As part of a reconciliation scheme for the West Bank, Lyndon Goode Architects is offering housing ideas from its London experience
From London to the West Bank, with echoes of Tel Aviv and Algiers: it’s not exactly a common travel itinerary, but it is a journey that architects David Lyndon and Simon Goode have made over the past 10 months. Their purpose is reconciliation, and the unlikely catalyst for that is housebuilding.
The pair’s London based practice, Lyndon Goode Architects, is working with the Office of the Quartet (OQ), a group comprising the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia. It helps to mediate Middle East peace negotiations, and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood. One of the economic development activities the OQ is supporting is the construction sector, specifically affordable housing and the evolution of a more collaborative industry that can produce new forms of housing designed to meet the needs of Palestinians.
Lyndon Goode’s role has been to disseminate and apply its experience of UK housing design, construction and marketing in the West Bank. It has been passing on knowledge via conference lectures and workshops in the cities of Nablus, Hebron and Ramallah, and helping to initiate two housing projects in the territories aimed at enabling local developers to put its lessons into practice.
The two projects will be challenging to deliver, but they hold the hope of greater collaboration between Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank, while helping to develop a more sustainable industry, market and homes. Goode acknowledges the overarching political challenges. ‘The politics can be polarising,’ he says. ‘We are mindful of the political situation, but as architects we have the opportunity to have conversations on a grounded professional basis.’
The work with OQ grew out of Lyndon Goode’s participation in a UKTI trade mission to the region, but Lyndon has family connections in the Middle East, while Goode was project architect on the British Embassy building in Tel Aviv for John McAslan + Partners. ‘We had a personal motivation to learn more about the area. We grew to know and enjoy it, and understand a little of how it works,’ says Goode.
In its focus on housebuilding, the OQ took account of the relative contribution of the construction sector to GDP and employment figures, scope for economic growth and its potential as an enabler for other sectors.
The OQ also identified a significant mismatch between the fairly large homes being built and the affordability levels of Palestinian households. In short, not enough smaller, more affordable homes were being developed, leaving around 70% of Palestinians priced out of the market (see below). With few starter or affordable homes and little trading up or down, this market has scant opportunity for homebuyers or developers.
Developers see various barriers to housebuilding, ranging from all too obvious political constraints to land registration and planning systems. Lyndon and Goode have focused on areas where they could influence change, specifically: design, construction techniques and management, and home marketing.
In developing its lectures and workshops, the practice has drawn on its previous work overseas, including in Algeria, and on London’s Peabody projects including the Lee Green Estate in Lewisham and Fish Island in Hackney Wick. ‘What’s important to us is how we embed housing into communities. We spend a lot of time researching communities,’ says Goode. ‘Through projects like these we have developed ways of doing high quality affordable housing that is innovative and inexpensive.’ The architects also researched Palestinian housebuilding practice. ‘It was important that we weren’t London architects preaching to them,’ he adds.
Lessons from the UK
Through the lectures and workshops the architects introduced construction professionals, planners, NGOs, developers and investors to UK approaches to housing layout efficiency, and explored the notion of a housing design guide, through the example of the London Design Guide. Palestinian home layouts are different to those in UK cities, and more generous, because of traditional cultural perceptions of public and private space.
‘In a London Plan-compliant design you might have a living room at the far end of an apartment, but that wouldn’t work culturally there because the entrance to the home has to be public, so you can’t have bedrooms leading off,’ explains Goode. The public/private focus often demands two living areas – one for guest use and one for family everyday use – while bathrooms tend to have windows.
The architects also stressed ways of making homes more sustainable – water is a precious resource. ‘You see water tanks on roofs, so we talked about co-ordinating services across homes or screening tanks,’ says Goode.
The architects suggested using stone – a commonly available local material – structurally rather than as cladding, to maximise efficiency. They also advocated greater use of fair faced concrete, rather than coupling concrete elements with other finishes. ‘Fair faced concrete would save on cost, but there is a challenge in learning how to do it,’ says Goode. ‘We said spending a bit more on formwork design could cut spending on finishes.’
