Architecture and Community Social interaction in contemporary urban accommodation
Architecture and Community Social interaction in contemporary urban accommodation A dissertation submitted to the Manchester School of Architecture for the degree of Bachelor of Architecture, 2008 Thomas Bennell
Manchester School of Architecture University of Manchester Manchester Metropolitan University No portion of the work referred to in the dissertation has been submitted in support of an application for another degree or qualification of this or any other university or other institute of learning.
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Introduction.............................................................................................................1 Origins.....................................................................................................................3 Background.............................................................................................................5 Architectural determinism........................................................................................9 Alison and Peter Smithson......................................................................................13 Richard Sennett......................................................................................................17 Methodology...........................................................................................................21 Case Study 1: Liberty House..................................................................................25 Case study 2: Homes for Change...........................................................................33 Case study 3: St. Pancras Way...............................................................................41 Case study 4: Abito.................................................................................................47 Conclusion..............................................................................................................57 References..............................................................................................................59 Bibliography............................................................................................................61 Appendices
A: Hulme.................................................................................................................65 B: Michael Walsh.....................................................................................................67 C: Simon Birch........................................................................................................71 D: Matthew Duggan................................................................................................75 E: Abito visit.............................................................................................................81 F: Returned questionnaires.....................................................................................83
Introduction This study sets out to explore some aspects of the relationship between individuals, communities and the built environment. It draws upon the views of people living in a range of contemporary urban dwellings, and attempts to judge this experience against the work of a number of significant architectural and psychological theorists. The recent market-led residential redevelopment of city centres such as that of Manchester has generated opportunities for urban living previously unknown in England. Questions remain, however, as to whether the concept and design assumptions behind the new buildings provide for the development of social interaction and cohesive communities. The study concludes that, while the issue is complex, there is evidence that domestic social interaction deserves greater consideration by social thinkers, architects, developers and planners. Many of the theorists that have considered this issue in the past have concentrated on major responses to environment such as friendship, marriage or crime and anti-social behaviour. However, equally important are more modest responses which I have given the collective term ‘domestic social interaction’. Domestic social interaction takes place within the territory of the home, not necessarily within the dwelling but certainly within the neighbourhood. It ranges from a conversation with a housemate to a smile and a nod to a recognised neighbour. The people do not have to know each other well, or even know one another’s names, but the recognition of another who shares the same territory is, I believe, fundamentally as important to the creation of balanced, ‘sustainable’ communities as it is to individual happiness in a city, and it has so far received little attention. An important purpose of this study then, is to try to find out to what extent this domestic social interaction is important to people, and what potential the current built environment has to allow or encourage it to happen.
Origins Having to move out of the student house that I have shared with five other people for the past three years raised an interesting question: Where were we going to live? The six of us that lived in the house in Withington had been together for the best part of five years and had developed into a form of community. We wanted to live in the city centre to be part of city life. It is fashionable and many of the people that we know have done so already. After being students for so long the more sophisticated environment of the city centre was seen as the next step. However, while wanting to move to a more modern environment, we did not want to lose the sense of community which we had valued in our student house. While we did not expect to find the same accommodation translated and were prepared for a degree of individual autonomy, we were disappointed to discover that the design assumptions behind most modern flat developments did not address the issue of social interaction in a way that we were familiar with. I therefore decided to use the opportunity of the dissertation to explore this issue further in an architectural context.
Background The practice of using British city centres as residential areas is relatively recent. In preindustrial times, cities consisted of densely packed buildings that were unregulated, built by and for their owners and occupiers and often used for many different purposes. This mediaeval mix has given rise to recent romantic ideas of community in the city. The rapid growth of the cities during the industrial revolution overwhelmed the compact settlement, bringing about disastrous failures in public health, communication and social malaise. Social reformers such as Ebeneezer Howard advocated separating residential from industrial areas and increasing space, light and air in the domestic environment. As a result, the British became a suburban nation. The central district of British cities became dominated by civic, commercial and industrial premises, uninhabited outside working hours. With the decline of this industry the inner city, already place of few amenities, crumbled into dereliction. With nobody around, criminal activity became a serious problem. So much is common knowledge. But during the 1980s, concerned at the negative impact of these areas on city prosperity, and the increasing loss of greenfield land, the Government implemented initiatives aimed at regenerating the city centre as a place to live. A new respect for industrial heritage and the fashion for American-style loft living1 came together in places like Castlefield to produce what has become a benchmark for desirable urban living. Its success, combined with economic prosperity and social mobility, generated a developer-led frenzy of speculation which has seen the city transformed. By 2003, in Manchester, the city-centre flat boom was at its peak. The government no longer had to pay developers to build flats: every spare piece of land, every semi-derelict building, was earmarked for flat development. Old-fashioned housing developers moved into this market, creating new brands for themselves. Of all the developers, the success of Urban Splash2 demonstrates the power of this period of change. The driving force behind this transformation was investment-led speculation without much consideration for the wider needs of the people who would populate the redeveloped areas. The property boom is of interest here chiefly because it served to separate the providers of dwellings (developers) and their eventual residents even further than is
usual in speculative developments. This negative influence has arisen partly as a result of the following: 1. The introduction of buy-to-let mortgages which led to large numbers of amateur investors buying units with little experience of the social responsibilities of letting flats. 2. Schemes becoming attractive to investors from around the globe who regarded dwellings as financial assets only. The enthusiasm generated at this time encouraged a very short-term perspective. Prices rising considerably faster than inflation resulted in the practice of ‘buy-to-leave’, where even empty properties made money. In August 2007, whilst at a meeting with a property development company, I was made aware of an American investment company was seeking to buy 5000 units in Manchester immediately, off-plan and unseen. In Britain, dwellings are priced according to the number of bedrooms which they contain rather than floor area, so that sizes were quickly reduced to an absolute minimum standard. It was a formula that was tried, predictable, and trustworthy. The investor’s natural riskaversion reinforced the developer’s and few people wanted to try anything different or new. It is possible that, in the rush to take advantage of a buoyant property market, developers have paid less attention to other trends in the way people live. According to the 2001 census, there were more single person households that year than any previously.3 There were as many shared dwellings in the Central ward of Manchester than in all the others put together, even areas with very high proportion of shared houses like Fallowfield, Withington, Chorlton, and Whalley Range.4 Taken together, these statistics imply that many of the two-bedroom flats that have been built in the city centre are being shared between two single person households: if a two-bed flat was shared between larger households, it would be overcrowded. It was this realisation that led to the Abito concept (see below). There have been several notable exceptions to the standard model of development in Manchester: Abito, which provides tiny pod flats suitable for one household only, and Homes for Change, a housing co-operative just south of the city centre in Hulme. These represent important variations on the standard model and will be considered in more detail as individual case studies later. 6
However, before exploring the detail of individual developments, we must return to the question posed in the introduction: can the way in which living space is designed affect domestic social interaction? The next section, therefore, considers the theoretical basis for believing that the built environment can be manipulated to influence social behaviour.
Architectural determinism a psychological approach
The idea that the built environment is closely related to, and can influence, social behaviour is as old as architecture itself. There are many examples of built environments where it is possible to show strong links between built form and social organisation. Lewis Mumford5, for example, describes the development of ‘the citadel’ as a means of establishing power and dominating the local population. Traditionally, these effects have been dependent on the aspirations of the client and the architect’s vision, design training and experience. Despite a general agreement that architecture can influence behaviour, its precise effects are very difficult to establish scientifically. With the increasing development of the behavioural sciences from the early part of the twentieth century, it was inevitable that a causal relationship between designed environments and specific social consequences would be investigated. One such theory that implies a direct, causal relationship between behaviour and environment rose to prominence during the 1950s: Architectural determinism. In this chapter I will explore what architectural determinism means and the research projects that supported it; examine why in its simplest form it is now discredited, and see if it can still offer any theoretical grounding for my own study. Architectural determinism “asserts that architectural design has a direct and determinate effect on the way people behave…It suggests that those human beings for whom architects and planners create their designs are simply moulded by the environment which is provided for them.”6 Charles Mercer explains that some research projects undertaken during the first half of the twentieth century had demonstrated a significant correlation between marriage and residential proximity. “In 1931, more Philadelphian marriages were between people living within five blocks of each other than in 1885, 1905 or 1915.”7 These studies did not, however, demonstrate a causal relationship between architectural design and social behaviour. The study which ‘provided the empirical basis’ for the theory of architectural determinism was published in 1950. Social pressures in informal groups, by Festinger, Schachter and Back, was a study into the effect of residential propinquity on friendship formation and group interaction within a student housing estate.
The study was an investigation of a very specific social situation, that of a student ‘barracks’ (it had in fact been converted from a navy barracks) immediately after the Second World War. All of the students there had had their studies interrupted by the war and were slightly older than students usually are, all had wives, all were students of natural history or engineering and all were from upper middle class backgrounds. The study asked the wives of the students (they were at home most of the time and did most of their socialising within the domestic territory) to name the three other wives that they saw the most of, socially. By mapping out these ‘friends’ on a map of the barracks, the researchers were able to determine that: The physical layout determines the number of people that residents meet by chance (passive contacts); Passive contacts form the basis for friendship formation; Friendships are the raw material out of which groups are formed; The friendships on the groups on the estate provide channels of communication; and The content of communications received determines the group’s attitudes and opinions. Mercer’s analysis of the study and subsequent conclusions hinge on the unusually homogeneous social situation studied. After describing the study, he concludes “The only finding of any architectural note was that the physical layout of a housing estate is important in friendship formation of homogeneous, physically constrained, transitional populations. This is not a finding of any great generality, but one for which support was certainly obtained.”8 “What these above studies undoubtedly show is the veracity of architectural determinism but only when social factors are brought so closely into line that they cease to exert a pull on individual’s behaviour. If all people are equally similar…what other factors are there to influence friendship formation? ” 9 [Emphasis added] In his criticism, Mercer highlights the relatively unnatural social situation, and therefore the danger of extrapolating from these findings, but he does not question one of the study’s essential assumptions: That what matters is ‘friendship formation’, and that this is actually what Festinger was studying. It is a vital question in the context of my own work, as ‘a smile to a recognised neighbour’, which may be very important, would hardly qualify as a friendship. In an analysis of how the conclusions reached in these studies may be more widely applicable, the mechanism for making friends becomes the mot important thing. But friendship formation is not the subject of this study. I am talking about domestic social interaction, which is similar but may be much weaker. Mercer discusses a 10
hypothetical model of friend formation, in which age and social class are the most important characteristics. Of course then, it is natural to conclude that, where these differences are not eliminated (as they were in the Festinger study) they will become more important factors in friend formation than mere physical proximity. However, domestic social interaction may well be less dependent on the sort of age/class factors that Mercer describes: It may well be that the behaviour that the Smithsons have observed in working-class areas of London (discussed in the next section) demonstrates this. In trying to make generalisations about behaviour, there seems to be a temptation to use relatively extreme cases as a model. The Festinger study investigated friendships (a powerful and often long-term social bond) within a uniquely homogeneous society. But this does not mean that most natural societies do not demonstrate some degree of homogeneity: In fact, there are strong economic and social factors which drive them in this direction. So if people inhabit a weakly homogeneous society (a neighbourhood) and we are investigating the formation of weak social bonds (the friendly smile of recognition) then it is likely that physical proximity will have far greater effect. Of course, architectural design affects more than this crude measure. Form, light levels, style, materials, age, maintenance, colour, sound and many more factors will all have a greater or lesser impact on the atmosphere of the place, and this is likely to affect the way people behave in that space. Mercerâ€™s analysis of the theory of architectural determinism concludes that it can be shown to be relevant in certain socially constrained situations. However, I suggest that it may be more universal when its definition is broadened to include casual domestic interaction.
