Housing Imaginations —— Free —— Essays, interviews and ideas on innovations in social housing. —— Published to coincide with the exhibition Peter Barber: 100 Mile City and Other Stories at Sheffield Institute of Arts and Sheffield Modern architecture weekender 2019. Marking the centenary of the 1919 Addison Act, a landmark legislation that led to large-scale council housing provision in Britain.
Peter Barber Architects
Being a contemporary university student in architecture,urban planning, geography or housing is no easy life. Anyone learning for a future career in urban design is looking at a lifetime grappling with complex and far reaching conditions: the provision of shelter in an economy where land and housing as financial instruments as well as bricks and mortar impacts on basic human needs. The vulnerability of housing, epitomised by the crisis of homelessness, has had far reaching consequences in British society and polity. And at the heart of these problems are the geographies of home, as imagining living cities has become malleable in a way whose main precendent is the rapid social changes of the British 19th century industrialising city. It is with these questions in mind that the Department of the Natural & Built Environment at Sheffield Hallam University has brought the work of Peter Barber to Sheffield. The values so strongly conveyed through the exhibition, which has “systematically demonstrated the possibility of creating high-quality, humane spaces for people to live within our increasingly dense urban environment”(Design Museum), are values that we share. Sheffield Hallam University has, since its origins in professional and technical education, prided itself as a civic University whose role is to apply knowledge for the resolution of the pressing issues faced by the South Yorkshire region and beyond. Peter Barber’s exhibition is a catalyst for the asking and answering of questions, by our students and our community. We welcome all to the exhibition, and look forward to the new ideas and city spaces it will usher in. – Luke Desforges Head of the Department of the Natural & Built Environment Sheffield Hallam University
We are proud to present the work of acclaimed British architect and urbanist Peter Barber, in an exhibition co-hosted by Sheffield Hallam University’s Department of Art and Design, Department of the Natural and Built Environment, and Sheffield Modern architecture weekender. This exhibition looks at the rich body of housing his practice has produced – from the awardwinning Donnybrook Quarter in 2006 to recent projects in Stratford, Enfield and Finsbury Park. At the heart of their work Peter Barber Architects systematically address the pressing need to create high-quality, humane spaces for people to live within our ever more financialised cities. The National Housing Federation has recently suggested that 8.4m people in the United Kingdom are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home – 1 in 7 people. The issue impacts every age group in every part of the country, through overcrowded or poor quality housing, unaffordable rents or mortgages, or trapping people in unsuitable homes – children with no access to outside space, or older people in homes they cannot easily get around. In Sheffield alone 853 households face this situation. To satisfy demand, it is estimated that the UK needs to build around 300,000 new homes a year, but the present supply stands at around half that level. Where, and how, homes should be built is an area of intense debate, with the relaxation of planning laws to encourage new homes resulting in garden sheds converted to ‘studio flats’ and green fields threatened by unsustainable sprawl.
Social housing, built by local authorities, with lower rents and guaranteed tenancies once provided an answer to this problem – but years of ‘Right to Buy’ and controls on councils’ capital spending have reduced this sector to a shadow of its former self. Sheffield was once a world leader – from the pre-first world war cottages of the Flower Estate at Wincobank to the globally famous ‘Streets in the Sky’ at Park Hill. Challenges here are similar to elsewhere: questions of maintenance, investment, and placement of populations facing deprivation or with complex needs together without adequate support. But despite these challenges, this was also a city that proudly housed its working people on the tops of hills, in structures compared to castles, and that sought to preserve and retain communities and friendships as it cleared unsanitary housing. The very image of the city was once presented through the way it housed its people. It’s these socialist, heroic roots that Peter Barber’s exceptional work draws upon. Consciously mining older house types – backto-backs, almshouses, tightly formed terraces and courtyards – his work includes some of the best social housing built in Britain today. The scope of his work ranges from addressing the scale of the city to caring for the details of everyday life – where covered stoops allow residents to pass the time of day or oriel windows socialise the view of the street. It’s often a built celebration of the ephemera of daily life delighting in washing lines and garden sheds, deckchairs and children’s toys. Each year the SHU Architecture M.Arch students and lecturers visit practices, sites and exhibitions in London, and this year our itinerary included 100 Mile City and Other Stories at the Design Museum, and later Peter Barber’s gem of an office near Kings Cross. To see such an eloquent, punctual and thoughtful exploration of these pressing issues was inspiring and encouraged us to bring the work to Sheffield. We are grateful for the generosity and enthusiasm of Peter, who will also give a speech as part of the upcoming programme of events. In compiling this catalogue of his work, we have invited academics, students and others concerned with housing to share their research and praxis, alongside an interview and essay from Peter himself. In doing so we seek to open up the debate within the city, and bring people together around concerns and opportunities that span architecture, design, activism, politics and society. – Julia Udall Senior Lecturer in Architecture at Sheffield Hallam University and Director of Studio Polpo – Tim Machin Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery Manager
Approaches to housing design Peter Barber on the ideological and political context of his studio’s work There are numerous ways to approach the design of housing, lots of hats that we can and should wear – abstract and analytical, political, sensual, social, artistic, pragmatic even. We need to be sociologist, geographer, architect and urbanist – old-style masterplanner and situationist both. I’d like to start with a series of points that aim to tease out the ideological and political context of our work. These quotes, images and observations capture the atmosphere and ethos of what we do and in a sense provide a moral compass for our design process. ONE ‘Perhaps the most democratic achievement of elected government in the twentieth century was the building of council housing to let at rent that the workers could afford. The endeavour was the essence of social democracy. It was socialist because it favoured the poor and it was democratic because the landlord was the elected authority responsible to the tenant.’ Paul Foot, The Vote, 2005 The UK was broke in the aftermath of the Second World War, and yet successive governments still found the resources not only to fund the National Health Service but to build 150,000 homes annually. By 1975, nearly half the population enjoyed the benefits of living in council housing. In the intervening years, this policy has been reversed with a series of disastrous housing acts. Governments of both political complexions have abandoned their commitment to social housing. Since 1979, HALF of all public-owned land has been sold into private ownership and two million homes have been
