Archive for February, 2008

ruralZED

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008


ruralZED, originally uploaded by eversion.

Ecobuild 2008

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I’m heading to Ecobuild at Earl’s Court tomorrow. In the morning I’ll be attending the ‘Carbon Reduction Begins At Home’ conference, then touring the green(wash?) products in the afternoon. Stopping for a coffee with Phil Clark from the Sustainability Blog along the way.

Anybody else attending tomorrow? Are the usual suspects up for a drink in the evening?

Lifetime homes for all

Monday, February 25th, 2008

This morning’s Today program brought the news that Help the Aged’s campaign to bring Lifetime Homes standards to all new properties appears to have made some progress:

Ministers want all new homes to include 16 features such as stairs wide enough for stairlifts, downstairs bathrooms, and room for wheelchairs to turn.

The government wants the standards to be adopted from April. If not taken up, they could become compulsory in 2013.

Lifetime Homes is a set of guidelines created by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the early 90s. The goal is to ensure that your house could be easily adapted to meet your changing needs as you get older or suffer from an accident or illness that causes disability, or both. Here’s a diagram from the Joseph Rowntree site that shows the 16 recommendations:

Lifetime Homes recommendations

Social housing for rent has demanded this system is applied for a number of years. Here in Birmingham, the council went a step further when it first came out and made it a planning requirement for any affordable scheme.

The 16 steps were also covered by Mark Brinkley over at House 2.0 a few weeks ago and this post is really an expansion of my comments there. Keeping up the good work as usual, he has also caught this morning’s report and points out the somewhat predictable lack of joined up thinking – Code For Sustainable Homes already covers it anyway.

So, which ever way you look at it, it would seem that you and I are destined to keep applying it. Most of these recommendations are a no-brainer and have little or no impact on the layout aspirations of a house, but there is a point where you move from 2 bed to 3 bed properties that can have frustrating consequences. Rule 10 – the ground floor WC – and rule 10a – the provision of space/drainage for a future shower – which comes into force on the larger property, often becomes the biggest hurdle to efficient, successful, elegant, economic floor planning.

There’s a good reason why a number of the recently published narrow terrace properties shown in the Architects’ Journal (18.10.07) are 2 bed properties. Frankly, it’s easier to do.

Enough of this, it’s beyond boring. Cutting edge interweb journalism talking about toilets for goodness sake. There are a couple of questions worth asking though.

What if making it easier to stay in your home throughout your life results in a static housing stock, making it even more difficult for first time buyers to get on the housing ladder because nobody is moving on from the smaller units. Should we be creating housing that encourages people to stay put for most of their life? A robust stock is arguably dependent on a combination of accommodation breadth and balanced level of churn.

That’s a discussion point over an individual lifetime, what about longer time periods? Of the many definitions of construction sustainability, one of my favourites is also about balance – balance between the heavy and the light, the durable and the ephemeral. One growing and shrinking, living and dying thanks to the ongoing, immovable support of the other.

To build successfully into and onto the landscape we need to think in geological timescales. Like this:

Bird Portchmouth Russum

Alp Workers Settlements by Bird, Portchmouth and Russum from 1995, dragged from my memory of a wonderful lecture during my undergraduate course. Masonry chimney cores that stand for eons, watching the coming and going of the prefabricated lightweight homes over many, many lifetimes.

Yet, here in 2007 2008*, we’re still talking about showers in downstairs toilets.

* In my defence, this was at least grammatically correct as I wrote the second half of this entry last year – more slow blogging. I’d like to blame the Panda I employ to proof read, but I fired him last week when he began to show signs of lethargy and ennui.

First prize to Avril for spotting the almost deliberate mistake. She wins a ride in my time machine.

Architecture re-housed: Part 3

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

The final part of the story about the design of half a dozen houses in the West Midlands…

The next day, exhibition and obligatory drink with fellow bloggers over, I headed back to the office. As I’m recounting to colleagues the story of my discovery of a reference to a similar housing layout in the pages of a seventy year old book called Europe Rehoused, I look over to the book shelf as I’m speaking to find the very book in question looking back at me. I’d been sat next to it for nearly ten years without even realizing it was there.

Europe Rehoused cover Europe Rehoused extract 1 Europe Rehoused extract 2

The text doesn’t expand on the specific house types shown, focusing rather on the general urban design climate in Sweden at the time; but the extra info on the plans provided was reassuring. We were in agreement about fundamental room positions and relationships, regardless of slightly changing space criteria since these examples were first designed. I pressed on with the design and the preparation of a planning application that would take the chevron approach to housing layout from Sweden in the early 20th Century to Stourbridge in the early 21st.

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A full set of images can be seen here: Queens Road, Stourbridge

(the images shown are taken from the initial 3D modelling work – the wind turbines shown were subsequently removed due to concern about cost and their likely poor performance in an urban area)

A full copy of the design and access statement is available as a PDF: Saw-tooth housing. As well as street elevations and a video on Vodpod.

I’m delighted to report that it got full support by the planning department, the design and access statement (including a reference to Europe Rehoused) is, I’m told, to be cited as a model example for the borough, and the construction is now about 80% complete. I’ll post some pictures when the scaffold comes down. If you want to buy one and get on the property ladder with the help of a shared ownership agreement, get in touch with Black Country Housing.