The Smithsonâ€™s model of the city
Alison and Peter Smithson an architectural approach
In the book ‘Ordinariness and Light’, published in 1970, Alison and Peter Smithson published a collection of their urban theories from 1952-60. The earliest essay, ‘Urban Re-identification’10, written in 1952-3, provides the ideological basis for much of their later work. In this essay, the Smithsons argue for a type of city shaped not only by practical, functional considerations (in the radical spirit of the time) but also by social interactions which approach very closely the idea of casual domestic interaction. Essentially, the Smithsons attempt to reconcile English ideas of community and countryside with the Corbusian city planning of the 1920s. It was necessary, they argued, to move back into the cities. The English countryside was being covered with ill-advised settlements that forced people to travel, not only to work, but also to the countryside. The Garden City ideal, with its low densities based on ‘the area of land that an industrious artisan could work for profit in his spare time in 1912,” was obsolete and damaging. The New Towns, ideologically rooted in the Garden Cities, were not the solution. “To maintain looseness of grouping and ease of communication, the density must increase as the population increases; and with high densities, if we are to retain the essential joys of sun, space and verdure, we must build high.” Looseness of grouping and ease of communication are fundamental to the understanding of the Smithson’s ideas about community in the city. They were critical of the attempts at defining ‘communities’ using physical barriers, as with orthodox New Town planning of the time11 and in Le Corbusier’s Unité in Marseilles. They pointed to sociological studies12 which showed that individual’s social networks transcend physical boundaries and are far more likely to be made up of common interest groups centred around “the swimming pool, chess club, or dance hall.” They developed a model of the city (see illustration on facing page) based on the aggregation of distinct units: houses made up streets, streets made up districts, and districts made up towns and cities. From street to city, they explained, the opportunities for friendship increased with increasing numbers of people. So people might have one close confidant on a street, but a “great number of like minds” in the city as a whole. One of the greatest things about the city was the density of human interaction and exchange. The looseness of grouping and ease of communication were important to allow the city dweller to meet some of those like minds, and not be
trapped with a small group of people where the opportunities for friendship would be more limited. However, the Smithsons observed that there was more to the street than this rather pessimistic analysis: in the ‘slums and suburbs…the vital relationship between the house and street survives, children run about, people stop and talk…the shops are round the corner: you know the milkman, you are in your house in your street.” They were very critical of new housing types that, by grouping flats on floors of three or six, reduced the number of neighbours from “the forty or fifty found on an old street”. For the Smithsons, the vertical communication was the problem. While a trip in a lift is unlikely to deter people from visiting their friends, it is a fundamental psychological barrier across which traditional street life cannot be maintained. Lasting and important friendships were unlikely to be made purely as a result of neighbourly proximity but neighbourhood relationships (the life of the street) nevertheless had an importance of its own, and that these were dependent on the continuous horizontal territory of streets. This distinction between friendship community and neighbourly community is fundamentally relevant to my study. The Smithson’s work was, like le Corbusier’s before it, polemical and internally contradictory. Their idea of the city was naïve and oversimplified. They stressed the importance of a few aspects of the physical environment (Traffic free, density, countryside, sun, space and greenery, horizontal communication, novelty) at the expense of the other essentials that make up a city. They were too quick to dismiss the old city as obsolete without first understanding how it functioned. The social assumptions which characterise the Smithson’s work stem from 1950s working class urban areas, very different socially from the regenerated city centres that are the subject of this study. The differences in population and culture mean that care is needed when generalising from the Smithson’s ideas, and their relevance to today’s society will be evaluated in the course of this study. The Golden Lane proposal, intended eventually to link up with other identical pieces of city would, had it ever been built, embodied many of the mistakes the Smithsons so criticised: It would have been an isolated community with little differentiation: despite their expressed desire that each deck would “…acquire special characteristics – be identified in fact”, there was no apparent physical mechanism for this to occur. The ‘streets’ went nowhere. That the Smithson’s ideas did not work when unquestioningly applied on a large scale is difficult to dispute. Park Hill Flats in Sheffield, one of the earliest schemes to 14
be designed according to the Smithson’s principles, was only saved from demolition by being listed II* in 1998, chiefly for its historical interest. Robin Hood Gardens, the deck-access scheme built by the Smithsons themselves between 1966 and 1972, was one of the most high profile of the failed 1960s housing schemes, and is likely to be demolished at the time of writing. The Hulme estate in Manchester (1965-1971 and therefore almost exactly contemporary with Robin Hood Gardens) was demolished in 1992-3. An investigation into the decline of any of these estates is beyond the scope of this study, and is almost common knowledge. For a brief discussion of the Hulme estate, see Appendix A (page 63). “When you think of a street, you think of little communities, neighbours, little patches of garden, prams outside… we’ve got the houses, but we haven’t got the street, no way.”13
Richard Sennett a political view
“…the belief in small-scale community has become ever more powerful an ideal.” “Today’s urbanist conceives of community against the city”14 So far, we have looked at the Smithson’s diagrammatic idea of social issues in the city, and Mercer’s investigation of architectural determinism. Richard Sennett offers an overview; his work on the overall social structure of the city represents a step up in scale, away from the ‘friend’ based studies of the previous sources to ideas of ‘community’ and, specifically, the political effects of community. This study concentrates on a single chapter of the book The Fall of Public Man15. In ‘Community becomes uncivilised’, Sennett argues that there is a perception amongst planners and local politicians that modern industrial capitalism, by separating man form his work, creates such conditions of “dissociation…alienation, division, separation and isolation” that it likewise separates man from man. In order to overcome this uncomfortable feeling we have, since Camillo Sitte, tried to “make intimate and local the scale of human experience…” by encouraging “face-to-face contacts in a territorial community.” However, Sennett concludes that this seemingly attractive idea can, paradoxically, lead to increased separation and division. At first glance, this is an unfortunate conclusion in the context of this particular study. But what does Sennett actually mean by a more intimate life in the city? What is a ‘community’ for Sennett? How does he suggest that this might create sterility? The answers to these questions hinge on Sennett’s definition of intimate life and of community, and how he thinks that this is affected by the architecture of the city. Sennett argues that the modern planned city creates ghettoes. By removing spaces which play host to a number of different functions, an essential part of public space where different people meet casually and where they all have an equal right to be, is lost. He argues that this results in the ‘city of atoms’, where not only are residential areas separated from industry, but middle class is separated from working class and black is separated from white. “Think what [this] means for attempts at racial or class integration…displacement and invasion must become the actual experiences involved in the supposed experience of intergroup rapprochement.”
Sennett’s arguments about an atomised city are unconvincing. The separation of races and classes that he talks about is either a political decision (apartheid) or determined by many more complex actions (economics, culture) than mere planning. He offers no convincing reason why the simple separation of functions leads to a city so dramatically socially segregated. In any case, people of like mind have always grouped together16 and this need not necessarily be seen as a bad thing.17 The city of atoms might impose barriers from without, but Sennett shows, with a case study, what happens when communities build barriers from within. It is, I believe, this case which has caused Sennett to develop his whole argument, and it is the Forest Hills crisis in New York City. Forest Hills is a middle-class Jewish district of New York. When threatened with the imposition of a black (low-income) housing project, the community came together to fight City Hall and prevent the building of the project. They succeeded, but over the course of their fight an interesting thing happened: The community came to define itself more and more strongly by 1) its Jewishness (it had not been particularly orthodox in the past) and 2) its stance against the city, and as time went on, everyone else. Any ‘sympathisers’ that were prepared to compromise with the city were attacked by more militant individuals within the community. It is this frightening occurrence that Sennett terms ‘fratricide.’ The communities which Sennett describes are far more cohesive than “face-to-face contacts in a territorial community” might imply. The communities against which he warns, those which become hysterical, “in which the community only exists as a continual hyping-up of emotions,” are largely those created as a reaction to a particular threat or outside force. In the Forest Hills crisis, ‘the community’ to which Sennett refers is in fact made up of many, layered and interconnected groups of people. When a group of people within that neighbourhood united around the common goal of preventing the building of the project, this could be seen as the creation of a specific community – a community united and defined by this single goal. When Sennett describes the distrust and solidarity, the hysterical behaviour, the fantasy, he is describing a community built around a single issue that is only coincidentally related to the built environment. It does not follow that face-to-face human contact in a territorial community will automatically create this sort of community, any more than a city with rigorous separation of functions will do. What Sennett describes is the result of political and cultural forces over which planners rarely are able to exert any control.
What is more interesting is Sennettâ€™s analysis of the reasons that people feel so strongly drawn to such a hysterical community. It is a fear of impersonality. The â€œunstable symbols of impulse and intentionâ€? are the only things that people have to connect themselves. This suggests, contrary to initial impressions, that increasing casual neighbourhood contact might make people less likely to form the hysterical communities he describes. These communities form and reinforce each other as a response to that fear of impersonality. But if people felt less isolated in their everyday lives, and less isolated from others within their domestic territory, then they would feel that they did not need the kind of activist community that Sennett talks about. They would not need to go to group meetings to see half-known neighbours, because just seeing them outside would be sufficient contact.