sold, at heavily discounted prices, under the nonsensical ‘right-tobuy’ scheme. Today, only around eight per cent of the population lives in council housing. Consequently in London alone there are currently: 170,000 homeless people in London (Shelter’s robust minimum figure); 8,000 rough sleepers, a total that has doubled in the last four years; 20,000 thousand empty homes; and 150 families losing their home each day. At the same time we have seen an exponential rise in property prices and the cost of private-sector rentals – 259 per cent over the course of the last 10 years. In my view, housing is basic infrastructure and not a commodity, and the control of the land economy and housing production has to be a matter for government – much as it was in the middle part of the last century. Three simple policies would decommodify housing and would end the housing crisis: 1. Introduce private-sector rent controls; 2. Halt the selling of council houses under ‘Right to Buy’; 3. Build 150,000 council houses a year funded by direct taxation. It would be interesting to reflect on ways in which this new wave of council housing production might be devolved, bottom up, or incremental. TWO ‘The passion for improvisation ... demands that space and opportunity be at any price preserved. Buildings are used as a popular stage. They are all divided into innumerable simultaneously animated theatres. Balcony, courtyard, window, gateway, staircase, roof are at the same time stages and boxes … as porous as the stone is the architecture. Buildings and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades and stairways. In everything they preserve the scope to become a theatre of new unforeseen constellations. The stamp of the definitive is avoided. No situation appears intended forever.’ Walter Benjamin, One Way Street, 1924 Walter Benjamin’s description of the culture and form of a street in Naples captures beautifully the idea of a city animated by the activity of its occupants – by a
spatiality that is permeable, that invites occupation. He gives us an intimation of the fragile and complex reciprocal relationship that exists between people and space, between culture and architecture. His message: without people and culture, space is inert. Our projects work with the idea that space conditions and is in turn conditioned by society and culture, and that architecture can create the potential for social action and activity. I always find it helpful to try to visualise how people might inhabit the spaces that we create and I love revisiting our built housing projects to see how people’s lives are played out inside their homes and in the courtyards and on the streets which we have made. THREE Housing accounts for 70 per cent of all the buildings in London. It’s what our city is made of. It’s what creates a hard edge to our streets, what surrounds our squares. Therefore when we design urban housing we are designing cities. Designs for housing should begin as urban designs, driven in the first instance by our vision of a beautiful city. Projects like Donnybrook Quarter and Hannibal Gardens contain housing but more fundamentally they are a celebration of the life of the city. FOUR I’m for street-based neighbourhoods. Streets work, they are an ingenious and effective means of organising public space. Picture the experience of a stroll along The Lanes in Brighton, an area of unremarkable but successful streets with characteristics we can learn from:
– The buildings that bound the street house a mix of uses – retail, leisure, business and residential – that create a vibrant local culture and 24-hour occupancy. - There is a strong visual connection between the buildings themselves and the street. This means that every inch of public space is overlooked or naturally policed. It is hard to imagine a mugging or robbery taking place here. - Narrow building frontages and numerous front doors create visual diversity and the potential for occupiers to personalise their space. Now compare this to Pitfield Street, in East London, where you walk 50m up the street and turn right through a gap between buildings to enter a very different world – the vast hinterland of inter- and post-war housing estates that stretches across Hoxton. The designers of these estates eschewed the street in favour of a spatiality that has blighted the lives of thousands of residents for three generations: - The spaces between the buildings create no useful or usable routes across this part of the city, forcing people to make lengthy and inconvenient detours around them. - Dead ends, blind alleyways, burnt-out garages, paladin stores block off any views into, or routes, across the estates. Concealed from view in this way, one of London’s most socially disadvantaged areas has become segregated from the rest of the city – a ghetto.
- The estates are laid out as a series of objects dotted around – It is well integrated into the in acres of unprogrammed and spatial fabric of the city, as part of unused space: some concrete network of streets that make the pavers or tarmac here, a patch city permeable and provide strong of grass there. Such large, visual and spatial connections dispersed spaces tend to between adjacent yet socially dissipate social activity, limiting diverse neighbourhoods. the potential for people to meet or even to see fellow residents. – It is narrow, concentrating the Deserted most of the time, they public life of the area into a very create an environment which limited space. It brings together tends to isolate people and people of diverse social, economic increase their vulnerability to and cultural groups and creates crime. Some on the estate are the potential for a colourful social afraid to leave their apartments. scene. Most affected are the elderly, racial minorities and women.
Against this, I like to try and arrange our projects as a network of streets often interspersed with little public squares and gardens. I aim to align streets so that they create handy shortcuts and strong spatial and visual connections with adjacent neighbourhoods. I like to imagine narrow streets which concentrate public world into a fairly limited space, bringing lots of different types of people. And it’s nice to think of narrow building frontages and numerous front doors creating visual diversity and the potential for people to personalise the space outside their home.
Leone-style shifts in scale from detail to widescreen panorama – silhouette, close-up, perspective shifting, space unfolding, picturesque, sensual – a shadowy street with a little kick, tapering and narrowing suddenly before opening through an archway into the corner of a sunny square ... mmm, nice! It’s good in this context to think also of Debord’s situationist derivé and psychogeographic maps, or Baudelaire’s flâneur – the city and its streets understood and experienced ‘on the ground’, at eye level.
