corbusier and the Brutalist movement. This had generated a vast number of ideas and fuelled a healthy dialogue between the leading architects of the day, but had passed completely over the heads of the people for whom the buildings were designed – mostly tenants of local authorities. Many of these ideas are still only partly digested by the public at large and the architects’ dialogue often overlooked the domestic sensitivities that are so crucial to successful housing – and that this book attempts to address. Some of the schemes that represent these ideas survived for only a few years (James Stirling at Runcorn), or are now being demolished (the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens) or altered beyond recognition (Darbourne & Darke’s Marquess Road). However, Neave Brown’s Alexandra Road, Ivor Smith’s Park Hill and Patrick Hodgkinson’s Brunswick Centre are listed, respected and increasingly influential. Many of these iconic projects, as well as the work of architects in the early New Towns, were lauded by architects and are now increasingly appreciated by some sections of the public. Architectural taste outside the cities may still be inherently conservative but the same can no longer be said of those whose choice is to embrace higher-density urban lifestyles. And whereas most experimentation in housing during the post-war period to 1970 seemed to be imposed on people who had no choice, it is now those who can afford to choose who are leading a change and, in the process, carrying those who still have little or no choice along with them.
Just as almost all books on housing had to mention the collapse of Ronan Point, so Grenfell Tower, which burned in June 2017, now represents a watershed in the study of regulation and procurement. Unless some way is found to avoid the disconnect between the component parts of the entire design and construction team and those in control of managing and maintaining the housing itself, similar issues are likely to reappear. New forms of contract are essential to bind these relationships together formally through the design and construction process, and to ensure that the team working together at the beginning of a project is still there at the end. As this book tries to show, there are many good examples of housing of all generations; they have stood the test of time and are supporting happy, healthy and mixed neighbourhoods. Evaluation of these and other built projects, through discussions with their designers, contractors, residents and housing managers is crucial in defining what works and what doesn’t, in order to influence what we design and build tomorrow, particularly with the current focus on offsite construction methods, new technologies, speed and efficiency. Meaningful analysis of long-term cost-in-use for all scales and types of development also needs to inform our thinking. New forms of tenure that offer the hope of affordability, with a broadening of rental and ownership options in both the public and private sectors, are emerging and should continue to evolve. But at the heart of all this, there has to be a genuine commitment from all those involved in the funding, design, delivery and management of housing to the social purpose of creating good homes – not social or private, just ‘good housing’, in the words of Neave Brown – a message he delivered with such passion and poignancy on being awarded the RIBA Gold Medal in October 2017. 1 Are Britain’s Houses Getting Smaller? (New Data), available at www.labcwarranty. co.uk/blog/are-britain-s-houses-getting-smaller-new-data/
Places that get better over time
In the first edition of this book a ‘sense of place’ was defined as residents’ permanent sense of belonging to somewhere of value – this could be a neighbourhood or even a component of a neighbourhood that works and, most importantly, is esteemed by the people who live there. This sense of place is valued in the culture of European settlements – cities, towns or villages – and is a factor in their sustainability.
components – have worn out and need replacing, hardly surprising as the structures themselves were already a century old when the investment to enable a further 30 years of use was made. And the reason these Victorian structures are even now worth far more than their intrinsic value in bricks and mortar is that they form part of the backdrop to a square or a street that has itself acquired a sense of place that is almost beyond price.
Not all cultures thrive on this kind of desire for continuity; much of the USA, Japan and now China do not. Houses in Japan achieve their highest value when they are new and lose value thereafter. In the UK the opposite is often the case, but only when the neighbourhood has achieved that elusive feeling of permanence, so highly valued and apparently embedded in the national psyche. Since World War 2 much perfectly serviceable housing has been consigned to the wrecker’s ball, not because of internal problems, but rather because the experience of getting from the nearest street to the front door was so poor.
After half a century of use, many schemes developed exclusively as social housing from the 1950s through to the 1980s can now safely be judged a success or failure in placemaking terms. Other more recent mixed-tenure schemes can usefully be revisited although they have only been inhabited for a few years.
How large or small does a new scheme have to be to create its own sense of place? What are the essential components or characteristics and what can (individual) new buildings contribute to an existing place, either to reinforce what is there already, or to provide the vital ingredient that cements a neighbourhood together for the first time?
