The AT housing webinar that featured 17 experts discussing everything from innovative delivery models and to MMC, to sustainability, health and wellbeing, and emerging typologies.


Agar Grove Estate in Camden by Mae Architects was discussed by Mae co-founder, Alex Ely. (Credit: Jim Stephenson)

In May, Architecture Today hosted its first all-day online webinar. Aimed squarely at (and for) the housing industry, ‘Rethinking Resi’ sought to address the fact that England needs an estimated 345,000 new homes every year and how much of our existing housing stock needs to be brought up to speed to be energy efficient, comfortable and safe. Rethinking Resi posed the following questions: How can we achieve this? And what is being done right now that is taking us in the right direction.

Chaired by AT editor, Isabel Allen, the webinar saw expert speakers from across the industry address four main subjects that structured the day: Innovative delivery models including Modern Methods of Construction (MMC); Sustainability; Safety, health and well-being; and New emerging housing typologies.

Before that, however, founder of housing consultancy Municipal, Claire Bennie, laid bare some home truths, outlining where are we now and what needs to happen. Quality, declared Bennie, is 80 percent down to the client, with the remainder coming from those delivering a project. “We need a new generation of carbon-neutral building products right now,” she added.

She alluded to “four levers” that could be pulled on: 1) having culture and people at your disposal to be able to lead from the top and reward quality when achieved; 2) clients setting project standards through brief-making; 3) effective procurement based on alignment with quality goals and assurance of delivery and adherence to regulation; and 4) stewardship: “scrutinising a project from concept to completion.”

Part 1: Innovative delivery models

Design Director at Legal & General Modular Homes, Owen Phillips inaugurated proceedings. He highlighted how a modular approach can work at scale and be tailored to specific site and end-user demands through a system that mass produces a “kit of parts” — elements within a housing module — that can then be configured in different ways as necessary.

Constanze Jaczynska, a director at Proctor & Matthews built on this, presenting the Vaux Neighbourhood in Sunderland and the prefabricated panel system being used within it, stressing the importance of having a fit-for-purpose build programme when employing such a system — and working with manufacturers at the earliest possible stage.

Terry Fearfield, technical specification manager at SIG Design & Technology, had a similar point to make about when working with slate, noting the importance of early supplier engagement to secure a product pipeline for a project, selecting the right quarry for long-term and finalising specification before the tender process.

Rounding off Part 1, partner at Hawkins\Brown, Nigel Ostime, touched on the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) overlay in relation to the RIBA plan of work as well how the DfMA toolkit can help housing providers adopt MMC, and finally how premanufactured value is a proxy for good outcomes.

Part 2: Sustainable dwelling

Founding director at Mae Architects, Alex Ely started the second session, used Agar Grove in Camden, as an example of how to build to Passivhaus standards in urban environments, particularly when south-facing orientation isn’t possible for optimal solar heat gain.

Christa de Vaan, an associate at ARUP discussed the value of creating “digital twins” to measure how a building is performing in comparison to its theoretical energy use. In the same vein, de Vaan noted how the digitisation of our buildings can let us amass data on material usage, better aiding circularity in construction.

Meanwhile, U.K. director at Knauff, Matt Prowse, talked about insulation specification in adherence to the new Part L building regulations, along with how insulation and other building products must be able to easily installed so to be able to deliver on their energy-saving potential.

Seeing us into lunch, Marion Baeli, a partner at PDP London, moved the conversation to retrofit: identifying the long-term environmental costs and benefits to upgrading our current building stock, noting the alarming statistic that 86 percent of our homes today still use gas fossil fuels — something that will have to change in the future.

Part 3: Safety, wellbeing and health

Emma Cariaga, part of British Land’s executive committee, introduced the Canada Water development in southeast London, using it to describe how the “new town centre” can celebrate history, benefit those that currently live there, and become a community asset for future generations — emphasizing the importance of mixed-use typologies to breed a diverse range of functions for the area.

Managing director at Oscar Acoustics, Ben Hancock was next, discussing strategies to mitigate noise transfer between floors, disrupting and reducing vibration paths between materials — something best achieved through a “floating ceiling” with the help of the Iso-Mount system.

Flora Samuel from the Quality of Life Foundation and University of Reading later spoke on metrics used to determine quality of life and social value. Samuel highlighted how that data can be applied to housing and planning using cross-correlated mapping to identify where “eco social assets” are, but also stressed how vital it is for this information to be digital and hence usable and accessible.

At the end of Part 3, Patrick Michell, partner at platform 5 Architects brought the audience’s to Toynbee Hall’s East London Estate, just south of Spitalfields in London — a regeneration project that has turned the area into a multipurpose hub that integrates housing and two new Centres for Advice and Wellbeing.

Part 4: New typologies and new ways of living

The final session of day started with Victoria Tomlinson, a director at Connexus, who discussed how the property management firm is ensuring rural homes that exist off the gas network can still be sustainable and even meet Passivhaus standards.

Katerina Karaga, an associate at Farrells, meanwhile, broached green infrastructure and its role within Farrells’ Wakefield City masterplan that attempts to knit together the city through biodiverse and productive landscapes.

Co-founding director of Matter Architecture, Roland Karthaus was the day’s penultimate speaker. Karthaus posited how almshouses as a typology have a latent potential to be used today as well how intergenerational living can benefit both ends (and middle) of the age spectrum.

Finally, Frances Holliss, of London Metropolitan University and founder of the Workhome Project, showcased what successful working-class home-based work looks like. This was best exemplified by ‘A House for Artists’ by Apparata in Barking, East London, that boasts 12 affordable studio apartments, a groundfloor studio and community space and a shared working yard for residents. (Read Holliss’ review of this project here).