SEVEN Le Corbusier said ‘a street is linear I love straight streets in grids factory’ – typically hyperbolic. But –stretched, square, diamond, it’s good to think of a productive triangular, hexagonal grids. Let’s city, houses over workshops, take a look at the possibilities. shop windows and loading bays, — Thin, gregarious grids, slivers clobber at the kerb, messy crossof terraced houses pushed up to programming – pre- war London, the kerb – brash, showy, public Marrakech, Old Delhi. – Brighton Barceloneta, back-toFIVE back Brum, Western-set thin, city I am interested in medium-rise, of pleasure, city of the body, city higher-density housing, and often as theatre, building as backdrop. try to explore the possibility of achieving this with houses instead – Or what about a deep, square grid, a modest, introverted, of flats. reflective city of deep blocks and We like to experiment with courtyards – Oxford, Fez. unconventional housing typologies. Some of them are quite — Or a triangular grid 60-degree corners — a city of flows, gentle obscure and belong to a premodern vernacular – the Tyneside changes of direction, seductive, democratic even. or cottage flat, back-to-back houses, courtyard house types, EIGHT double and treble stack ‘walk ups’ – not to mention the terrace/ Djemaa el Fna, the extraordinary courtyard hybrid notched terrace, public square embedded in the which I nicked from Adolf Loos and medieval walls of Marrakesh, in my view exemplifies what public Jose Luis Sert. space is – or at least what it can be. Where higher-rise apartments are required it seems to me that Like all public space it is unique pre-modern tenement housing and mansion block typologies are because it belongs at the same a good model. They define a clear time to no one and to everyone – to old and young, rich and poor, and unambiguous edge to the tourists and locals alike. It’s a street, and tend to concentrate place where people can express circulation within the street itself, with numerous and regular points themselves in relative freedom. of street access and minimal Djema al Fna has no monuments interior circulation – think also of and is almost exclusively Neave Brown’s Alexander Road. surrounded by unexceptional buildings. For much of the day SIX it remains fairly quiet. However Sergei Eisenstein said that Greek in the cool of the evening the urbanists were the first great teeming alleyways of the old town cinematographers. spill into it and a tumultuous scene unfolds. While I’m designing I sometimes try to imagine our schemes as Little mobile kitchens appear a screenplay, a sequence of from nowhere, people form circles views, long, lyrical tracking shots, around fire-eaters, acrobats a shocking jump cut, Sergio
and storytellers. Theatre troupes perform on hastily erected stages. There are snake charmers and oud players, drum bands and fireworks. This is an architecture of festivity, ephemeral, mobile, in flux – foregrounded by people, its message embodied in its name: Djemaa al Fna translates as ‘Mosque of Nothing’. I love the idea of public space being a ‘mosque of nothing’: open, unprogrammed, where people can be themselves.
broken glass and 3 traffic cones, all found in the street.
Peter Zumthor zooms in like this: ‘I remember the sound of gravel under my feet, the soft gleam of the waxed oak staircase…’
Sixty years on, the same functionalist planning culture still prevails, favouring a dispersed, suburban anti-social spatiality. Tick-box policy enforced through generic design standards, overlooking distances, car parking minimums, idiotic daylight, sunlight and air-quality indicators. Urbanism measured in habitable rooms/hectare, decibels, square meters, lux.
TEN In the 1950s the Corporation of Great Yarmouth embarked upon the destruction of the town’s historic centre, 35 acres of tiny streets and alleys known as the Yarmouth Rows, home and workplace to over 18,000 people – extraordinary architecture, Elizabethan and Georgian, but in their view ‘an insanitary and NINE utterly unsatisfactory form of In The Practice of Everyday Life development which could not Michel de Certeau says that space possibly be retained’. is ‘practised place’, ‘everyday Slum clearances like this resulted narrative’, ‘a word caught in the in the demolition of vast quantities ambiguity of actualisation’, ‘on of back-to-back and terraced streets, in apartments and in the most intimate of domestic habits’. housing in the Midlands and the North of England, the sweeping It’s useful to think about small away of serviceable and popular things, everyday habits, domestic tenement housing in Glasgow and rituals, the turning of a door Edinburgh, the bulldozing of great handle, footsteps on the stairs, the swathes of street-based housing view from a window seat. from Brighton to Newcastle.
Our Gadget Apartment celebrates everyday things and ordinary domestic rituals. It is homespun, assembled from oddments found in local skips, tips and junk shops, stuff left lying around. Cheap, handy, bespoke, the residue of previous construction and destruction. – Mono-gold door At the threshold between the public world and the apartment interior the inside face of the front door is covered in gleaming squares of gold leaf found in a junk shop. – Bath Tidy Copper pipe wraps the bathroom wall as radiator, towel rail and handy hook for razor, soap dish and toothbrush. No home should be without one! – Tap and soap dish A tap assembled from bits of old taps and a spiral coat-hanger wire soap dish. – Match shelf A tiny wire shelf so you know where your matches are. – Wok-hob Two second-hand wok burners and some mesh out of a skip. – Metachron B1 table (with Ben Stringer) A dining table constructed from a triangle of
I would like to see radical new planning policy designed to encourage compact, continuous, urban form – densely packed, convivial, congested city of intimately scaled streets and alleys where people from different backgrounds could live alongside one another, where narrow streets compress and intensify the urban and human experience. In short, a socially and ecologically sustainable urbanism structured by idealism, rather net-twitch neurosis. – This text is an extract from an essay originally published in Project Interrupted: Lectures by British Housing Architects, 2018. The full piece goes on to detail how these ideas find expression in a number of Peter Barber projects: Donnybrook Quarter, Beveridge Mews, Holmes Road Studios, and 100 Mile City.
Holmes Road Studios sketch Ilchester Road
Hannibal Road Gardens
advocate of publicly funded and owned housing, what you think needs to change in the UK to make it possible again?