The work of the people outlined above only represents a small sample of the work in this field. It is sufficient in the context of this study to show that we cannot ignore the fact that a relationship can either be created or will grow naturally and therefore it must be taken seriously by design professionals. In considering, therefore, whether similar forces are at work in the Manchester context, I have researched the social reactions to a representative variety of dwelling situations. The next section deals with how that was undertaken.
Methodology To investigate this question in a rational and organised manner is to work within the field of environmental psychology. Studies in this discipline follow a scientific method of inquiry. Rather than attempting to collect generalised data from large groups of people, it would be more productive to understand, as far as possible, the relationship of a few people to their environment. This case-study approach is similar to the methodology used by Drs John and Elizabeth Newson, described by Charles Mercer in Living in cities.18 The Newsons, studying the effects of environment on childrenâ€™s development, realised that it was important to understand the general attitude that the mother had to the child and the overall atmosphere of the home. The best way of doing this was to visit the home and conduct an in-depth interview with the mother. In this way, they hoped to see all the important dimensions which might have otherwise been overlooked. This approach tries to minimise the role of the researcher. Throughout the study, a flexible approach was maintained. It would have been inappropriate, in this type of study, to try to define a rigid hypothesis to be accepted or rejected. I did not know exactly what conditions I would find or what would be most important in the research field, so any information that was apparently relevant was collected initially. When the information had been collected, I searched for comparisons and causal relationships that could explain the situations I studied. This approach is also similar to that of the process of an architect trying to understand what a clientâ€™s needs are, by studying their current situation and in-depth interviews. Four dwelling conditions were selected, in order to allow sufficient depth of investigation within the limits of time and resources imposed by the dissertation format. These conditions were selected to give as broad a spread as possible across the field of study. They were: a young professional who shared a two-bedroom flat in a recent conversion of a Victorian warehouse building in Manchester city centre (one of the most common forms of dwelling in the city centre); a forty-six year old freelance journalist who lived in a two-bedroom flat at Homes for Change, Hulme (a housing co-operative with a reputation for its community spirit, built with deck access following the redevelopment of the deck-access Hulme estate); a young professional who shared a house in Camden Town, north London (who was new to the city and chose to share a house in order to get to know people and make friends); and
Abito in Manchester city centre, a development of micro flats intended to give each resident their own personal space.
Methods Interviews Procedure
Interviews were informal and conversational in character. They took place, where possible, within the dwelling of the participant. Interviews lasted for between one hour and two and a half hours. An audio recording was made, where possible, so that notes could be transcribed after rather than during the interview. The interviewer made reference to a list of questions to guide the course of the interview. These questions can be divided into two types: Simple questions with yes or no answers and those intended to collect demographic data (such as age and occupation), and more open questions intended to provoke a discussion. The questions asked were varied depending on the interview in order to maintain relevance. An effort was made to collect comparable data from all participants.
The interviewer made freehand drawings of the layout of the participantâ€™s dwelling and any other relevant spatial information such as the position of the dwelling within a larger block of apartments. Maps and diagrams of the location of the dwelling on a neighbourhood and city scale were researched and used to aid the conclusions. For the dwellings which merited it, a more detailed case study of the development, including history, design, etc. was made. Where possible, photographs were taken of the dwelling and dwelling location to serve as an illustration and to aid the memory of the interviewer when drawing conclusions. Postal Survey
Selection of participants
Addresses for the apartments in the Abito building were found using Royal Mailâ€™s Online Postcode Finder. These indicated that the building was made up of nine storeys with thirty-one flats on each storey (except the ground floor, which is commercial premises). The flats were numbered according to the expression A+B, where A was the storey from 1 to 8 and B was the number of the flat on that storey from 1 to 32. For each floor, five numbers between 01 and 32 were randomly generated by
computer. The list of randomly selected apartment numbers was compared to a list of apartments still for sale on Abito’s website. If an unsold apartment was chosen, another number was randomly generated to replace it until none of the selected apartments were on the for sale list. This process resulted in forty randomly selected apartments spread evenly across the eight residential storeys of the Abito building. Procedure
A survey pack was sent to each of the selected apartments. The pack contained a covering letter, a questionnaire and a stamped addressed return envelope. The covering letter explained briefly what the purpose of the survey was but did not explain the dissertation question in detail. The survey consisted of thirteen questions, as well as age and occupation, on two sheets of A4 paper. The questions were similar to those asked in the interviews but there were fewer questions and they required less detailed answers. Few were simple yes or no questions. Many of the questions allowed slightly different interpretations in order that what was most important to people would be what they wrote down.
These methods formed part of the flexible research strategy, and could be adapted to take account of individual circumstances. Interviews were a convenient method for the collection of participant’s feelings and information about the use of their dwellings. They allowed me to meet the participant in person, to experience the dwelling first-hand (even if only for an hour or so) and to talk to them about the subjects. This gave me a deeper and richer understanding of their dwellings and how they felt about them than a simple tick-box survey. The interview was also less intrusive and time-and-labour intensive than other possible methods (such as shadowing a participant for a week). Postal surveys were sent to the Abito residents. The nature of this case study made demographic data from a broader section of the residents interesting: The flats are being marketed as homes, but how many of the people actually live there all the time? Some of the flats appear to be for rent as ‘hotel’ apartments. I could not interview all the residents, so a postal survey was one solution. The survey was sent by post because this was the only contact information that I had for the flats.
“Of course the diagnostic interview procedure is a mode of data gathering that is most open to the injection of the interviewer’s value systems. The ways in which the interviewer can – quite unbeknown to himself – guide the interviewee to say what he thinks he wants the interviewer to hear (Greenspoon 1955, Rosenthal 1966) are now part of “accepted” social psychology…”19 In interviews, particularly informal interviews, the interviewer and interview situation will have an effect on the participant and this may affect their response to questions. I sought to reduce this influence by not revealing my hypothesis to the participant, avoiding leading questions, and conducting the interview in the participant’s dwelling where possible. If I had revealed my hypothesis, then the participant might have changed their responses. Conducting the interview in the participant’s dwelling had several advantages, listed above, but it created a host/guest relationship along with the participant/interviewer relationship that may have affected the results. As interviewer I did find it more difficult to ask searching or personal questions of a stranger when I was sitting as a guest in their living room. The audio recording technique, rather than the interviewer taking written notes during the interview, made a natural, fluid conversation possible. It helped participants to become less self-conscious about their replies to questions and the discussion. If participants can read written notes then the content of those notes may affect what the participant says in the interview. Surveys can also influence the response of the participant. Completing and posting a survey back takes time and motivation, so the sample is automatically biased. In this case this should be an insignificant factor but I will take it into account as a possible bias when concluding. A greater potential bias comes from leading questions. I have tried to keep the questions as neutral as possible given the nature of the enquiry, and, as with the interview, the participants have not been told of my hypothesis. The open nature of the questions should have reduced potential bias further and there is a risk that respondents will misunderstand the question, but this might lead to fresh insights. Some of the questions required respondents to think hard about how they feel about something they might not have thought about before, leading to the risk of superficial replies. I anticipated a low rate of return, given the nature of postal surveys, the (probable) low rate of occupancy of the flats, and the time available (second class stamps were used for cost reasons) so I posted the greatest number of surveys that I could afford. I tried to improve return rates by including a covering letter, a return envelope, by keeping the number of questions to a minimum and by making the surveys anonymous.
Case Study 1: Liberty House Michael Walsh
1:10 000 OS
East across Thomas Street Liberty House is the tall red six-bay warehouse to the centre-right of this photograph
Immediately inside the entrance The post boxes are on the left, just out of the picture. The stairs lead up to another door opening onto the main stairwell; on upper floors the lift opens on the other side onto tiny landings serving the entrance doors to two flats.
Plans Drawings are not to scale and were drawn in sketch form by the interviewer on site before being worked up for presentation.
Typical upper floor Section (Michael’s apartment is highlighted) (Michael’s apartment is highlighted)
Plan of Michael’s flat. Michael’s bedroom is highlighted.
Description Liberty House (no. 75 Thomas Street) is a residential conversion of a Victorian warehouse. It contains nine two-bedroom flats, distributed over five floors around a single common stair and lift core. Of the dwellings studied in this document, Liberty House is the closest to the city centre (see map above). The building is in the centre of the city’s Northern Quarter, an area of design conscious businesses, small specialist shops and cafés. It is characterised by its tightly-packed urban grain, made up of predominantly Victorian red-brick warehouse and workshop buildings that front the pavement, although there is much variety. The area has changed dramatically over the past ten years, and there are now many such residential conversions and new-build flats. The building faces south-west onto Thomas Street, and has views across the road to a triangular piece of land left unused by the multistorey car park opposite. This land has a few trees and some benches, and an electricity substation that has been covered with sedum matting. Together with other small pieces of public art, this gives the area the feeling of a small public square. No. 75 directly abuts its neighbours to each side, but runs through to a deep, narrow back street (Edge Street) to the north east. I interviewed one tenant from this building. Michael Walsh is a twenty-two year old architecture student, who moved to Manchester from the Isle of Man in 2003, to study architecture. He has shared flat six, on the second floor, with his housemate Pete since December 2007. Michael’s flat and room are shown highlighted in grey in the illustration on page 27. The illustration shows the overall organisation of the building around the central stair and lift core, and the entrance area where the post boxes are. The layout of Michael’s apartment is also shown. A transcript of the interview can be found in Appendix B (page 65).
The interview makes it clear that two things were most important to Michael: the location and the style of his flat. He was happy with the location because it was close to all the places that he needs to get to on a regular basis, and saved him the time and difficulty of travelling. He is critical of the isolation of other flat developments outside the city centre. This flat is less than two hundred metres away from his favourite coffee shop, bar, and office. He praised the flat’s size, high ceilings and decorative finishes, and contrasted these favourably with the student house that he and Pete left in 2005. Because Michael had already decided that he wanted to share with Pete, the flat’s two-bedroom size was ideal. He did not consider living with family or a larger group of friends because this was not possible for him, and he did not want to. Michael had lived in the flat for two months when I interviewed him. In this time he had met some of his neighbours casually in the shared entrance to the flats where the post boxes are. Since interviewing him, Michael has told me that when he accidentally forgot his flat key and Pete was away, he met some of his neighbours in the entrance. They lent him a duvet and a pillow, and later came to his birthday party. Apart from the two girls that he now knows as neighbours, Michael knew a few people locally in other flat developments. He also frequented certain local bars and coffee shops and has got to know other regulars.