Claire Bennie brings her experience as a client in housing development to an exploration of the factors that make the difference between long-term success and failure. Architects try to build their reputations by demonstrating their most recent achievements in the knowledge that this will be what clients want to see. But in terms of creating a lasting sense of place there is so much more to be learned from close and often painful scrutiny of what has been subjected to the test of time.
Publicly funded new housing used to have an official design life (defined by a body called the Public Works Loan Board) of 60 years, and refurbished housing a design life of 30 years. However, it is unlikely that anyone ever imagined that at the eleventh hour of the twelfth month of the 59th or 29th year any of these schemes would suddenly become uninhabitable. Around 1965, after the local-authority building spree of the early post-war years, many socialhousing programmes switched to the refurbishment of 19th-century terraced properties. On the basis of funding for a 30-year life, by 1995 they would have been due for demolition, but of course this has not happened. Some parts – roofs, windows, services and fragile internal 5
Places that get better over time Claire Bennie
It may seem strange to start a book about housing design with an appeal to the commissioners of that housing, but their thoughtful patronage is crucial in allowing designers to realise any of what follows. About two-thirds of new housing is now generated by speculation, a short-term transactional process where notions of place, longevity and community are often sidelined in favour of a quick return on capital. The other third is the housing developed by long-term landowners – councils, housing associations, community groups and ‘great estates’ – whose motivations (and results) are more complicated. It is in the gift of commissioners and designers to ensure that their built output matures gracefully and has enduring popularity. Speculators need to care more about their legacy and landowners need to resist the overwhelming pressure to deliver at lowest cost and highest speed. Their architects must tirelessly advocate for layouts, materials and details that are both resilient and beautiful. The housing crisis needs sustained investment rather than frenzied bursts of quick fixes, which are likely to be demolished within our lifetimes. Streets or estates designated ‘sought-after’ by estate agents are not necessarily the fanciest or the most attractive but they all have a sense of place, so they are cared for and loved by all who move in, and thus they endure. Commissioning homes for Peabody (a housing association founded in 1862) provided a close view of 150 years’ worth of housing development and its resilience. Six parameters – simplicity, security, shared space, stewardship, stability, and spirit – stand out as those that must be nurtured through commissioning, design and construction. They may make that lasting sense of place possible and they are explored in more detail below. Sometimes it is easier to work out what makes a place last by considering what has failed and what we are reluctantly demolishing, while keeping in mind that the rationale for demolition is not always straightforward or transparent.
1 The brick tenements at Peabody Avenue, Pimlico, 1885: a courtyard model repeated throughout London 2 Westfield, Ashstead, a Span estate designed by Eric Lyons, 1967: well cared-for, innovative housing set within a lush landscape – but with a high service charge
Simplicity In the 1870s, George Peabody’s trustees built the same simple yellow-brick tenement block in a courtyard format using the same contractor all over London. The buildings were decried as barracks-like, but later generations conferred conservation-area status on these simple and solid embodiments of health and comfort. They still stand today, with very little adjustment, their elegant sash windows only recently needing replacement. Regulations now often mean that simplicity is compromised. Architects and developers feel they have to design bespoke buildings for each site, where innovation is a higher priority than long-term success. Consequently, they never perfect buildability or detailing and residents can struggle to operate complex mechanical systems, resulting in overheated rooms or mouldy surfaces, both of which cause fabric failures and over time can lead to demolition. There is something to be said for designing the same building twenty times, getting it right through practice. Well-loved housing, whether on a budget or high-end, has only been achieved through inherent craftsmanship (once embedded in the construction industry but long since lost)
or through careful selection of designers and constructors. The contemporary absence of the ‘art of construction’ may be the most damaging influence on the longevity of our housing stock. Security Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Love thy neighbour, yet don’t pull down your hedge’ is especially pertinent in UK housing design where clear boundaries are particularly valued. The layout of housing, especially if it departs from the lower-density norm of streets and houses, is fundamental to engendering security and safety and thus to the lasting success of a neighbourhood. Many post-war estates are blighted beyond remedy by their high-level walkways, dead ground-floor garages and poorly overlooked spaces that allow anti-social behaviour to flourish. Essentials such as good lighting, natural surveillance and clarity of public and private space are now broadly accepted as axioms of good housing layout. Fences, front gardens and balconies provide a delicate balance between surveillance and privacy and the design of these thresholds is an underrated craft. Shared space The spaces we move through and