Peter Barber in conversation Affordable housing is in great need of reinvention for the 21st century, and Peter Barber is one architect brimming with ideas. One of the most imaginative and influential architects working in housing for local authorities, housing associations and homeless people, Peter Barber calls on the country’s rich tradition of council housing and pushes for radical approaches to pressing social issues we’re facing today. Here, he talks to Jacob Kelly, an architectural designer and masters student at Sheffield Hallam University – sharing his passion for publiclyfunded housing, his thoughts on aesthetics and materials, and how his housing projects connect with the people who go on to live in them. Jacob: In our course we’re looking at alternative development models and the idea of recalibrating the role of the architect for social and environmental justice. So to start with, I’d like to ask about funding and commissioning. A lot of your work has received public funding, but the situation has changed a lot over the past few years and its availability is much more limited now. As an
Peter: In terms of simple policy choices: end Right to Buy, introduce private sector rent controls, and build a lot of social housing. A social housing programme of the sort of scale that was undertaken in the aftermath of the second world war. 150,000 homes a year, and we are a much richer country than we were then. If we could do it then we can do it now – it is a matter of public will, and about priorities. As things get worse, more and more people become affected, and surely it can’t be a hard battle to win in terms of people’s points of view and hearts and minds. J: Are you exploring alternative funding models? Have you looked at community-led or community land trust models, for example? P: As you say, most of our projects are with local authorities or their arms-length companies. The projects that we are doing a lot of are sort of middle scale, 20 to 120 units, and there is funding available for those. It comes from a variety of sources, one of which is the sale of the Right to Buy properties. So therein, after what I have just said, lies a conundrum. That’s the reality of what we’re are doing and how some of our projects are being funded. Some of them mix social housing and for-sale housing, so there is a cross-subsidy. That’s possible in areas where there are higher land values so the for-sale stuff can front the other stuff. Some of it is projects within the local authorities – so, presumably, disposal of a local authoritiy’s land assets or buildings fund projects that we are involved with. What I don’t think is happening – and this is the problem – is that this housing programme needs to be funded out of taxation. Ultimately it’s the redistribution of income from wealthy people to poorer people; that’s the just way I think social housing should be funded. We are talking to a number of groups about possible sort of community land trust-type projects and cooperative projects. We haven’t completed a project that’s truly in those categories
yet but its something I’m very interested in. Thinking about a big new programme of social housing, it is interesting to reflect on how that was achieved in the 50s, 60s and 70s in this heroic topdown approach – to imagine a world in which things are more bespoke and one was dealing with smaller groups of end-users, and therefore in some way to try to democratise the process. Although that has to be done very carefully because I think small groups getting too much power in an urban situation can result in a sort of skewing of democracy. They can hold local authorities to ransom in a way in which is ultimately not fair to everyone else. J: Yes, and I suppose it will probably still rely on public funding? P: It will come through the government. I think that’s what has to happen because they are the people who are accountable through the ballot box. J: Do you ever initiate projects? P: My pet project at the moment is a garden. We’ve done a homeless building in Holburn in central London around a courtyard. I was doing an open house there, not this year but the year before, and asked a resident why the flower beds that we created within that courtyard remained just mud. They said: “because we’ve got no money”. So we as an office have given them a bit of money and worked with them to help make a garden. That’s a project that’s small but really important. In the last six months, over the summer, it really transformed the appearance of the place – but it also added something in terms of the relationships that have emerged around the garden. It’s not just the people who are working on it; it’s the other people who are now more keen to sit out and socialise there. For me, it’s trying to connect with people who are using that building. Which is very difficult because of the sort of economic system we have to try to break through. The production of space and housing is very distant from the end-user, but in this instance, we’ve been able to be very connected in a way that is refreshing.
J: That leads on to my next question: is participatory design involved in your process? I suppose with the way a lot of your projects are commissioned the end-user isn’t there from the start? P: Well this is it. It’s not from the lack of willing; I don’t think there is any architect who would say they would rather not have a connection to their end client. For me, that is a sort of crucible for creativity, where magical things can happen between clients and architects. Unfortunately – I’m going to use slightly highfalutin language about means of production that sounds slightly Marxist – the reality is that we are distanced from our clients by the means of production. Marx said that we are estranged from the things that we make, and that’s never truer than when you are sitting at a drawing board in an architect’s office trying to get your mind to connect with the person who’s going to be sitting in that courtyard or standing at that sink. It’s quite a hard mental leap of faith to make but it’s something you have to try and do. We do get asked to get involved in participation events, and sometimes the little conversations off-record are really helpful in getting to the nub of the issue. But more often than not they are not a terribly meaningful process. The classic really is asking people what colour they would like their front door. J: How do you feel the exhibition and public discourse around your work and the housing process contributes to influencing policy to support social housing or changing the construction industry to work with people? P: I think it’s a very slow burn. I’ve never felt that any one project, article or pronouncement that we as a practice have made will change anything but over a long time, if you stick at it, one starts to see a little bit of our influence. It’s very gratifying. I have no problem with coming around the corner in London and sometimes saying “oh I didn’t know we did a project in this street” and then it’s actually somebody else’s project. It’s nice to feel that people like our stuff and it’s influencing what they are doing.
As far as the big areas are concerned, I shout it from the rooftops that these issues are structural and political and we have a responsibility as architects and as citizens to call them out and to continue to do so over and over again at every opportunity. But, in the end, these things will be changed at the ballot boxes. I think they are big political issues about our economic and political priorities. If, as a society, voters decided they feel uncomfortable living in a city where there are 150,000 homeless people – like London – then they need to address that at the ballot boxes and with really big policies about economics and housing funding. J: Is your filmmaking a strong way of getting your ideas across? P: The film is a one-off. It’s a tiny bit of what we do to help us speculate about ideas but also to put those speculative ideas to the public, so that people might become more adventurous about the way people think about things. I think the 100 Mile City project and film are part of a long-running narrative of this practice asking for more radical approaches to the problems that we are facing. J: A lot of your work, along with the 100 Mile City, is focused around London. Have you done many social housing projects outside the city, in the Midlands and the North? P: We did a project in Blackpool, unbuilt. We were exploring the possibility of doing back-to-back housing as a way of achieving rather high densities, while using houses rather than flats. This got quite a long way before the financial crash came along and stymied it. It was a site right in the middle of Morecambe. It was not actually social housing, it was for-sale housing in a very run-down area in the town, proposed to try to reboot the local economy. I’d love to work more outside of London. I really think our approach is not exclusive to London. There’s been a lot about what’s going on in Manchester at the moment – it’s unfair for me to comment but people are grumbling about all the highrises that have been going up. They