Discussion While perhaps not designed specifically with sharing in mind, the layout of Michael’s apartment suits both him and Pete well. Private activities such as working take place in the bedrooms, while if either wishes to be more sociable, when eating for instance, or having a party, they can use the main room. Living with Pete suited Michael because they were good friends, but moving into a two-bed flat with a stranger might be a very different experience. For this reason, Matthew Duggan, new to London, chose to share with many more people (see case study 3 on page 41). Michael has lived in Manchester for several years and has the extended network of friends and colleagues that that implies. Michael’s dwelling forms the centre of a small social neighbourhood, with its cafes and bars and the people in them. Because he has Pete, and this wider social network, he does not need to make the kind of friendly relationships with people that share his domestic territory that Matthew sought.
Within the building, Michael has already met a few of his neighbours. Unlike Abito (see case study 4; page 47), Liberty House is sufficiently small that anyone Michael meets in the entrance will be strongly territorially identified as a ‘neighbour’. This may be sufficient for any social interaction to proceed on a friendlier basis than might be expected between two strangers. Certainly it seems to have had this effect when Michael lost his keys and was lent a duvet. The low number of flats at Liberty House also makes it more likely that Michael will both meet everybody else that lives in the building and identify them all as neighbours. It is too early to ask what effect this will have, but I speculate that it will make Michael feel more socially anchored in the building. This discussion of scale is interesting in the context of the Smithson’s criticism of “family flats stuck up on a ledge with only five or six neighbours, rather than the fifty or sixty found on an old street.” The key must be ‘family’: For the Smithsons, the street was the primary arena that 1950s housewives had for making friends and sharing childcare. The more wives there were, the more likely it was that they would find others to make friends with. But this is not appropriate to modern single-person households who do not spend much of the day at home and usually have other mechanisms for making friends. In the case of Liberty House, it appears that its small size aided rather than impeded the formation of friendly relationships.
Case study 2: Homes for Change Simon Birch
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South into the courtyard The overall layout of Homes for Change, organised around a courtyard, can be seen. The most distant block is the completed Phase 2. The access decks, unusual architectural forms and varied materials, as well as one of the green roofs, are clearly visible.
East into the courtyard The relationship between the entrances to the flats and the deck is very carefully considered. Note the degree of personalisation possible, in the shed extension at fourth floor level.
Entrance The main entrance from the inside.
South along Old Birley Street The red door is the entrance to the cafĂŠ, now called Kim by the Sea.
From Old Birley Street into the courtyard The open frame stucture to the right is a workshop unit awaiting occupation.
Plans Lift and stairs Main entrance
Access deck (over)
Plan of the second floor of Phase 1 of Homes for Change, obtained from Building magazine. North is to the top. The entry level of Simonâ€™s maisonette is highlighted. (Daydream Believers, Building, 6 September 1996 p.42)
Description Homes for Change is a development of 75 flats, together with some commercial or workshop units, office space and a small theatre. The building occupies a whole block, varies between four and six storeys, and is organised around a courtyard into three layers of maisonette flats. The upper flats are accessed by open decks, while the workspaces and flats on the ground floor are accessed from the street. Some car parking is provided in the courtyard. As can be seen in the illustrations, there is much variety in the form and materials of the building. The building was built for two co-operative organisations, Homes for Change and Work for Change, and is owned by the Guinness Trust housing association which provides housing at a social rent. Homes for Change and Work for Change were founded in 198720 by occupants (some of them squatters) of the Hulme council estate, in order to ensure that they could remain together as a community when the Hulme estate was demolished. Homes for Change is slightly south of Manchester city centre, about ten minutes walk from Oxford Road railway station and near the universities. It is part of Hulme, comprehensively re-developed during the 1990s to a masterplan of streets and square housing blocks by MBLC. There is a large ASDA supermarket a little further south (shown on the map). Homes for Change is bounded on two sides by stillundeveloped scrub land which resulted from the demolition of the previous estate. A brief history of Hulme can be found in Appendix A. I interviewed Simon Birch, a forty-six year old freelance journalist who has lived at Homes for Change since 2000. He rents a flat and a desk, so both lives and works in the Homes for Change building in Hulme. Born and brought up in Offerton in Stockport, he studied geography at Sheffield University and lived there for a number of years before returning to Manchester to live at Homes for Change. He has lived in a two-bed flat on the third floor (highlighted on the accompanying diagram). He met me in the blockâ€™s cafĂŠ to talk about life in the co-operative, before showing me around. Over the course of the walk around the development, we climbed up and down concrete and steel, straight and spiral, internal and external stairs, across grass and concrete flag roof gardens, and along concrete and timber decks at third and fifth floor levels. An edited transcription of the interview and conversation in Simonâ€™s flat can be found in Appendix C on page 69. Simon explained how, as a freelance journalist, he is not tied to a particular place by 37
work and, “if it wasn’t for Homes for Change, I probably wouldn’t live in Manchester. It is one of the most aggressive Northern cities I’ve seen.” He does not own a car, for ethical as well as financial reasons, and he describes how the location of Homes for Change allows him to make good use of Manchester’s public transport connections to the Lake District, Peak District and North Wales. As a keen mountain biker and hill walker, he explains that this is more important to him than the other facilities offered by the city. Finally, the below market-rate rents allow Simon to enjoy a better quality of life than he would otherwise be able to afford. The ‘alternative’ culture of the Homes for Change co-operative was very attractive to Simon, and fits with his own values and lifestyle. Every member of the co-operative must devote some of their time or skills to helping to run the building: Simon is on the maintenance committee. This is not generally a problem, although there are some issues with the usual office and village politics. Simon says that he doesn’t know many of his neighbours well; “we’re chatty, friendly, but we don’t live in each other’s pockets…” While showing me around the decks, he met a neighbour and had a friendly chat. The co-operative forms its own, cohesive neighbourhood which is noticeably different from the surrounding area. Simon explains that this recently led to problems with the Guinness Trust, who insisted that Homes for Change should make more effort to integrate with the rest of Hulme. Other concerns regard the behaviour of some local kids, doing things like pushing wheelie bins off the upper level access decks. He thinks that this may be largely due to a lack of parenting, but also thinks that the central courtyard (with play area for younger children) is being under-used. The café, he says, is a good communal focus to the block. How much does it feel like home? “I don’t really want to be here in ten years’ time. I’m the sort of person that would probably have had a little terrace up in the hills, but now they’re too expensive. Eventually, I’d like to have my own place.”
Discussion We begin with a paradox: at Homes for Change, the architects and the co-op succeeded in finally realising the Smithson’s ideal of a traffic-free, green, light, highdensity housing development that also supports a vital neighbourhood community. But they did this by ignoring one of the Smithson’s fundamental ideas. The interconnection of the whole area with elevated pedestrian decks in order to “maintain looseness of grouping and ease of communication” was, arguably, a major contributor to the social failure of the original Hulme blocks. When the Guinness Housing Trust tried to force Homes for Change to integrate more with the local community, the building worked against it; isolated on its own block, gated and walled, Simon is only half joking when he calls it ‘Fort Hippy’. Thanks to its cultural and physical cohesiveness and isolation, Homes for Change appears to be the neighbourhood most at risk of Sennett’s “fratricide”. The cooperative organisation (together with the other social aims of the group) means that the members have political bonds as well as territorial ones, like the members of the Forest Hills community that Sennett describes. As an ‘alternative’ community, Homes for Change is able to define itself in opposition to the mainstream culture just as the Jewish community did in New York. It is possible to speculate that the original formation of the Homes for Change cooperative resulted from just such a political drawing together of a community facing an outside threat: the demolition of their homes. But this can hardly be termed “fratricide”: rather, we could look upon this as the sort of positive community action that Jane Jacobs describes in New York’s Greenwich Village.21 In any case, Homes for Change appears to work very well for Simon. That he moved to Manchester in order to live there, has lived there for the past eight years, intends to remain for several more (ten years is considerably longer than the two years mentioned by Abito tenants), and describes the co-operative as working very well attests to this. Although he plays an active role in the organisation of the co-operative as part of the maintenance team and knows co-op members as neighbours, he is able to distance himself when he desires. The access decks, café and courtyard encourage social contact; but Homes for Change also gives each individual their own space. It does not force individuals to share facilities.
Case study 3: St. Pancras Way Matthew Duggan
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Plans Drawings are not to scale and were drawn in sketch form by the interviewer on site before being worked up for presentation.
Cross section (Matthewâ€™s room is highlighted)
Second floor (Matthewâ€™s room is highlighted)
Description No. 110 St. Pancras Way is a converted Georgian shop in Camden, north London. As shown in the illustrations, the house has a semi-basement, shared ground floor and two storeys above. There are eight bedrooms, two in the basement and six in the upper two storeys. The ground floor is shared, and has an entrance hall and open-plan kitchen, dining and sitting area with a television. The basement forms a partly separate flat with its own kitchen. All but one of the bedrooms have an en-suite bathroom, and there is a toilet in the rear extension, along with a washer/dryer shared between all the tenants. The house has a high standard of decorative finish throughout and was recently extensively refurbished for conversion to a bed-and-breakfast. The owner’s pregnancy prompted her to reduce her workload and let the house to permanent tenants. As shown on the map, the house is located a short distance to the north of Camden Town, a busy shopping high street with a London Underground station and Sainsbury’s supermarket. The area is famous for its music and alternative cultural scene, which has thrived since the 1960s. Matthew is an architecture student who was twenty-one years old when he moved into no.110 in July 2006. He moved to London to work for an architect’s practice as part of his architectural education, and he lived in no.110 for the year that he spent in the city. An edited transcript of the interview with Matthew Duggan can be found in Appendix D (Page 73) Matt describes that he moved to London to experience what life in a big city is like. As an architecture student, he wanted to experience working in the architectural centre of Britain. He chose Camden as a place to live because it has good transport connections (he worked in Notting Hill, at least an hour’s commute away), and because of its social and cultural scene. For Matt, it appeared to offer many opportunities for the young and design-conscious. Matt wanted to live in a shared house because he felt that it would be the best way of making friends and becoming settled in a new city. He was very careful to choose a house with similar tenants to himself, and describes how he rejected several other houses which offered better accommodation in favour of no.110. He describes how, initially, there was a very sociable atmosphere in the house. Matt
made friends with a fellow tenant, Neil Ryland, while playing a computer game in the shared living room. However, the attitude of the inexperienced landlady caused most of the young single lads to move away. They were replaced with immigrant couples and this change in the population of the house also changed its social atmosphere. The couples tended to keep themselves to themselves, cooking at different times, eating in their rooms, and socialising away from the house. The type of contract and the landladyâ€™s behaviour encouraged a rapid turnover of tenants. This led to a certain social fatigue amongst Matt and Alison, longer-term residents, who describe feeling unwilling to make the effort to get to know new tenants who they knew would be moving out within a few months. Finally, Mattâ€™s own temporary status affected the way he behaved in the house. He describes how he would have moved out of the house, to share a three bedroom house with Neil and his other friends, had he been living in London for a longer time.