share in housing developments – street, garden, community hall, café or corridor – shape the way we meet and relate to our neighbours. They have the potential to enhance those relationships or severely test them, depending on how well community members come together to take charge of their shared assets and evolve their use over time. The design of landscape is particularly important, especially in urban housing: every square metre of horizontal space is precious, with trees and plants essential for the wellbeing of the higherdensity dweller. That amenity is under constant threat from our insatiable appetite for car ownership, although a driverless future may await us, provoking new spatial arrangements and possibilities. The enduring success of shared space is only partly in the hands of the designer of course; commercial space within a housing scheme has to be thoughtfully programmed by developers, and the use and management of spaces of all kinds requires a mature governance system within the community to serve diverse needs. The social foundations (including the empowerment of resident groups) that allow the evolution of community coherence, crucial to a lasting place, are beyond the scope of this book. Stewardship Adequate and timely investment in maintenance ultimately underpins a housing scheme’s long-term success, no matter what the design. While designers can seldom control the level of this ongoing investment, it is imperative that they make it easier for the stewards and residents of their housing schemes to ensure that upkeep is affordable and easy to carry out. Fabric degradation occurs for a variety of reasons, including poor component choices, inaccessible services, flawed thermal performance, naive or overcomplicated detailing and shoddy workmanship. Specification and detailing are now often left to constructors, but the risk of building failure is not managed this way. Lifts and doorentry systems exist at the less glamorous end of housing
design, but their persistent failure costs landlords time and money and can ultimately lead to a failure of place. It behoves clients, designers and constructors to rediscover the craft of assembling good-quality components into robust buildings that can be managed within a sustainable budget. The success of schemes such as the Barbican and the Span developments comes at a high ongoing price, service-charged to the wealthy residents; similar schemes in the lower-income sector have consistently failed, through no fault of the resident body. Stability The ‘sought-after’ tag often denotes a place where a core community persists through many generations. Neighbourhoods inevitably undergo churn as people move through various life stages and make up- and down-sizing choices, but the best retain a group of households committed to the place, ensuring continuity of stewardship. Designers may wonder how they can have an impact on this stability, when it is surely landlord or planning policies such as tenure mix and tenancy clauses that enable deep roots to form. However, a diverse and well-disposed mix of unit typologies can enable residents to move on within their community. Compelling shared spaces such as large and safe communal gardens make places desirable for families, who build up community ties and become reluctant to move away. As our society ages, it feels ever more important to enfold older people within community ecosystems rather than isolating them in dedicated satellites; and children also benefit from this multi-generational presence and wisdom. So the designer’s role is to cleverly integrate these diverse members into a coherent micro-society where households cycle through the homes. Spirit This last quality is perhaps the culmination of the other five: the evolution of a clear identity and personality for the development, emerging from a distinctive aesthetic and an agreed stewardship regime. One could go so far as to say that people can fall in love with their living environment due to quirks of appearance, style, components and landscape and also as a result of unique communal activities, on-site staff and collective management, all of which make residents feel embraced by their surroundings. Once enough residents are in love, stability and stewardship follow and a lasting place is born. But it only takes a change in lettings policy or a spell of under-investment for this sense of place to degrade; residents need to be aware and protective of the factors that contribute to what can be a fragile ecosystem. Though some contend that there is only one suitable built format for successful and lasting housing, these six qualities can all exist at high density, with tight space standards and at medium or high rise. Particular formats will probably cost more to build and steward than others, but this is a value choice made by both developer and resident. Having said that, it is irresponsible to build homes where an unsustainable service charge is required for those on lower incomes; insufficient thought is still given to the funding of stewardship at the design stage. 7
The Byker Estate contains almost 2,000 homes on an 81-hectare south-west-facing site overlooking the Tyne. Built in phases through the 1970s, it replaced the terraced Tyneside flats of Old Byker. On appointment, Ralph Erskine set up a project office in the heart of the development and worked closely with the existing and new community to test ideas, using feedback from previous phases to inform the design of the next. Keeping the community together was a cornerstone of the development process – for Erskine, the ‘the main concern will be for those who are already resident in Byker, and the need to rehouse them without breaking family ties and other valued associations or patterns of life’. Residents now remember this as key to the regeneration’s early success.