seem to be driven more by greed and speculation than by any idea about the city. So it would be lovely to be invited to show how it could be done differently. J: It feels like a very similar situation in Sheffield, mainly with student accommodation going up in highrises, which seem to be driven by short-term interests. P: The other thing to say about that is that I don’t think we can get the same density with our approach as a 30-storey block in Manchester, but we are achieving surprisingly high densities with some of the unusual house types that we have come up with. We just finished some four-storey backto-back housing in the east end of London. The density of that is about 750-800 rooms a hectare, which is high. So there are other ways of doing this with a much more public-spirited street face and with an emphasis on public space and so on. J: That’s one of the things I find most inspiring about your work: how it centres around street life and connections to it. Making social spaces which displace the cars and traffic. P: One of the good things about working in the area relatively central to London is the fantastic public transport infrastructure which isn’t always available in smaller towns. J: Yes, there is still a lot of emphasis on car use in Sheffield but we are looking at how active transport systems can be integrated into developments to enable street life. P: When I lived in Sheffield, because I did my degree there, we had David Blunkett as head of the council and even accounting for inflation, the bus fairs were either 3 pence or 8 pence. You could go from one end of the city to the other for 8 pence. Even if that was double in today’s money, 15 or 20p, I think there’s something to be said for that. It was fantastic. J: Aesthetic consideration is a fundamental part of your designs. Can you elaborate a bit on its importance to the wellbeing of the residents, and how it can change how social
housing and housing for the homeless is perceived? P: I’m not actually sure how to characterise the relationship between the aesthetics of housing and its social function. I suppose our aesthetic has changed quite a bit over the years. I was talking to someone this morning about a house I designed and built in Saudi Arabia, which was the first project we did and in effect the mother and father of much of our early work – Donnybrook, Doris’ Place, Mildmay Grove. They are all projects that have a kind of stripped-down aesthetic. Rendered, so they belong to high modernism in a sense, but also the architecture of that part of the world, North Africa and the Middle East. Very simple forms, thick walls. Solid architecture, which I think our work still is. That’s one of the characteristics which has survived over the last 30 years; we work with the architecture of solidity. Where a lot of contemporary architecture seems to rejoice in technology and prefabricated components, curtain walls or prefabricated structure, ours feels solid, based. Attached to the ground and permanent. In recent years we have gone on to use brick – not exclusively, but a lot. That, to a significant extent, is the result of observations we made about how large landowners, local authorities and housing associations maintain rendered properties. Towns like Brighton are almost exclusively rendered but, to a great extent, they are either owned by small landlords or individuals who are better able to manage the maintenance. So that is partly why we have gone over to using brick – but also I really like a good quality brick, the quality and complexity that comes with it. If you think about a project like Holmes Road [a homeless facility in north London], the brickwork and detailing give it a very domestic feel. Where one is trying to give a sense to people that feels uninstitutional and domestic, that probably is the thing to do. J: Your point about materials being selected to make it easy for councils to maintain is really important. Especially looking
back at previous housing projects and tower blocks where failures to properly maintain them were key reasons for their downfall. Despite people often loving living in these homes they were allowed to degrade around them. P: That’s right. I suppose the maintenance issue was where we began to start thinking about these things but. But it’s not just a negative thing. There’s an interesting complexity that comes with a rustic brick which has variation in colour. Render looks great when the suns out. Corb calls it painting with light. I still love to go down to Donnybook and see it. Sometimes though, when it’s all a bit drizzly and dark, perhaps brick is more forgiving. J: Do you have much feedback from people who live in your projects, particularly on how they compare to their previous experiences of housing? P: I can’t generalise, but we had an interesting experience when we finished a project in Barking [Ilchester Road], where we made some housing for older people. It was council housing for the local authority and the idea was that these one-bedroom homes would be provided for people who might need to downsize from big council flats. They were people who were in their midto-late-70s and we got to know three or four of them. They were all women who were living on their own. It’s a series of cottages around a narrow alleyway, which is a shared space. There are no back gardens, everybody has a front garden. It works with the idea that there is loneliness among people of that age group. These people had grown up on east end streets in the 1960s and 70, and in their late teens had been moved into social housing which wasn’t organised around a street to the same extent. For them, the way they characterised their move into this project was as if it were a homecoming. To live on a street where people are leaving their front doors open and socialising was a world they were very familiar with growing up. So that was quite heartwarming, that reaction.
An Almshouse: Holmes Road Studios, Kentish Town, London 2016 Traditionally, an almshouse was a complex in which urban and village parishes provided sheltered accommodation to their vulnerable and elderly residents, often in cottages around a walled garden. Holmes Road Studios provides high quality residential accommodation for the homeless together with training and counselling facilities, all laid out around a secluded courtyard garden.
Mansion Blocks: Pegasus Court, Grahame Park, London 2015 Mansion blocks, or tenement blocks, emerged during the 19th century in industrial cities such as New York, Glasgow and London. They housed large numbers of workers on small plots. Pegasus Court provides 70 new homes above groundfloor shops forming one side of square that will become an important municipal and social space for the local area.
Terraced: Beveridge Mews, Stepney Green, London 2012 Beveridge Mews is a reworking of the traditional terrace - a form most frequently occurring in British cities as Victorian-era workers’ housing. Beveridge Mews is a ‘blind-back’ with no windows to the rear and no back garden, instead a multitude of sunny roof terraces and a large communal garden to the front.
Back-to-back: McGrath Road, Stratford, London 2018 Back-to-back housing was a low-cost, highdensity housing type once widespread across the North of England. Sharing party walls on three of four sides only the front walls had a door and windows. At McGrath Road each house has its own private roof terrace giving a sense of privacy, despite the high density.
Double Stack: Donnybrook Quarter, Bow, London 2005 Double stack housing, also known as â€˜cottage flatsâ€™, is composed of two dwellings stacked on top of each other, each having its own front door directly onto the street. At Donnybrook the double stack house type allows a high-density, streetbased neighbourhood where everyone gets their own front door and courtyard.
100 Mile City 100 Mile City is provocative response to the Adam Smith Institute’s 2016 call to “curtail the housing crisis” by building on London’s green belt. Peter Barber suggests instead building inwards from the green belt: “Build a street based, linear city a hundred miles long, 200 metres wide and four storeys high. Wrap it around London… a confident purposeful boundary fronting a revitalised, productive countryside.”