Discussion As a way of making friends and getting to know people in a new city, the shared house appeared to work as Matthew envisaged. Within two months (probably less) of arriving in London, he had become good friends with one of his housemates Neil Ryland. Initially, the house acted as a single social group. The population of young, professional men were suddenly put together in an environment where they had a significant incentive to get to know each other: they were sharing a house. Matthew mentions that the shared, open-plan living, dining and kitchen area was a major part of this, bringing the housemates together at meal times and afterward to watch television and computer games. The social group was strengthened by common activities like going out to bars together in the evenings. However, Matthew describes the experience of living at no.110 as being a bit like living in a hotel for a year. Initially, as explained above, this does not appear to be the case; so what caused this reaction? It appears to result, both directly and indirectly, from the behaviour of the landlady. Her behaviour caused a rapid turnover of tenants, resulting in what could be termed social fatigue. There was no longer any incentive to socialise with people living in the house because they would be gone within a few months. Worse, the new tenants that arrived were not interested in socialising with other residents anyway: as couples, they
were more interested in each other. They used the shared kitchen in a different way, cooking at different times and eating in private, in their rooms. One of the major differences between ‘home’ and a hotel seems to be a sense of ownership, and the landlady’s behaviour prevented Matthew from feeling this. Apart from the obvious issue of not being able to make any changes to his room (even to the extent of putting up pictures or posters), tenants were unable to control the heating and the landlady would complain about the tidiness of the communal spaces. All of this reinforced the landlady’s, rather than the tenant’s, ownership of the space. Matthew’s experience demonstrates both the strength and weakness of architecture as a social force. The social behaviour of the house was highly dependent on its population and their individual social aspirations, but it was the house which allowed or encouraged those aspirations to exist.
Case study 4: Abito
1:10 000 OS
North along Gravel Lane Abito currently stands isolated in an unfriendly environment dominated by low quality surface car parking.
South along Greengate Showing the ‘Gaudí’ balconies.
Atrium On the left is the concierge office. The slot windows give onto ground floor office space, resulting in casual surveillance of the space duing office hours. Post boxes are just visible to each side of the concrete drum in the centre, which houses circulation. “It’s bare concrete because that was the cheapest possible finish” - Jasper Sanders
Atrium Individual flats are accessed by decks within the atrium. Each flat is identified by a number, large enough to read from the floor of the atrium, above the door. Flats do not overlook the decks because the bed is next to the door.
Entrance Access to the flats is through this tunnel. The degree of security that the gates will provide if closed is questionable.
The concrete drum to the right is the circulation tower, and the rectangular concrete tower to the left is the rubbish chute.
Plan of typical upper floor From Building Design Online, 2008, Abito MicroďŹ‚at is Boxing Clever [online], available at http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story_attachment.asp?storycode=3077909&seq=6&type =G&c=1 [accessed 06 April 2008]
Survey results: demographic data 30 29 28 27 26 25 Age (years)
Mean age: 24.4
24 23 22 21 20 19 0 1
Survey response number
Do you own or rent your flat? Own Rent Survey response number
Have you always lived in Manchester or Salford? Yes No Survey response number
Do you share your flat? Yes No Sometimes Survey response number
The complete set of returned questionnaires can be found in Appendix F on Page 86.
Description Abito Greengate was completed in 2007. It is a development of micro-flats (353 sq ft) with office units on the ground floor. There are eight storeys of thirty-two flats each, making 256 flats in total. A plan of a typical floor is shown in the illustration. As shown, flats are accessed by a deck running around the edge of the central atrium, which contains the lift and single stair core. Recycling facilities, post boxes, a concierge office, and bicycle parking are provided in the atrium. The atrium, open to the air but covered by a tented fabric canopy, is accessed on two sides through tunnel-like gated entrances. There is no car parking provided. The building is the first completed part of a masterplan for the area around it. This area was once Salfordâ€™s commercial heart22 but has declined to such an extent that the land around Abito is occupied by low quality surface car parking and disused workshops. While only five minutes walk from Manchester city centre, it is separated by Victoria Street (a busy road), the river Irwell and, especially, by the railway viaducts that originally supported the demolished Exchange Station. Together, these barriers ensure that, although Abito is officially in the city centre, it feels very separate. As explained in the methods section (page 22), postal surveys were used to collect information about this building. The returned surveys can be found in Appendix E. Summary of findings
As the accompanying diagrams indicate, the people that returned the questionnaire are generally young; not from Manchester; live on their own; and rent rather than own their apartments. Respondents cited a variety of reasons for choosing to live at Abito, including, not least, an architecture student who wanted to see how Abito worked. More common reasons were the low cost of the apartments for the location, and the convenient location. The stylish design of the flats was a common reason. One respondent mentioned a hope that the compact design would make it easier to keep everything clean and well organised. Many of the respondents said that they had not considered any other way of living, such as sharing a house. Those that had said they had considered sharing, but either they would rather have their own place, or that they didnâ€™t want to be bothered with sorting out bill payments, etc.
Respondents generally were divided between moving out after their contract finished in six months, or staying for another two years or so. None said they were planning to live there permanently. Nearly half of the respondents had never seen their neighbours, although as one respondent said that the building was approximately 60% uninhabited, they may simply not have had any neighbours. Of the rest, one respondent didn’t like their neighbour because they played music too loudly, two would recognise them and one had been to a housewarming party. When asked if they thought that the building formed part of a neighbourhood, and if they would like it to, the overwhelming response was that it did not. Respondents were more ambiguous about whether they would like it to; while many said they would, one said they were not bothered as they were moving away soon. There was a strong correlation between how much the respondents liked living there and how much it felt like home. Respondents were divided on this issue; those that were less happy said they liked the location, but living alone in a ‘tiny’ space was not home. For this person in particular, home had to have family and friends. Those that liked the flats generally said they felt comfortable and safe, and enjoyed having space to call their own. One respondent, the only one that shared a flat (with his girlfriend), said that it did not feel as homely as “…previous abodes. Feel part of the city – maybe too much (suburbia is homely) this is something else – but an excellent place to live. Hard to escape?” Respondents also disliked the tent roof, which was noisy in the wind, the lack of sufficient noise insulation, the noise from people walking past on the access decks, problems caused by local troublemakers in the (publicly accessible) atrium and thought that the “layout of the building could have been better.”
Discussion According to the intellectual sources above, Abito has the potential to support a vital social life. It is a geographically isolated community with a young homogenous population (like the Festinger study) and with dwellings arranged along access decks similar to the ‘streets in the sky’ of the Smithsons. But of the places that I studied Abito has the lowest social interaction, casual or otherwise, and for a large proportion of the respondents to my survey this affected their enjoyment of life there. 53
Each access deck is shared by 32 flats. According to the Smithsons, this should be a good thing – the more neighbours, the better. There is more chance of casually meeting a neighbour in passing – but is there much chance of recognising them as a neighbour or having any meaningful interaction? The decks are narrow and gloomy, uniform in width and open to the drop of the atrium on one side. There is nowhere to linger. They are not overlooked. There are no front gardens or windows fronting onto the deck, as at Homes for Change. There is no incentive at all to sit ‘on the front step’ or do any of the other things that contributed to the life of the street described by the Smithsons (even given that the Smithsons were writing about a different community at a different time). Each deck is only accessible to the residents of that deck, which helps to explain the apparent failure of the ‘Gaudi’ balconies. These balconies, by alternating wedge shapes, allow for vertical interaction between floors. But those people below (on another deck) are in a very different territory: there is no incentive for communication. For anyone to make contact would require a very outgoing personality that could deliberately overcome this territorial distinction. The atrium is an unwelcoming space. It provides bicycle parking, post boxes and recycling facilities for all 256 flats. It discourages lingering, and anybody hanging around is more likely to be (and is treated as) a dangerous troublemaker than a fellow resident. Although the atrium is supervised by the concierge, access is uncontrolled. One of the respondents mentions that this arrangement has led to problems with local troublemakers invading in the past. Anyone in the space is therefore, for territorial purposes, a stranger and any interaction with them is likely to take place on this basis. When the flats were planned, great care was taken to include a washing/drying machine within each flat, even though space was extremely limited. When I was shown around a flat, the resident expressed pleasure that he had this personal washing machine and that he did not have to take his washing down to a communal room and risk having his underpants stolen. Features like this are desired by many people today, and with good reason, but their inclusion (and the resultant lack of sharing) reduces the chances for people to come together and meet each other whilst engaged in a ‘legitimate’ activity like washing clothes. Some respondents described certain events where tenants made efforts to meet each other: One describes meeting his neighbours at a housewarming party (from the tone of the reply, it seems unlikely that they have seen them again). Another talks about a single apparently spontaneous gathering on the first floor, on a summer evening, where people drank and socialised. Generally, however, it appears that 54
Abito’s architecture and management discourage domestic social interaction to such an extent that it does not occur, and other residents are more likely to become a nuisance (in terms of noise) than a friend. The demographic profile of Abito’s residents is very similar to Matthew: young professionals, single, new to the city and intending to remain for a short while. Matthew chose to live in a shared house in order to get to know a group of friends in a new city; if he had chosen Abito, he would have had to find other ways of socialising in order to achieve the same goal. There is a good case that Abito offers a pure relationship with the city and with city life. The only survey that was returned from a couple (no.7, page 96) mentions this. For them, “suburbia is homely; this is something else…” Others are very happy there, because it offers them the freedom of the city, of choosing who to be friends with without having to socialise with people just because they live nearby. How much people like to live at Abito, or enjoy the social situation, appears to be very much dependent on individuals and individual circumstances. However, it does appear that Abito’s environment will tend to encourage feelings of social isolation relative to other forms of dwelling studied in this dissertation.