Wet construction techniques are still commonplace across the territories, but the architects see scope for some to be replaced with prefabricated elements – and suppliers could be readily available, believes Goode. ‘Communication across the West Bank isn’t always great; maybe certain products could be secured from Israel. It could encourage a holistic and collaborative approach.’
With housebuyers struggling to afford the house that they aspire to own, the architects introduced developers and investors to the principle of custom build. ‘There would be the potential for people to extend, or developers could provide a shell to be finished by owners as they can afford it, with the shell selling at a lower cost,’ says Goode. ‘Developers thought of housing in black and white terms of affordable or private sale, and not a blend as is more common elsewhere.’ Marketing is also key to bridging the gap between buyer aspiration and affordability, so attendees at the conferences heard about London’s lifestyle selling approaches.
A sense of hope
There is already an initiative to develop a new form of housing in the West Bank, in the new city of Rawabi near Ramallah. The planned high-tech city of 6,000 homes has just under 1,000 completed to date, having encountered political barriers and controversy. Notably, the city’s developer was involved in lengthy negotiations to connect the city to the Israeli-controlled water system.
But there is appetite for change. Around 400 developers, investors and industry professionals attended the conferences where Lyndon and Goode spoke. Lyndon says, ‘There is a real sense of hope, especially among the younger generation. People are very forward thinking and focused on what they want. This is really about the long term future.’
The architects are now helping the OQ to bring forward two sites, in Nablus and Hebron. Nablus already has bare concrete structures for 174 homes, constructed by a developer that ran out of money after starting the project. The practice is now looking at how the structures could be adapted, potentially for a low cost custom build scheme of shell houses. In Hebron, the OQ is working on a large housing project, a new planned eco-city (similar to Masdar City in Abu Dhabi) for more than 50,000 residents. The architect is in the early stages of masterplanning a scheme of mixed affordable and private homes. The architect will produce proposals to help the OQ market the schemes to developers and investors willing to build them.
For a small practice formed just four years ago, Lyndon Goode has made a heavy investment in this initiative, taking four of its 16 staff to the conferences last November. ‘We find we get a lot out of it as a practice,’ says Goode. ‘Working with Peabody in London we are already aware of cultural sensitivities. This has helped to underline that.’
The pair will return to the region in September in the hope of continuing their work. ‘There is no fixed timescale to this,’ says Goode. ‘We hope that with a little nudging, this will keep moving forward.’
WHAT THE CUSTOMER WANTS
The West Bank’s housing market has traditionally been based on buying a ‘house for life’. Houses are generally large and much desired, but few Palestinians can afford them.
Consumer research carried out by the OQ looked at the housing market and potential barriers. It found that developers’ popular perception was either that Palestinians would only live in large homes or that they could not afford housing. A survey of consumers found these perceptions to be untrue. Consumers said they would be willing to buy a smaller home – around 106m2 rather than the norm of 120-150m2 – in order to be able to secure a home of their own. Respondents also said they would be willing to spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing.
The research, which predominantly interviewed middle income families with earning levels of US$6,500-$13,000 a year, found that on average, buyers could afford a home priced at around $52,000. Buying was preferred to renting, and a house was more popular than an apartment.
The OQ’s research and Lyndon Goode Architects’ conversations with young architecture students at several universities identified changing attitudes between older and younger buyers, with the younger buyers being more open to living in apartments and open plan spaces.
‘Younger people are less concerned about traditional ways of living. They are more likely just to want a home to call their own,’ says Goode.
PALESTINE: HOMES AND ZONES
The West Bank has a population of nearly 3 million – mostly Palestinian with around 500,000 Israelis.
It is estimated that the territories have a market demand for 4,500 homes a year for Palestinians, mostly on urban fringes.
West Bank land is zoned, A, B and C, according to control: A zoned land is in Palestinian control, B has shared control and C is controlled by the Israelis.
Zones can be small areas – zones A and B are divided among 227 separate areas, 199 of which are smaller than 2km2. As a result the delivery of essential infrastructure, like roads and water supply routes, is politicised.