Dwelling Together Environmental Design and Co-operative Housing in the Year 1 Architecture studios at Sheffield Hallam University
Over the last 20 years the BSc (Hons) Architecture course has placed environmental and social sustainability at the heart of architectural education. These concerns are embedded throughout the all aspects of the course and specifically explored through the design studio. In addition to establishing the foundation of broad skills common to undergraduate architecture courses, the Year 1 studio introduces critical environmental and social sustainability thinking to the curriculum. The studio co-housing project ‘Dwelling Together’ provides the opportunity to explore aspects of the environmental and social sustainability agenda through design at a domestic scale. The project begins with a ‘game’ where each student generates a random, individual profile for the inhabitants of their project. Working together in small groups (their ‘co-operative’) the students then randomly generate a series of shared or collective facilities, some of which connect to a wider existing community. This is an introduction to the sustainable design possibilities presented by the sharing economy and a collective programme. More recently, the project has developed to include genuine clients; a local alternative housing developer alongside members of a local housing co-operative. The diversity of clients, including multigenerational households, home workers, live/work, sharers, elderly and the disabled, echoes the emerging trend in the housing market of ‘micro habitats’ which combine living, working, recreation and care. This diversity and plurality encourages spatial and functional experimentation in the student work and studio discussions regularly challenge conventional ideas of dwelling. Beyond this, adaptability, flexibility and self-build are often strategically explored. Supported by parallel studies in Environment and Technology modules, the project brief stipulates that the dwellings should exploit passive solar gain through design. A given palette of recycled, locally salvaged and re-used materials sows the seeds of a sustainable materiality. Together with site strategies which optimise solar orientation, the approach to materiality looks beyond typical contextual responses which are often limited to concerns of typology, form and material facsimile. The project never fails to elicit a wide range of design responses; at one extreme dwellings with a pronounced individuality and novel material expression (perhaps the beginnings of an emerging aesthetic of the ‘Anthropocene’?); at the other extreme, ‘cooperative’ groups opt to develop a series of similar spatial ideas with a more coherent aesthetic. In all cases, the tacit skills and knowledge developed through strategic thinking, group working and negotiation are set within a context of alternative housing procurement driven by the sustainability agenda. The recent award of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize to Goldsmith Street by Mikhail Riches Architects has placed many of the underlying intentions of our ‘Dwelling Together’ project in the public conscious and onto a global stage. This superb demonstration of local authority provided social housing using a passive solar strategy, built to passivhaus standards is described by the RIBA president as a ‘beacon of hope’. This not only validates our approach to architecture at Sheffield Hallam but also provides a very tangible connection for the work of our students and the postive impact they can have in the ‘real’ world. – Oli Cunningham Course Leader and Year 1 Leader for BSc (Hons) Architecture at Sheffield Hallam University
British Social Housing, 100 years on from the Addison Act
This year, 2019, marks the 100th anniversary of the ‘Addison Act’ formally known as the (1919 Housing Act) being the first social housing scheme, the country and world had ever seen implemented. Created by politician Christopher Addison it was also labelled as “Homes for Heroes” - homes for returning soldiers and their families after the first world war, producing affordable housing estates for these working-class families all over the country. Addison was one of the first politicians to recognise the need for quality public funded housing for those in need. From 1919-1922 over 250,000 homes were built setting in place a precedence for this principle of subsidised housing projects to benefit those in need for years to come (St Leger Homes, 2019). Although Britain’s relationship with council housing has been a turbulent one to say the least, it is one of the ways of tackling issues facing the country today such as: the housing crisis, the increasing population, and not only Britain’s, but the world’s, fight against climate change. One of the ways of tackling all three of these issues is within a fully devised and reconstructed fit for purpose 21st century social housing plan. The housing shortage has been an underlying issue facing Britain for nearly four decades. So much so that in 2019 then Prime Minister Theresa May labelled it “The biggest problem facing Britain today” (Independent, 2018). In the 1980s there were over 6.5 million government owned council houses, the largest amount the country has ever had. As of today, there are only 2 million council houses left in circulation. One third of the 1980s figure were sold to the housing associations, another third were sold off to private landlords as well as people buying their council houses through the Right to Buy scheme. Many believe the Housing Act 1980 also known as the Right to Buy scheme brought in by Margret Thatcher’s Conservative government is to blame for the vast decrease in council houses, as the scheme allowed tenants to buy the council houses in which they lived in for over 20 years for 70% less of their value. Many believe Right to Buy should be suspended, as it has already been in Scotland and Wales, due to the shortage of council houses. Local councils are at the forefront of the movement to suspend Right to Buy as they only receive 1/3 of the cost of the house paid by the tenant, with central government receiving the rest. However, the scheme was created by Thatcher to incentivise people and brings a sense of pride in owning your own home, therefore many at the time saw Right to Buy as a positive. The conundrum surrounding social housing will not be solved within a short period of time. However, the recent 2019 RIBA Stirling prize winner, Goldsmith Street, a social housing estate in Norwich, shows how social housing can also produce a sense of community. As well as the communal achievement of the Goldsmith project, it is also the first social housing development to be built within the Passivhaus standards, showing its environmental consciousness. Projects like this are stepping stones towards resolving the issue of Britain’s social housing crisis, but there is still a long way to go with estimates of 100 000 social houses needing to be built every year for the next 20 years in order to achieve this. – Benjamin Broomhead Third year Architecture student at Sheffield Hallam university. Benjamin is currently writing his finalyear essay, with the title: ‘Can new approaches to social housing be the problem-solving solution to a changing country?’. He aims to expand upon issues raised within the piece above, looking into the country’s social housing problems and how its solutions may also help address issues such as global warming and the country’s ageing population. He will put forward a case for how successful ideas from the past of social housing can be implemented and developed to work within modern environmentally conscious design.
Archive photography from Sheffield Libraries and Archives
If we understand ‘DIY’ culture as a family of self-organising networks, with overlapping memberships and values that challenge mainstream culture, we acknowledge a shift from the individual (the ‘Y’) to a collective dimension, implying a counter culture to the mainstream, a form of critique and resistance. Within contemporary community led, DIY, approaches to housing in the UK, however, this countering position is not always central and sometimes even absent, while collective action is framed more widely and often in a way that is not openly political.
