Architecture re-housed: Part 3

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)

5 Responses

  1. Tori
    Tori at |

    What’s black and white and red all over?

    A panda. In a blender.

    *A very large industrial blender.

  2. David Nolan
    David Nolan at |

    Very impressed with the blog chronology of the project. Would be very interesting to see the final results. The methodology is refreshing to hear.

  3. axisdesignarchitects.com » Queens Road progress

    […] (more details on Rob’s blog: no2self.net) […]

  4. no2self.net » Blog Archive » Rehoused - part 4

    […] Time to put my money where my mouth is, as they say. Here’s the fourth and concluding part of the ‘architecture re-housed’ trilogy – photos of the completed houses. […]

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