Places that get better over time
The design of Byker is radical and egalitarian. A complex mix of the monumental and the domestic, it embodies delight, texture and a real sense of ‘craft’. At the small scale, the attention to detail to create moments for the community to meet and socialise is exemplary and results in a humane architecture, despite the overarching scale of the estate.
Location Newcastle upon Tyne Architect Ralph Erskine Landscape architect Ralph Erskine Client Newcastle City Council Site size 81ha No. of dwellings 1,818 Density 22dph Dwelling mix 15 x bedsit, 681 x 1-bed, 470 x 2-bed, 574 x 3-bed, 78 x 4-bed Tenure mix built as 100% affordable Other uses commercial space and hobby rooms Parking spaces 1.3 per home
1 The Byker Wall: a protective, snaking wall of flats and maisonettes, with its colourful timber galleries and wintergardens overlooking generous public space (opposite)
The famous ‘wall’ – a barrier to noise and North Sea winds – creates a snaking block of flats and maisonettes on the northern side of the site, up to eight storeys high. Its northern brick face is only penetrated by small kitchen and bathroom windows, but the southern façade is a joyful composition of timber galleries, sunny balconies, wintergardens and planters. The decks have a real sense of communality and space for personalisation outside each front door. At the base are family maisonettes with their own south-facing gardens, with smaller, two-bedroom homes positioned above. This protective armature encloses acres of low-rise timber-frame housing to the south, each area with its own distinct character and colour, placed to make the most of sunlight and views. Parking and access roads are pushed to the edges of the estate and the landscape is free-flowing between buildings – a delight for children. Small private gardens are provided to each home at ground level, and communal spaces for each neighbourhood cluster. The original L-shaped seats, designed to prompt conversation or small gatherings, survive, sheltered under mature trees. Residents are keen to assure visitors that events continue to be celebrated in these spots. The inspiration of Jan Gehl’s Life Between Buildings (1971) can be seen in the design of open spaces. Planting, though not what it once was in density, still defines the threshold between public and private and, though some timber fences have been added, it is still evident that the landscape is well cared for and overlooked, quite an achievement when there is so much of it. Byker has had a chequered history since its completion, but its future now lies in the hands of a community trust, rather than the City Council. Despite years of under-investment, poor management and social deprivation, it remains a potent reminder of the enduring power of good design in housing, grounded in the neighbourhood and respecting residents – and the need, above all, to invest in its management.
2 Site layout plan
Places that get better over time Byker Estate
Level 3 A
Level 3 A
3 Lower, domestic-scaled terraces are broken with small pathways and vistas 4 A public route framed by bridging galleries leading to A housing with community space beneath 5 Sixth-floor plan: section of Byker Wall 6 Fifth-floor plan: section of Byker Wall 7 Typical 1B2P duplex plan (fifth and sixth floors) 8 Section A through Byker Wall
Places that get better over time
Old Royal Free Square
This scheme in the heart of fashionable Islington, a collaboration between two housing associations and two architects, was completed in 1991 and created nearly 200 flats and houses. These are all for affordable rent, some fashioned from the empty shell and site of a redundant maternity hospital. Always popular with its residents, Old Royal Free Square is reaching a handsome maturity. In the late 1980s, mono-tenure schemes of 100% social rent were not unusual. However, the development team was aware that it was desirable for several reasons to avoid building housing that was obviously for social rent, and that might well be stigmatised as such by the community. As a result, both Levitt Bernstein and Pollard Thomas Edwards adopted certain overriding principles at the design stage: to avoid a wildly different architectural language between the two halves; to avoid designs that looked overtly like social housing; and to avoid culs-de-sac, especially any that consisted entirely of social housing. The architects set out to restore the main building and two of the original hospital wings, which half enclose a new square of three-bedroom terrace houses and one-bedroom flats. These are in small buildings of not more than eight homes per common stairway. In addition, there are small-scale mews houses and flats around a public right of way joining two of Islington’s main thoroughfares.