I’ve described this project in some length for a couple of reasons, firstly because I think it makes for an interesting snapshot of how we work (let’s call it an extension to my previous post: a day in the life), but most importantly because it confirmed a growing concern I’ve had for the last few years about the trajectory of contemporary housing design in the hands of architects of my generation.

Almost overnight, practices everywhere have started to look for opportunities to add housing projects to their CVs. For a multitude of reasons – economic boom, media attention, McCloud, housing need, keyworker and cost of living debates, environment concerns – housing is once again the word on everyone’s lips.

Here’s the rub: Find me an architect of my generation (I’m 32) that had an education with housing design on the curriculum. I’m guessing you can’t. Only very recently am I beginning to hear about it re-appearing on the agenda in schools of architecture. Next, combine that with the fact that the rebranding of housing as a core (and even cool) design skill has caused a lot of firms that may have traditionally sought glamour elsewhere to turn their hand to the plight of ‘keyworkers’ needing ‘affordable’ housing. The result, I fear, is the reason why over the last few years I’ve seen some worrying examples of projects that repeat the mistakes of the past.

I’ve stood in front of winning competition entries that could have been drawn 40 years ago. I’ve walked around completed schemes that have exactly the same problems as estates from the 50s that I was being encouraged – by residents – to tear down only the week before. I’ve seen worse on the cover of the AJ*.

A recurrent theme here has been (and will continue to be) the benefit I’ve received from the teaching I’ve had from those around me who’ve been here before and are still wearing the t-shirt. I’ll summarise this final post by recounting a question put to me by one of them when I left the school of architecture and started practicing…

Ask an architect to design a Panda compound in a zoo and they’ll go away and spend months researching their habits, needs and precedents before they dare put pencil to paper. If you ask them to design a house for their grandmother, how long do you think they’ll spend on research?

You’re a human, right? You’ve lived in a house? What more do you need to know? If my experience with just this modest scale project alone is anything to go by, the answer is plenty more.

Screw the pandas, they’re too lazy to even procreate anyway.

—–Notes:
* Not, I hasten to add, during the reign of Kieran Long and the lovely new housing friendly AJ.
(see also Part 1 + Part 2)

fostering support

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008


fostering support, originally uploaded by eversion.

Architecture re-housed: Part 2

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Proving that blogging can be a slow medium too, here’s the second part to an entry written almost a year ago

December 2006, London, RIBA HQ. Flicking through the pages of the book to accompany the Eric Lyons exhibition at the RIBA, I send a text to Rod: In the RIBA cafe, muffins are terrible. A quaint, pre-twitter messaging technique that now seems obscenely intrusive.

Not all muffins you understand, just these ones, in that moment. Taking the edge off an otherwise enjoyable exhibition. Criticized in reviews, fairly I think, for being little more than a version of the book blown up and pasted on the wall, I was nevertheless glad I made the trip to see for myself. Sedate, linear, easy to follow, suburban even, I made the most of having the time to soak it up slowly; something that my parental duties usually prevent me from doing.

Colleagues had recommended I look at Lyons after I designed a project that reminded them of his work (see part 1). Pouring over the images on the wall I certainly had to (proudly) admit there were moments when we spoke in the same suburban dialect; the same vernacular language, but a direct reference didn’t jump out at me.

Until I opened the book. Muffin in one hand, page 30 in the other, I found the connection.

Span book excerpt

And, not for the first time, I had to admit that without the benefit of input from older, wiser colleagues I would have continued to believe that I’d reinvented the wheel. The image shown in the brilliant essay by Alan Powers is taken from a book published in 1938 called Europe Rehoused and is cited, along with the work of Trystan Edwards, as a likely influence on the young Lyons. Shades of it can perhaps be seen in the plans for New Ash Green or Templemere.

I wonder with increasing regularity, how often my peers, currently finding their feet in senior positions in offices across the UK are fortunate enough to be directed to moments like this. Helped, gently through the Total Persepective Vortex of housing design history and reminded of where we’ve come from.

Humbled and reassured I went back to the exhibition with Rod (and his camera) and before long we homed in on the drawings. All two of them. This is where the exhibition missed out, there simply wasn’t enough drawings. Surely there are piles of them in storage somewhere?

Span garden

I’ve been thinking about this drawing and the importance of landscape to Lyons work ever since.

Continuing the theme of slow blogging, I offer it to Sue Thomas from Writing and the Digital Life as a possible answer to her question from December 2006: “How might one build a physical groupspace for work and leisure according to Web 2.0 principles?”

The answer is found in landscape. The communal spaces between the private thresholds of the Span houses engender social networking. There’s no need for me to expand on this further because, thanks to the unique way the BBC is funded, it’s already been written up for me. Look:

He placed three basic principles at the heart of the Span projects:

  • community as the goal
  • shared landscape as the means, and
  • modern, controlled design as the expression.

Many developments focus only on the creation of private domestic space – they treat the area beyond the front door as incidental.

But Eric Lyons turned this on its head. Each development found ways of building the homes around central or shared green spaces. The architect’s aim was to engineer a sense of community by forcing people to interact.

from the BBC article: A house like no other?

Treat Span as interchangeable with web 2.0 and Eric Lyons as interchangeable with your favourite interaction designer and you’ll see what I mean.

Could there be a relationship between the form of the media we are using and the wide ranging appeal of some of the sites that curate the analogous topic? Landscape, blogging, topography, delicious, geology, fffound, urbanity, flickr – medium and content seamlessly linked.