The UK Housing provision and production is described as being in crisis, both within the media and within scholarly discourses. This crisis might have been triggered by the global financial downturn of 2007, but has much deeper structural roots and very compelling scholarly socio-political readings of the housing crisis have been put forward that problematise and contextualise those roots. Within this housing crisis context, however, perhaps catalysed by the financial downturn, the UK is also witnessing the emergence of self-initiated DIY and collective models of housing that, at least in part, try to address the inadequacies of housing provision in terms of equality, accessibility and affordability as well as ecological performance. Collective ways of procuring and developing housing such as co-housing, cooperatives, collective custom build projects and Community Land Trusts are beginning to establish themselves in the UK, forming an emerging ecosystem with potential to grow and become a more mainstream mode of housing production, as is the case in many EU countries. Common to these models of alternative approaches to housing is an interest in collective experiences and a concern with the role that individuals and groups play in the wider society. However, many of these initiatives have also benefitted from recent policies promoting and pump priming ‘custom build’ and ‘community led housing’ in response to market failure to provide adequate housing supply and political pressure to somehow address the housing crisis. The lexicon associated with these types of housing, used by those living in them, those enabling them, or those without direct involvement is not neutral and reveals the complexities, the tensions and the politics behind these developments. One such tension is between the DIY culture underpinning many projects and the centralised (often neoliberal) ideologies that produced the policies and funding structures supporting them.
Productive Openings within Community Led Housing
Reconciling the ideological foundations and the drivers of many community-led housing projects with those underpinning the policies that supported and enabled them can prove challenging. I propose a reading of contemporary community led housing projects in the context of recent UK policies, that bypasses the customary binaries of bottom up and top down, alternative and mainstream, production and consumption, left and right. Instead I suggest to explore the openings created by the interaction between the contrasting ideologies driving groups of people to seek alternative models of housing production and the neoliberal housing policies that appear to scaffold them as an instance of ‘thirding’ (after Soja). Community led housing is then read in a relational way, occupying the space created by the interaction, intersection and tension between countering practices rooted and ecological thinking and neoliberal policies underpinned by capitalism. Understanding these openings as fluid spaces, where oscillations between confrontational antagonism, critique, cooperative agonism and co-production are acceptable, and even desirable, helps mitigate the risks of countering practices being swallowed up through processes of sub-culturalisation. – Cristina Cerulli Reader in Community-led Architecture and Urban Design at Sheffield Hallam University and Director of Studio Polpo
Housing associations, inclusive growth and the importance of resident participation
In the 1960s the writer Jane Jacobs famously described the city in terms of its choreography – highlighting its function as an organic, dynamic and vibrant entity. As she wrote: ‘the ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations’. It is important to remember these words when thinking about an environment dominated by market-based solutions which privilege the ‘exchange’ rather than the ‘use’ value of housing. The work of writers such as Jacobs is even more relevant following the publication of the report into the Grenfell tower tragedy which lamented ‘what is said to be a general lack of concern on the part of the authorities for the residents of the tower and the wider community’. As Peter Barber (and other community-based architects) have shown, the most effective initiatives are those which incorporate innovation and creativity alongside a robust voice for residents. Housing provision should therefore incorporate high-quality design, effective measures to ensure energy efficiency and must be responsive to (and reflective of) community needs. The work of the housing association sector – as the main provider of affordable housing in the UK - is crucial in ensuring the success of new developments. As voluntary sector institutions, with a strong local presence, housing associations can play a crucial role as ‘community anchors’ to promote ‘inclusive growth’ (Jonathan Schifferes and Jake Thorold, Five Ways Housing Associations Underpin Inclusive Growth, 2017) and to deliver environmental, social and economic sustainability. The Royal Society for Arts inquiry into inclusive growth advocates: providing access to economic opportunity; assisting residents to make a productive contribution to local economies; maximising economic growth; supporting vulnerable households to live independently and developing new, affordable housing. Work that I have undertaken with colleagues has shown how resident participation plays an important role in delivering business improvements to the sector – seeing resident involvement as an ‘investment not a cost’ (Nic Bliss, Blase Lambert, Carole Halfacre. Trevor Bell and David Mullins, An Investment not a Cost: The Business Benefits of Tenant Involvement National Tenant Organisation: Tenants Leading Change, 2015) is a crucial element in changing both the language used to depict social housing and to influence wider public perceptions of the sector. The award of the RIBA Stirling prize – for the first time to a social housing development (Goldsmith Street for Norwich city council) is a welcome indicator of a more positive role for the social rented sector – one which avoids the stigma which has for long (and undeservedly) been attached to certain social housing developments. Government recognition of the need to tackle stigma is a welcome development, but much more is needed to promote housing as a community asset - rather than a burden on expenditure, or an investment vehicle for wealth accumulation. The work of progressive, community-led architecture is an important component of this change in approach – one that puts local communities at the heart of design, development, management and the governance of housing. – Tony Manzi Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University
One hundred years, one hundred miles How Peter Barber’s work paves the way for the future of house building in England
“Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.” So said Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Few would argue with the assertion that the prevailing negative discourse which has engulfed social housing in recent decades has bludgeoned the sector to the extent that any hope of revitalising the sector with any degree of conviction seems remote. Yet London based architect and urbanist Peter Barber has proved a formidable advocate for the social housing movement. Staying true to his muse over the years, Barber is truly in a league of his own. To encounter an architect whose ability to inject humanity into the very fabric of housing, not least state sponsored homes, is more than refreshingly different. His life long work exemplifies the latent power of the architectural profession to advocate for sound design which truly embraces the values of social and environmental justice. One of Barber’s particular strengths is his ability to reimagine sites previously dismissed by his peers as unsuitable for housing development. Indeed, it is his work with publicly funded housing providers for which he has been widely commended. Significantly, Barber has sought without fail to create spaces which enable people to interact with ease, creating sustainable and cohesive neighbourhoods in the process. In recent years, he has worked for St Mungo’s Community Housing Association, East Thames Housing Group, Circle 33 Housing Group and five London boroughs, exemplifying what the social housing sector may achieve. Consequently, Barber’s work has a restorative quality as it seeks to reinstate essential social, cultural and economic capital from which so many communities have become distanced in recent years. Britain’s housing crisis shows no sign of abatement. In that regard, Barber’s 100 Mile City exhibition could not have come to Sheffield Hallam University at a better time. The exhibition presents an inventive yet credible way in which housing may be provided by building ‘inwards’ into the suburbs of London and, by implication, further afield. This is more than a pipe dream. Those familiar with the history of social housing in Britain during the last saeculum will be well versed in what may be achieved when political will and public support coalesce. In May 2019, housing and other professionals united to commemorate the centenary of the Addison Act, the landmark legislation which first gave local authorities the mandate to build state sponsored housing provision. In the hundred years since the Addison Act, council housing has risen and fallen like a great dynasty in keeping with the prevailing political ideology of the day. In 2019, Ulf Torgersen’s oft cited claim made in the mid 1980s during the peak of Thatcherism that social housing was the “wobbly pillar of the welfare state” seems curiously archaic as welfare restructuring has decimated social housing beyond recognition. The social housing sector looks now to visionaries such as Peter Barber to advocate for its future. Barber has dared to countenance a future whereby social housing building is on the same scale as in the period after the Second World War. His rationale is irrefutable: “We’re a much richer country than we were then. It’s a matter of public will. If we can do it then, we can do it now... Surely it can’t be a hard battle to win in terms of people’s point of view and their hearts and minds?” . We are privileged to have Peter Barber’s celebrated 100 Mile City Exhibition at Sheffield Hallam University in 2019. History has told us that great architects can embolden policy makers and politicians alike to provide affordable and well designed accommodation for those most in need. Without a doubt, Barber will be remembered as the architect who spearheaded the renaissance of social housing both today and in the future. – Angela Maye-Banbury Principal Lecturer in Housing Studies at Sheffield Hallam University
Ilona Sagar: Deep Structure
D. housewives living in houses or flats near the ground or many floors above were equally like to suffer from nervous symptoms. Of gloss, Of line work and silver tone, a protean realisation of an architectural plan, Radical politics isn’t a secretion of our brick work, what spaces are left open for change on a human scale of unpredictability? A sprawling, singular structure, Now quarterised move your focus stretched out limb from limb: these familiar shapes, are easy to mould, pulled into the gloss of miss remembered histories tell me more about that
To the right is an extract of script from Ilona Sagar’s newly commissioned film and solo exhibition Deep Structure, which runs until 14th December 2019 at S1 ArtSpace, Sheffield. Deep Structure explores the links between architecture, health and community wellbeing through the lens of Sheffield’s Park Hill estate. Troubling the links between buildings, bodies and postindustrial landscapes, the film draws parallels between the unique sprawling structure of the building and the scientifically measured body. Designed in 1961, the estate is one of the UK’s most radical and significant post-war housing projects and a testimonial to an era that revolutionised social and residential housing. Filmed at Hope Cement Works in the Peak District, the Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield and the Park Hill estate, Deep Structure focuses on material structures, considering the ways in which they are measured and analysed. Hope Cement Works, which opened in 1929 and is now the largest material factory in the UK, becomes a complex monolithic space within the film, representing something in-between industrialised networks and natural systems. Entangling these connections, Deep Structure thinks about the factory and the estate as living bodies – machines for health, good and bad – considering the ways bodies and buildings are mapped, archived and translated into data. – Ilona Sagar, artist and filmmaker
Deep Structure is showing 11 October 2019-14 December 2019 at S1 Artspace, 1 Norwich Street, Park Hill, S2 5PN.
A shift of emphasis towards form, A striking collection of shapes, an easily digestible, palatable and infinitely disseminated series of kitsch imaginings Organisms, Organizations, Machines Common ground like common goods are complex and unstable, social geographies and idiosyncratic solutions, hollowed out and stratified by class and affluence, Standing here skinless, a bone structure of ibeams, I embody the intermate exploration of humans and design, use and usefulness. How we correlate, draw together, group, make assumptions. A cellular map cognition as behaviour of an organism “with relevance to the maintenance of itself” I am learning to understand the soft power of the body as an interchangeable signifier and shape shifting point of interference. Bodies by their nature are always open to other bodies and alliances. Always navigating and negotiating their environments, they do not work in hermetic isolation. Bodies are reliant on social systems of support that are complexly human and technical Move beyond “Win-or-fail” models of success and value And complicate these warped notions of progress Disempowered, dislocation and dispersal, To mitigate damage, remove an undesired growth, or minimise potential harm, I am not a martyr to this bricks and mortal idle. I tap tap a mental view of a succession of remembered or anticipated events. I exist in the after image, Maybe with great distance we can see here Counting the last of the minutes as they walk into days and they run into years Feet to mile. Choosing to float in this futureless day to day The swelling exterior the bust lips This is where she stood, where we stood This is where I stop Between acts Grasping at the unmappable
Peter Barber: 100 Mile City and Other Stories Exhibition open 22 Novemberâ€“20 December 2019 Peter Barber talk: Thursday 28 November, 6pm. Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery Old Head Post Office Fitzalan Square S1 2AY
Peter Barber: 100 Mile City and Other Stories is curated by Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, using a selection of pieces first exhibited at the Design Museum in London. It is produced in association with Sheffield Modern architecture weekender. shu.ac.uk/sia
This publication is edited by: Kat Hall Jacob Kelly Tim Machin Claire Thornley Julia Udall
Contributors: Peter Barber Benjamin Broomhead Cristina Cerulli Oli Cunningham Jacob Kelly Tony Manzi Angela Maye-Banbury Ilona Sagar
Design by: Eleven With thanks to: Design Museum Ellis Woodman Greg Povey Lola Haines Luke Desforges Sheffield City Archives
Sheffield Modern is an arts festival inspired by the cityâ€™s architecture. sheffieldmodern.co.uk
Free newspaper, to celebrate hosting Peter Barber 100 Mile City and Other Stories. Developed in collaboration between Sheffield Modern, the...
Published on Nov 22, 2019
Free newspaper, to celebrate hosting Peter Barber 100 Mile City and Other Stories. Developed in collaboration between Sheffield Modern, the...