Conclusion The starting point for this study was a personal observation about the social environment of new residential developments in Manchester’s city centre. From the point of view of a prospective resident, it seemed that the design assumptions behind many of the new buildings left them unable to accommodate the kind of social community which I had found so valuable over the past five years as a student. The key questions for the study became: was this true? And if so, was this important to the people living there? Finally, can professional designers expect to exert any influence over people’s social behaviour anyway? To try to begin to answer these questions, I devised a small programme of original research using documentary survey techniques. To place this work within a broader intellectual context, I also explored the work of three important theorists that had approached this question from different disciplines and at different times. By considering my own findings in relation to the general approaches of these theorists, I was able to draw wider conclusions from a relatively small research sample. The research also allowed me to test these general ideas in this particular context. As I began to try to make sense of the results of these inquiries, it became clear that any research in environmental psychology has the potential to become impossibly complex. As Charles Mercer23 discusses, environmental psychologists themselves have approached this problem in different ways in the past. Any scientific study is faced with the problem of trying to define a sufficiently narrow scope of enquiry that the situation may be studied in sufficient detail, while not ignoring many other factors that may have a major bearing on the conclusions obtained. Because the interaction between people and environment depends on so many factors, all of which may vary in myriad ways, it is difficult to draw conclusions from research that have any credibility beyond the specific conditions of their supporting data. This problem, as we have seen, especially affected the Festinger study (page 9). This does not, however, prevent us from drawing conclusions as long as the specific context is recognised. The study can support the following statements with a reasonable level of credibility: •Domestic social interaction can be regarded as being important to most people; in the context of speculative development, therefore, it should be given consideration as part of the design process. •People who live by themselves tend to have greater need for domestic social 57
interaction outside the dwelling than those that share the dwelling with others. The design of environments intended to house single people singly (such as Abito) should therefore give special attention to designing spaces that allow this to take place. It seems that current design assumptions in some of the situations studied do not pay sufficient attention to this requirement. •We cannot guarantee that a particular space will give rise to a particular social effect (as the theory of architectural determinism implied) but we can say that absence of the required space will render particular interaction impossible. A good example is Matthew’s living room which allowed the house to come together in the evenings but also allowed its residents to decide not to. As a result of this, people are able to colonise existing environments in ways which the original designers did not envisage. If the extent that we can generalise from these is difficult to establish, determining scientifically how the designer might make use of these ideas in order to create better environments is even more difficult. It would be too easy to conclude with a set of simple recommendations that, it might be hoped, would allow a richer social life in new residential developments. To do so would risk repeating some of the mistakes of the theorists studied; it would generalise from a specific study that cannot fully support those recommendations. The intuitive, selective nature of design is able to absorb the difficulty of this scientific generality and to use the conclusions of this type of research to help create new environments. These then can be subjected to the same systematic scrutiny. Research provides an analytical process, striving to understand a given situation but not creating new situations to test. Together, this type of research and the design process form two sides of a cycle of action and appraisal which will build up the body of knowledge necessary for the creation of satisfying human environments. Could Homes for Change have happened without Hulme? “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us” Winston Churchill
Sharon Zukin, Loft living : culture and capital in urban change (London:
Radius, 1988) Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen’s History of Home: Loft Living (BBC Radio 4,
1 April 2008) Office for National Statistics, 2007, Focus on families: Households: Rise in non-family households [online], Available at http://www.statistics.gov.
uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1866, [Accessed 14 Nov 2007] Office for National Statistics, 2007, Social Trends: Housing: Highlights [online], Available at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1756,
[Accessed 14 Nov 2007] Lewis Mumford, The City in History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961)
p.81 Charles Mercer, Living in Cities: Psychology and the Urban Environment (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961) p.71, cites Broady (1966) “Social theory in architectural design”, Architectural Association Journal, 81,
149-54 Mercer, p.71, cites Abrams, 1943 ‘Residential propinquity as a factor in
8 9 10
marriage selection’, American Sociological Review, 8, 288-94 Mercer, pp.79-80 Mercer, p.81 Alison and Peter Smithson, Ordinariness and light (London: Faber and
11 12 13 14
Faber, 1970) pp. 18-95 Mercer, p.154 Smithson, p.42 cite Rattray Taylor, Architect’s Year Book 4 1952; p.28-9 No Place Like Hulme, (Granada Television 1978) Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (London: Faber and Faber,
1993; first published 1977) p. 294 Sennett, pp. 294-312 Mercer, p.88, cites Heraud, B.J., 1968. ‘Social class and the new towns’, Urban Studies, 5, 33-58: “It appears that a recognisable degree of social segregation is an invariable concomitant of any housing development, whether or not this is guided by attempts to reduce such
segregation” Mercer, p.86, cites Gans, H. J., 1961 ‘The balanced community: homogeneity and heterogeneity in residential areas?’, Journal of the
American Institute of Planners, 27, 176-84 Mercer, pp. 99-101. The studies cited are given as Newson, J. and Newson, E., (1965) Patterns of Infant Care in an Urban Community, Penguin Books (first published Allen and Unwin, 1963), and Newson, J. and Newson, E., (1970) Four Years Old in an Urban Community, Penguin Books (first published Allen and Unwin, 1968).
19 20 21
Mercer, pp. 35-6 Daydream Believers, Building, 6 September 1996, pp. 38-43 Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (London:
Jonathan Cape, 1961) Salford City Council (2006), The Exchange Greengate Salford: Planning
Guidance, Consultation Draft. p.9 Mercer, pp. 16-40
Chermayeff, Serge, and Alexander, Christopher
Community and privacy
Housing and urbanisation
Thames & Hudson, London
Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
Better places to live : by design : a companion guide to PPG 3
Thomas Telford Ltd, London
New directions in housing
Academy Editions, London
Hole, W.V., and Attenburrow, J.J.
Lym, Glenn Robert
A psychology of building : how we shape and experience our structured spaces
Living in Cities: Psychology and the Urban Environment
The City in History
Scottish housing advisory committee on the design, planning and furnishing of new homes
Planning our new homes
The Fall of Public Man
Shelter Publications, Inc.
Shelter Publications, Bolinas, CA
Smithson, Alison and Peter
Ordinariness and light
At home in the city: An introduction to urban housing design
Faber and Faber, London
Houses and people: A review of user studies at the Building Research Station The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Uichol Kim ... [et al.] editors.
Individualism and collectivism : theory, method, and applications
Loft living : culture and capital in urban change
Publisher and location Penguin Books, Harmondsworth
HMSO, London Jonathan Cape, London Englewood Cliffs, N.J; London : Prentice-Hall Penguin Books, Harmondsworth Penguin Books, Harmondsworth HMSO, Edinburgh Faber and Faber, London Random House
Elsevier, Oxford Thousand Oaks, Calif. ; London : Sage Publications on behalf of the Korean Psychological Association Radius, London
A: Hulme The Hulme housing estate was, when it was built, one of the largest deck-access council estates in the country. Its history is of only peripheral relevance to this study but, as a built expression of the Smithson’s ideas and as the original home of Homes for Change, it forms an interesting connection between two sections of this dissertation. Hulme was an area of slum housing built during the industrial revolution until it was demolished to make way for a comprehensive redevelopment scheme, designed in 1965 by the architects Lewis Womersley and Hugh Wilson. The new estate was to house 13,000 people, and rather than place families in tower blocks, the designers followed the Smithson’s ideas for horizontal deck-access. The new estate, with approximately 5000 dwellings, was completed in 1971. But almost immediately, it became clear that it would not be a long-term success. In 1973, Hulme was Manchester’s most deprived area. According to Granada television’s World in Action documentary, No place like Hulme (1978) the risk of being mugged in Hulme was thirty times the national average. In the traditional working-class street which the Smithsons used as a model, children played in the street because there was nowhere else to play. In Hulme, as the Smithsons had envisaged, this street became the access deck but the noise of children playing on the decks caused the residents of the flats tremendous stress. The flats were very difficult to police, largely as a result of their complex system of raised pedestrian decks. Others who moved in later and began to squat what became an increasingly abandoned and lawless place found that the environment suited their needs. They enjoyed the social aspects of the decks, and of the enclosed courtyards between them. “They understand, I think, the value of what the Modernists were saying…things about light, and air, and space, and I think that’s been fully understood by the people who inherited the crescents over the past twenty years. They see there is a communal dimension to the decks if they’re properly built, and that’s what they want, because urban life is basically communal.” Those people went on to become the Homes for Change housing co-operative. 65
B: Michael Walsh Have you always lived in Manchester?
I moved here to study architecture in 2003, from the Isle of Man.
Why did you decide to move to Manchester? To come to university.
How did you find the place that you lived?
I had this intuition… If I went to work for Paula Butterfield (architetcural practice that Michael works for part-time), I’d find a trendy apartment. I did fourth year at Broadway Malyan, and then left to work for this small practice based on Tib Street just round the corner. The building was actually converted by the practice and my landlady is an architect who worked on the conversion.
You lived in a flat in Manchester city centre for about one and a half years before you found this one. How did you find that?
Pete (housemate) found it, through an estate agent’s website. We were in a hurry to move out of the house we were sharing at the time in Victoria Park (an old suburb about two miles south of the city centre). The house was in a state – it was falling down.
So why did you decide to look at flats in town?
I’m a lazy person. Well, I’m not sure that lazy’s particularly the right word, because I’m doing things all the time. I’m often late for things because I try to do other things up to the last minute, so being in the city centre seemed to be the best way of accommodating university, a job, and oh, things like shopping. Also the quality of design can be quite high in the city centre.
Was it what you were looking for?
The rent is a little high, but, it was a case of, when we found it I walked in the door, and it was just like, my God. It was just absolutely, I mean, it’s large, it’s spacious, I mean, this space is larger than the suburban house that I lived in in second year. This might not be the best apartment in the world, but it is a nice apartment. I mean, it’s got high ceilings, exposed wood, brick, etc.
Did you look anywhere else?
Most of the inner-city apartments are dreadful. Sound insulation is dreadful. Often they’re very shoddily built and detailed. One we went to see, they must have not lapped the damp-proofing back around the windows so it had gone all black and
mouldy… every window in the whole building must have been like that. It was newbuild. Just shocking. Was that really in the city centre?
