Daniel Swift Gibbs loves the community, natural beauty and space he finds in Norfolk, but it's housing that is a dominant issue for architects
I moved back to Norfolk after living in London. I was drawn by the vast landscape: the rolling grasslands, bright fields of rapeseed, and salty marshes; an eclectic coastline boasting rugged cliffs, wild dunes, and tranquil seas; and The Broads – all under our glorious wide skies.
This surrounds the island city of Norwich, with a thriving cultural and arts community, a fascinating architectural vernacular and heritage, and leading scientific and creative industries. It’s a great place to practise architecture.
While the space, beauty, and community is inspirational – there are some big challenges. The region is really struggling in the housing crisis. We have fallen well behind targets for completing new homes, in part stifled by house builders and land developers sitting on some 20,000 granted but unbuilt planning applications. Many of the schemes that have made it through to construction are not meeting quotas for affordable tenures. There is also a – quite understandable – unwillingness by some locals and councillors to disturb the natural beauty of the area – but this means even the most sympathetic, considerate and beautifully appropriate proposals can suffer a protracted planning process before approval.
But fortunately, the tide may be beginning to turn. Local housing associations are working with architects on a number of really progressive, truly people-focused schemes, to provide good quality homes for the region’s most vulnerable. We’re also looking across the North Sea to our European cousins in the Low Countries for inspiration. Using Passivhaus design principles has become a real point of focus for a number of practices. Custom self-build and co-housing schemes of the type that have proved so successful on the continent are now on the horizon here. This shift could bring about a real change in the way the region approaches housing; putting us at the forefront of the movement in this country, and giving the landscape the architecture it deserves.
Daniel Swift Gibbs is a Part II architectural assistant at Hudson Architects, Norwich
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