Location Architect Landscape architect Client Site size No. of dwellings Density Dwelling mix Tenure mix Other uses Parking spaces per home N
Islington, London Levitt Bernstein and Pollard Thomas Edwards Levitt Bernstein Family Mosaic Housing Association and Circle 33 Housing Association 1.56ha 182 117dph 109 x 1-bed, 26 x 2-bed, 40 x 3-bed, 7 x 4-bed 100% affordable psychiatric day centre 395m2 0.5
1 Central landscaped square, lined with terraced houses and small clusters of flats, integrated with on-street parking and tree planting (opposite)
Using the best of the existing Grade II-listed hospital buildings as a template, the central courtyard is the size of a traditional London square. The architectural language aims to remove anything that implied ‘social’ housing, picking up references to mews housing and the remaining hospital buildings. All this is in a manner that can be loosely described as ‘vernacular’. Public spaces more than justify the higher than average expenditure on materials and tree planting. As this is an area of very high property values, every inch of space counts for something. It was not designing out of character when, to achieve the target density, with 70% car parking, the scale of the spaces between buildings was reduced. In the most extreme case, this involved creating a street just 7m wide with houses on both sides – one-third of the normally accepted minimum at the time. Although the idea of mixing different types of tenure in the same project had not been seen or funded when Old Royal Free Square was being developed, it featured an interesting mixture of housing types for rent. Residents included ex-psychiatric patients, young ex-offenders, nurses, the elderly and the disabled. Objections from residents living nearby to some of these categories would have been expected, but in fact they have had no cause for complaint in the 25 years since the scheme’s completion.
Places that get better over time Old Royal Free Square
2 Site layout plan 3 Aerial view looking north 4 The street, a shared surface without pavements, is deliberately narrow and has some of the qualities of a mews 5 A central courtyard provides large amenity space for residents
Nowadays people stop to take photographs. And not just because Ruskin Park House is clearly a design of the 1930s, but because it looks established and cared for – a good place to live.
Places that get better over time
Ruskin Park House
Location Camberwell, London Architect Watkins Gray Landscape architect Watkins Gray Client English and Scottish Properties and London County Council Site size 2.2ha No. of dwellings 241 Density 110dph Dwelling mix 11 x studio, 42 x 1-bed, 136 x 2-bed, 52 x 3-bed Tenure mix built as 98% private, 2% affordable Other uses boiler house 80m2, laundry 15m2, estate management offices 8m2, committee room 8m2 Parking spaces 0.7 per home
Of course it is not just the original design (from 1938, though the project was only completed in 1951) that has made Ruskin Park House an enduring success. Many much more celebrated and innovative schemes of that era, such as Quarry Hill flats in Leeds, did not ‘get better over time’ and have been demolished. Indeed, Ruskin Park House has survived as an estate with many features that are now discredited. The absence of formal boundaries and the generally relaxed attitude towards security would not be repeated now, nor would the inclusion of substantially north-facing single-aspect flats and long internal communal access corridors. There is a considerable amount of shared open space but very little private space, so that, while density is moderately low by today’s standards, private amenity is restricted to quite small balconies, even at ground level. There are no chimneys, as would have been expected, thanks to the growing popularity of district heating systems in the 1940s and ’50s. Ruskin Park House started life in 1938 as a development for private rent. The war intervened, the developer went bust and it was compulsorily purchased by the local authority in 1949. It was completed in 1951 by the original architects. Because of the higher than usual cost it was rented out by London County Council to the equivalent of today’s key workers, who were eventually given the opportunity to buy their flats in the early 1970s. Most seized the opportunity and it is now run by a management company with two resident caretakers, under the control of a leaseholders’ committee. New localauthority housing usually enjoys a period of success in the esteem of its first generation of residents. But the novelty wears off, management enthusiasm declines and so do the condition of the stock and the quality of maintenance. At this point, if an estate is proving costly to maintain, it can be at risk of redevelopment. Ruskin Park House is a tribute to its architect and the commitment of a succession of clients over thirteen years to see it successfully realised. Like many other inter-war estates it has stylish, classless qualities. The principal materials – hard burnt stock brick and galvanised Crittall windows – are enduring and simple. The two long blocks, articulated by projecting curved extensions, are each divided into three sections with stair cores at the joining points that also serve as means of escape. The landscape has a modest amount of mature planting and extensive areas of mown grass. It too must be easy to maintain. All of these simple architectural qualities have now come into their own and completely outweigh the latent disadvantages. Obviously treasured by its residents, Ruskin Park House will no doubt continue to be so for a long and sustainable future. 15
Running head chapter Running head case study
1 View looking north-east, showing central shared lawns and pathways, overlooked by flats on each side 2 Corner stepped main entrance to circulation 3 Brick-clad semi-recessed balconies stacked from ground level 4 Site layout plan
Places that get better over time Ruskin Park House