No, actually… It was in the sub-centre, the post-centre. The ‘crust’. Out towards Skyline Central, along Rochdale Road. Investment flats, really. Just put some money in, get some chump to live there, and Bob’s your uncle.
When you moved out of your student house, did you consider any other way of living? Living by yourself, living with family, or a partner?
By the time I’d moved out, all my friends were either settled, moving away, or were Pete. And anyway, Pete’s one of my best friends so I wanted to live with him. All my family is in Ireland and at that time I was single. Originally, we did live with a third friend but it was his father who kept the house in such an awful state. After that, we decided we wanted to get as far as possible from student housing as we could. It was a pretty awful few months. I mean, I was working at the time, and it was taking me ages to get to work, so… Basically, we had had enough of living in a dump.
So did you and Pete decide to live together, first, before you found somewhere to live? Yes.
How well do you know your neighbours? Do you know anyone in this block?
I’ve met a few people, but I don’t really know them on a personal basis. We were going to introduce ourselves, but there never seemed to be a good time. I’ve bumped into them a few times, and they seem like nice people.
In the lift or something?
No, not actually in the lift. Only people on the second and third floors use the lift, so I tend to meet people by the post boxes (by the ground level entrance).
Do you know anyone who lives around here?
Yeah, I know a few people who live around here. I know a couple of people who live at the end of the road, and I know two German girls that live in the Design House, opposite the craft centre. The Design House is a rare example of a good new building in the city centre. Icon’s not as good, again, the problem is storage.
I’ve noticed that you’ve got your computer and books in your room, even though you’ve got this space (indicates the living area).
It’s a question of scale. I don’t feel comfortable working in this space. It’s nice to lay on the bed and watch films too. The other thing is light. My room’s quite dimly lit,
because the windows face north east onto a narrow road with high buildings on each side. I just don’t think that this room is a good place to work. There’s distracting noise from the road, a distracting view… Is Pete in the flat often?
Pete’s in the flat a lot, I mean, he’s doing a PhD so he’s working a lot but mostly in his room. In his room or, occasionally, drinking coffee in the kitchen. But generally, me and Pete have different timetables. I mean, he’s doing his PhD and I’m studying architecture and working. We’ve never really had any conflicts in living here. But, this area here (indicates the living area) I’m planning to use more. I use it maybe a couple of times a week, to come and sit down, maybe watch a DVD or something, and when I have friends or visitors. When Iovanna’s here we use this area a lot, I mean, it’s a very comfortable couch. The exercise equipment notionally gets used in here.
Where do you tend to eat?
Mostly in the kitchen. Sometimes, I will take my food over here and sit down, but | don’t watch much TV.
How long can you see yourself staying here?
I’m hoping to stay here a long time. A couple of years at least. I don’t know what Pete wants, but I could live here for years. In an ideal world, I’d buy the flat next door and knock the two together, but I can’t see myself being able to afford that any time soon.
How much does it feel like home?
Oh, a lot. It feels very, very homely. I’d like to buy some furniture, but that’s more a function of money than anything else.
Have you ever wanted to personalise the space?
I could if I wanted to, but I’ve never really felt the need.
To sum up, what do you like about this place? It’s warm and comfortable.
The location beside my work, favourite bars and cafés, I mean, literally, it’s great. It’s a nice place to cycle to and from. I would like there to be more trees. But the lack of trees aside, nothing particularly perplexes me about this place.
C: Simon Birch Have you always lived in Manchester?
I was brought up in Offerton, in Stockport, and lived in Sheffield for a number of years before moving back to Manchester. I studied Geography at Sheffield university.
Why did you decide to move to Manchester?
If I hadn’t been told about the flat at Homes for Change, I probably wouldn’t have moved to Manchester. It’s one of the most aggressive, least friendly Northern cities that I’ve seen. It’s very well-connected in terms of transport though. I don’t really use the city any more, and whenever I can, I get out of the city into the hills. Oxford Road train station’s a five minute walk from here, and on Saturday mornings I can get a direct train all the way to Penrith, straight on to a bus, and be on the tops of the Lake District fells faster than anyone could drive.
How did you find the place that you lived?
A mate told me that a flat had become vacant. I think that’s how a lot of people got here, at least a few years ago.
Was it what you were looking for?
I’m the sort of person that, 10 years ago, would probably have found a small terrace somewhere in the hills, like in Disley or somewhere. But with the housing crisis now, it’s just not affordable.
Can you describe Homes for Change socially?
It’d probably be better if you could speak to one of the founding members, maybe Nick Dodd; he might have been here at the start. It’s changed quite a lot recently. There isn’t a word for it in English. You know the U-bend on a sink or bath? Where all the stuff just ends up? Basically, this is where you would end up if you don’t fit in anywhere else. I mean, I assume you know where Homes for Change came from; it came out of the old Crescents. They worked together to get City Challenge funding from local, central and European governments. It started very much as a political ideal; it was there to provide an alternative to owner-occupied housing. It was there for people who wanted low-cost social housing to stay in Hulme. It also brought together people who shared ideals. Environmental, local, collective, gay friendly. We had loads of lesbians, gays, even two transgender people. It was about 30% queer. There were loads of lesbians with their children. They would do the Chorlton two-step as I call it. Red-brick. Yellow71
brick, Chorlton. You know the red-brick blocks up by the Mancunian way? Used to be council flats? Red-brick, yellow brick, now it’s Levenshulme or somewhere because they can’t afford Chorlton. We also used to have a lot of mentally broken people. Yeah, it was really mixed. Now the political side of it has become more pronounced. In the late Nineties, it was a political choice to live here. Now it’s the only way to find somewhere to live. I mean, the whole thing was designed to look a bit like a boat, so now it’s like the last boat. There are huge waiting lists for a flat here. There are a lot more ‘normal’ people living here now. It’s the only place they can find to live. They’ve settled in very well, and the whole thing’s settled down. You’ve described Homes for Change as ‘Fort Hippy’. How much is it a part of Hulme as a whole?
Well, that’s just it. Two years ago, the Guinness Trust (Housing Association) threatened to shut us down. We were seen as too isolated. Out there, it’s 50% black, while in here it’s like 98% white. We had to make some changes but I don’t know how successful they’ve been. The local boozer’s a real crack house. It used to be the pub next door, but a couple of years ago they demolished it and they’ve all moved into this one. It was quite intimidating before, and I’ve not been into it in the last two years.
How well do you know your neighbours?
I don’t know many people here. We’re chatty, friendly, we’ll say hello and talk about the weather, but we don’t live in each other’s pockets. You very much have your own space. It’s co-op life. Very insular. I don’t want shared living, as such. Well… Well, it’s just the way it is really.
Do you feel like it is ‘home’?
I’m not massively keen about spending the next ten years here. It would be good to have a choice to own somewhere.
How well do you think Homes for Change works?
It works very well. It’s been going over ten years now without being shut down or anything, and it still works. Yeah, it’s good.
Is there anything you’d like to change about the building, or that you think works well? I’d like to see more play provision in the central courtyard. That’s just dead space
at the moment, but it needs some commitment from the parents (in a housing cooperative), and they don’t seem to be bothered. There’s an issue with bored kids here. Some of the parenting’s not good, or rather nonexistent. There is some low-level vandalism from kids within the block, things like throwing bins off the access decks. 72
The heating isn’t good. There are cold spots in the flats caused by thermal bridging. I’ve got one in the corner of my sitting area, on the far side from the tiny radiator. The flats were designed to be low energy, but they’re just cold. The water pressure’s not high enough on this side for any of the flats to have showers, which is annoying. The dividing walls to the flats are painted precast concrete. It’s a bit brutal. You can see the joints and the little holes in the surface where the air bubbles were. The entrance is really poor. It’s pretty scruffy. Look at this door handle! (The main door handle is a cheap brass knob, clearly a replacement, crudely screwed onto the door). It’s closed at the moment but sometimes it doesn’t close when people leave so it’s not very secure. The way a co-operative works, everyone’s supposed to do a little bit of work to look after the whole thing. The block is managed by the tenants for the tenants. But sometimes it doesn’t really work. For instance, the rubbish chute here. On each level, there’s a hatch that opens onto the chute, which empties in a skip by the main entrance. It’s everybody’s responsibility to empty the skip, so of course it doesn’t get done very often. As the skip’s by the front door anyway, people can just chuck their bags of rubbish straight in as they go out so there’s no need for the chute. We screwed a strap over the hatch to keep it closed but people prise the strap off and tip cat litter down. When there’s no skip at the bottom, you end up with catshit all over the place. The boozer across the road is a pain. Sometimes shots are fired there. I’d really like a place to go outside, to sit on the grass. I never use the balcony (at third floor level on the outside corner of the building) because it’s windswept and noisy. I never go to sit on the grass in the courtyard. It’s dead space. The café’s good, it’s a good social focus to the block.
D: Matthew Duggan Why did you decide to move to London?
I grew up in Leeds and spent three years studying in Manchester. I knew cities of this scale. I saw the PTY1 year (Practical Training Year) as a chance to travel, and I wanted to see another league of city. New York, Los Angeles, London. I looked at these places and was offered jobs there. I chose London because it is easily accessible from the rest of the UK.
Was there any aspect of the culture in London that attracted you?
Certainly, yes. It’s our capital city, and also where a lot of fashionable up-and-coming architectural practices are. It’s where everything is architecturally.
How did you find the place that you lived?
Through Loot. That’s the way it’s done in London. You crash at a relative’s or friend’s while you look for a room. I stayed at my cousin’s in Maida Vale. London was a completely new city to me. The first time I visited was when I was 18. I didn’t know anybody there that I would be working with or living with.
Where did you look for places to live and why did you look particularly at Camden?
I knew about Camden, obviously, because it’s famous. Music and popular culture. I spoke to a friend (fellow architecture student) who is from Kentish Town (adjacent to Camden Town), about places to live. Basically we got a map out and he pointed at places saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Because he’s from north of the river, he ignored the south completely. I think there’s that snobbishness. But also, Camden’s a young, vibrant area with lots of opportunities for young people like me. It’s got good transport, with the Northern Line. Euston station (for trains to Manchester and elsewhere) is about a mile away, so not far to walk. Euston’s in Zone 1 on the Tube, too.
Did you find a job, or a place to live, first when moving to London?
Job was definitely a first priority. I didn’t want to get into the situation where I was paying rent but had no income.
Did you consider other modes of living i.e. staying with family, or living by yourself?
