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Housing – New Models New Lifestyles

An AT webinar explored how new housing typologies can complement contemporary lifestyles while also promoting greater social cohesion and sustainability.


Over the past year far too many of us have learnt that our homes are not fit for purpose – typically, they are too small, unsuited for working at home, not sustainable enough or simply in the wrong place. The speakers at the Architecture Today webinar ‘Housing – New Models New Lifestyles’, supported by Oscar Acoustics and Radmat, produced a range of thought-provoking proposals.


Speakers (from left to right) Melissa Dowler, Arthur Kay, Ben Hancock, Mark Harris, Richard Dudzicki and Catherine Tucknutt

Melissa Dowler, a director of Bell Phillips Architects, stressed that, ‘The single most unsustainable thing we can do is build an unsuccessful building.’ She described her practice’s work with two local authorities in London – Greenwich and Newham. In both case it designed a compact but light-filled house type that could be rolled out across a number of small sites.


Designed by Bell Phillips Architects, Bracelet Close in Corringham, Essex, provides high-quality affordable homes for rent (ph: Kilian O’Sullivan)

Dowler emphasised the importance of this multi-site approach. ‘There has been a lot of talk about the need to deliver on small sites,’ she said. But typically, small sites are ‘inherently more expensive, more difficult to develop on, and more time consuming’. This can militate against spending on better, greener building fabric or on renewables. Rolling out a single design across a variety of sites allows economies of scale while still infilling those all-important small spaces. In Newham, for example, where the practice designed compact homes with central light wells, the inclusion of a roof terrace meant that the houses work whether or not there was space for a garden.

Even more radical was Arthur Kay’s approach. He is the CEO of Skyroom, a company he set up to address the terrible shortage of affordable housing for key workers in London. On average, he said, they spend 60 per cent of their income on housing. And 62 per cent are looking to move out of London and to change profession, citing the main reasons as the cost of housing and the cost of commuting.


Designed by local practice TDO, Skyroom’s four-storey airspace development is located on St James’s Road in south London (cgi: Skyroom)

Kay’s solution is to work with local authorities and housing associations to add several floors to existing developments. This approach is inherently less expensive because the land cost is zero. Skyroom has developed a proprietary podium system, which coupled with modern methods of construction, allows the addition of the extra storeys with minimal disruption to existing residents. Indeed, part of the ‘deal’ is that those existing residents also get their homes upgraded. The ambition is to deliver 10,000 affordable, sustainable and beautiful homes for key workers.


Designed by RM_A Architects, The Forge residential development near Upton Park in London makes extensive use of blue and green roofs supplied by Radmat (ph: Jonathan Lucas/Radmat)

One of the problems with developing on existing sites is that the allowance for run-off may be less than on a greenfield site. Roofing company Radmat encountered this at The Forge, a project in Newham, London, designed by RM_A Architects for Telford Homes. Set on the site of a former bus garage, and with the consequent problems of contaminated ground, the development was allocated a restricted allowance for run off. As a result, it makes substantial use of blue and green roofs for attenuation.

Multiple flat roofs at The Forge in Newham (ph: Jonathan Lucas/Radmat)

Mark Harris, head of technical and operations at Radmat, explained the complex detailing that had to go into the design and delivery of some of its first blue roofs. The roofs – mostly at fifth-floor level but one at 14 storeys, plus terraces at third and fourth storey level – had to accommodate the extra depth of the attenuation tanks. On the terraces in particular there were issues with threshold levels. Radmat solved these by using a thin vacuum insulation product. The unit price was high, but the overall volume used, relative to the project, was small.

Harris gave an insight into the complexity of the project – calculating how much run-off there would be from one roof to another was vital. Initially it was hoped that the roofs could provide all the attenuation, but in the end some tanks were also needed in the ground.


Stories Mews Passivhaus in London, designed by RDA Architects (ph: Simon Maxwell)

Architect Richard Dudzicki, director of RDA, showed a number of projects in which his practice achieved either Passivhaus design or at least high energy ratings. In total, he said, across 24 buildings there would be an energy saving of £4 million throughout their 60-year design life. And, he stressed, building to these standards does not have to be expensive. On one project for example, RDA saved on heating and management systems and ‘so could spend more on beautiful details. We spent more effort on design than on science.’


Iso-Mount Type1 acoustic hanger from Oscar Acoustics

Not all buildings are ideal however, and Ben Hancock, managing director of Oscar Acoustics, talked about one way of making the imperfect better. His company has introduced a new set of products to deal with the problem of noise transmission between floors, particularly in buildings divided into flats. Although there are a number of approaches to sound proofing already available, many involve lifting floors to install them. The Oscar Iso-Mount, in contrast, is a way of creating a suspended ceiling that is acoustically isolated from the floor above. These products add minimal additional depth but can be adjusted to level out differences in ceiling height.


Designed by Proctor & Matthews Architects, in association with Mawson Kerr Architects, the Vaux neighbourhood quarter in Wearside Edge forms part of the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan (cgi: Pillar Visuals)

Working on a much larger scale, Proctor & Matthews Architects is leading an ambitious city regeneration project in Sunderland, planning four neighbourhoods with 1,000 new homes that will double the number of the residents in the city centre. Senior associate Catherine Tucknutt showed how the houses are specifically designed for their situation on a river gorge and draw on historic Sunderland housing types. In the very specificity of its response, this provides an excellent example of how housing design could be improved across the country – as did all of the presentations, each coming from a different angle.


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