EVENT REVIEW: Liveable City: Housing Design – 22nd May 2014

Held at the distinctive offices of Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners in Southwark, this event brought together the RTPI Centenary Series theme Liveable City and focused on housing design in the London context.

Chaired by Peter Bishop of Allies and Morrison the evening began with the perennial question, what is good design? Peter made reference to new policy documents which may provide an answer, however he suggested the key may lie in good practitioners.

First to speak on the evening was Richard Blakeway, Deputy Mayor for Housing. Summarising the size and growth of London as one of Europe’s largest cities, he stated that the need for housing had to be balanced against quality.  The need for housing was stressed, however, with London needing to double its output to meet demand. Stating that 7/8ths of London’s emerging housing were flats, the London Housing Design Guide was described as a historically important document for improving the internal and immediate external standards of new dwellings. He concluded with three points: biggest challenge is to ensure quality continues to outer London suburbs; difficulties in improving construction times; and continued funding for estate regeneration with a focus on improving places as a whole.

Pocket Homes CEO Marc Vlessing began his presentation with a video, ‘people who make London tick’. His assertion was that housing in London was falling way behind providing the necessary housing for important middle income workers: nurses, young professionals, even architects who earn less that £66,000 per year. The answer, he said, was contained within the Pocket Living model, intermediate affordable homes whose, due to a restrictive covenant, affordability would remain in perpetuity. The design was at the forefront of each Pocket home. However one of the largest and most costly elements of the process was stated as being planning bureaucracy and red tape, with almost a third of the project spent at this stage. He suggested this would be far better invested in further design work. As a final note, Marc appealed to planners to use their discretion when looking at applications which may be different to the norm but had significant merits, even if it may cost you a promotion!

Since 1982 Barratt London has delivered over 28,000 new homes. Greg Tillotson, Development Director at Barratt, outlined the company’s approach to design and the difference in housing in London compared to the UK as a whole. Echoing previous statements about the immense demand for new homes in London, Greg detailed a number of Barratt schemes whereby a number of architects had been brought together to collaborate and provide high quality site-specific design. Also stressed was the importance of allowing architects freedom in design, ensuring the legibility of large developments and engaging effectively with stakeholders.

Director at Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners Hendrik Heyns concluded the evening with an overview of good design for new housing, focusing on how to get the best out of large, high-density schemes. He stated that there were three important elements for large housing development: creating a sense of address through front doors and groundscape; usually located in proximity to transport infrastructure getting this relationship right is key; and improving street patterns, connectivity and legibility as much as possible. Drawing upon examples in Hendon and Barking Hendrik demonstrated how new schemes were able to give residents ownership of open spaces and revitalize struggling high streets. The adaptability of high-density schemes was described as also a great alternative for tricky infill sites where large floor plate office buildings do not work.

A social and networking session followed the Q&A, with refreshments provided by Allies and Morrison.

MARLON DEAM

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