Living with family was not an option. My cousin shares her one bedroom flat with her long-term boyfriend, so I certainly wouldn’t be welcome! I did not consider living by myself. Because I was completely new to the city, I saw the house as an important way of getting to know people. I was quite selective about the place that I wanted to live for this reason. I saw some very nice shared houses before I found the one I eventually lived in. They had bigger rooms and some were cheaper. What put me off were the people living there, forty year olds with settled jobs and things. They wouldn’t be into the same stuff as me. I wouldn’t be able to make friends. I asked the landlady about the people living there already, and when I heard that they were young lads of my age doing professional jobs, I knew I was in the right place.
Can you describe Camden socially? Mixed,
There’s the middle-class, public-school coke scene. It’s very drugs and music orientated. But other very different cultures are also there. The tramps, and the tourists. I’ve nothing against the tourists, I mean, they should be able to come to the capital, shouldn’t they? It’s just that there are too many of them and the area can’t cope. They have to close one direction of the Tube on Saturdays. When the tourists see that the down escalator’s blocked off, they just stop. That’s when you have to shove past them, it’s the London way, they’re pissed off, but what can you do? Otherwise you’d be spending your whole life waiting for people to move out of the way. How well did you know your neighbours?
There was one – he was Canadian so we called him Canada, I don’t know his real name – who lived near us and worked in a bar locally, we (me and Rocky, my housemate and first friend in London) got to know him a bit. But generally I didn’t know the neighbours. The house next door was vacant. Two doors down was split into flats with young couples with babies and pushchairs. They weren’t the sort of people that we wanted to or could make friends with, so we ignored them and they ignored us. Beyond the abandoned house was a council estate. If we sat in the garden, the neighbours that way would shout greetings over. Many of the tenants in surrounding houses, as well as mine, were immigrants, often Kiwi or Aussie. They had something in common, and when they heard each other’s accents, they’d start up a bit of banter, But that’s all it was. We didn’t know their names.
Your house was split into a shared house and a shared basement flat. What was your relationship to the people in the basement flat?
There were two couples in the basement flat. One was really sociable, the other a bit arsey, so we avoided them when we could. The blokes of the couples were two friends from France, that was how they knew each other. One married a Pole, the other an Italian. The Polish couple were the friendly ones.
Can you explain how the basement flat was part of the house? How separate was it? What did you share?
Well, they had their own kitchen and bathroom. They shared the garden, front door, washer/drier and a WC with us. The WC in the washing drying room caused a bit of friction. The house was originally a Georgian terraced house, and the stairs were original. They were dogleg stairs: half-flights to a landing halfway between the main floors. The washing/drying room was in the back extension off the landing between the ground floor and basement flat. It was where we (in the house) accessed the back garden too. The arsey couple tried to say that the toilet in there was theirs, which was ridiculous because our back door was there and the washer/drier that we all shared, and there was a toilet in the basement anyway.
Can you describe the physical and social structure of your house? I mean the rooms, the hallways, and the people living in them.
The house was very popular with immigrants from the Commonwealth countries, especially Australia and New Zealand, but also Iran, France, Poland… I think it was so popular because the contract was indefinite and you only needed to give one month’s notice before you could move out. This made it good for people new to the country because they would stay here for a few months to get to know the city before moving on to a more permanent, private place. When I first moved in there was one person per room. We were the first batch of tenants; before I moved in the place was a B&B. The landlady was pregnant with her first child and decided to let the place to tenants because running it as a B&B would be too much work. Initially she tried to find British tenants – not because she was racist or anything, but because they could understand the contracts and everything and I suppose because she was new to being a landlady too. That’s why when I first moved in all the tenants were single, young Brits like me. After about two months, though, the landlady’s behaviour had caused all of them except me to move out.
What sort of behaviour?
Well, she’d be around all the time, complaining about crumbs and things. She wouldn’t let you feel like it was your home. She controlled the heating and, when one couple from the south of France complained that they were cold (it was a London winter, after all, and they weren’t used to it) she turned the heating on all the time. The rest of us were far too hot and complained to her, but she was no good at sorting things like that. In fact, that couple from Marseilles complained about everything about Britain – the food, the weather – but made no attempt to get a job and within two months were claiming benefits. Ungrateful! When I first moved in, I’d come home from work and Neil (Rocky) would hand me a beer and we’d all sit down in the lounge to watch TV together, then me and Rocky would play Pro-Evo (football simulation computer console game) ‘till midnight. I had long hours at the architects in Notting Hill, and it took me about an hour to get home, so I’d often get home after everyone else had finished tea. Still, they were usually still there in front of the TV. We’d also all go for drinks together as a house in the evening. But when all the single Brits moved out they were replaced with foreign couples. They tended to keep themselves to themselves. They didn’t want to socialise. They ate and listened to music in their rooms. They ate at different times – the French tended to eat at ten or half ten at night. We didn’t go for drinks together anymore. I came home from work, ate in the lounge then I’d go up to my room to read or listen to music and then sleep. The house was a Georgian terraced house that was originally a shop. It had a semibasement, slightly raised ground floor, and two storeys above that. The semi-basement was a semi-independent flat: It had its own kitchen and bathroom, but shared the front door and hallway, garden and laundry facilities. The ground floor was arranged (as shown in the accompanying diagram). The two floors above contained bedrooms: One single and two doubles on each floor.
Was there anything about the layout or physical structure of the house that improved interaction or caused friction and arguments?
The long table in the kitchen was never used for meals, only for preparation. The TV was the main communal focus, in the lounge part. Having the kitchen and lounge as effectively one room was very good for social interaction. The resulting space also had windows at both ends, making it light and pleasant. The walls were very thin and there was no acoustic privacy, but this didn’t really cause
arguments. Sometimes the people in the room next to me would put music on very loudly, on a week night. That annoyed me. Could you or did you want to personalise your room? To what extent was it possible? If you wanted to do anything to your room you had to ask for permission, even
something like putting a picture up. So I didn’t do anything. This was frustrating at first, but I got used to it. It was a bit like living in a hotel for a year. Did you feel like it was ‘home’?
It was the least homely place that I’ve ever lived in. What made it home was sleeping and eating there. It was somewhere to find your way back to after a night out. I did start calling Camden ‘home’. It was not homely because it was deliberately managed to make it not feel like home – things like having no control over the heating or not being able to do anything about the physical state of the room.
Do you think the knowledge that you were staying there for one year only affected how you perceived the house?
Yes. If I’d been living in London for longer I’d have moved out when Rocky did and found another house to share with him and another friend. As it was, that would have needed a year contract which I couldn’t do. There was a rapid turnover of tenants. After a while, Alison and I stopped making the effort when a new person turned up. They’d be gone in a few months; what was the point of trying to get to know them?
E: Abito visit Jasper Sanders
I visited the Abito development on 11.03.08, a Monday. One of the lighting designers at Building Design Partnership (BDP) had recently moved into a flat and agreed to show some of the members of the office around at lunchtime. The tour was led by interior designer Jasper Sanders, who was one of the three designers of the building.
Design development Work began on the design of the Abito flats five years ago, at the height of the citycentre flat boom. The developer Ask noticed that, with increasing land prices, the sizes of city-centre flats were becoming smaller and smaller. Rather than continue to build smaller flats with a traditional typology, however, they decided to re-think this small flat from first principles. Ask approached an architectural firm with the site at Greengate, who did a conventional architectural project taking the site and context as a generator. It soon became apparent, however, that this approach does not work for very small units. Conventional apartment buildings need the ‘wasted’ space in most apartments to take up the slack of the site, to fit around services, etc. Ask commissioned a new architect, BDP. They began with the design of a ‘minimum’ flat, to be constructed off-site, the repetition of which would then make the eventual building. The dimensions of the flat were determined by various restrictions: The width was the maximum that would fit on a flat-bed truck, 3.6m. The length (just over 9m) was the maximum fire escape distance from a studio flat with kitchen. BDP established that height was less expensive than floor area on a city-centre site, so the units have a comparatively generous height of 3.5m. Again, this was determined by the limitations of road transport. The flat has many clever ways of saving space, but the ways that it makes the space seem larger are especially interesting. The location of the services in the centre of the space leaves the walls and ceiling unobstructed. This allows the full size of the wall and ceiling planes to be appreciated from anywhere within the flat. The flat also behaves as a single space acoustically, so that it sounds like a large space. Inhabitants are able to walk all the way around the central pod. This circular route is often impossible in even large houses, and does much to make the space seem larger.
Social aspects of the final design Every flat has a balcony. The balconies are the full width of the flat and are separated from one another by a full height frosted screen, so casual contact with adjacent neighbours is impossible. However, the balconies are wedge-shaped and alternative in orientation on each floor. The architects describe this device as a ‘Gaudí’ balcony. The idea is that the wide parts of the balconies are visible from above, while the narrow parts offer privacy. In this way, casual contact can be made with neighbours. Hermann Herzberger explores the use of a similar device in his Lessons for students in Architecture (1991). BDP compare the device to the S-shaped benches in the Parc Güell, Barcelona; Concave curves are gregarious, while convex curves offer isolation. The building is made up of five floors of flats arranged around the perimeter of the site, with the ground floor being office space. The centre of the site is a large wedgeshaped atrium, divided into two parts by a monumental concrete stair and lift drum. The atrium, roofed by a large PVC awning, has an entrance on each side of the narrow end of the wedge and contains post boxes, recycling chutes and bicycle storage as well as the concierge office. Apartments are reached by open access decks which run around the edges of the atrium. None of the apartments look out into the atrium: All the front doors are solid. The doors themselves are recessed slightly, and all of the light (except filtered daylight) in the atrium comes from the halogen downlighters above each door. Apartments are identified by a large (large enough to read from the bottom of the atrium) number over the door. This is the only difference between apartments, although many of the inhabited apartments have individual door mats. Most of the doormats are unusual; some are defiantly quirky.
F: Returned questionnaires
Response 1: returned 04.03.2008
Response 1: returned 04.03.2008
Response 2: returned 04.03.2008
Response 2: returned 04.03.2008
Response 3: returned 04.03.2008
Response 3: returned 04.03.2008
Response 4: returned 05.03.2008
Response 4: returned 05.03.2008
Response 5: returned 05.03.2008
Response 5: returned 05.03.2008
Response 6: returned 07.03.2008
Response 6: returned 07.03.2008
Response 7: returned 14.03.2008
Response 7: returned 14.03.2008