From floodproofing and retirement living to the largest Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5-equivalent scheme in the UK – the demands on housing are changing. Stephen Cousins reports on the key considerations that emerge for panellists
The last two years have given us all time to re-evaluate the spaces we live in. Stories of families without the space to combine work and home schooling, and of young architects confined to desks in tiny flat shares, revealed the shortcomings of conventional housing design with limited adaptability.
‘The skill of a great architect lies in the ability to eke out innovative space from what little they have to play with,’ says PiP editor Jan-Carlos Kucharek in his opening remarks to a seminar showcasing the latest innovative and sustainable housing and residential development projects. ‘It requires grit and determination to ride these things out with clients and councils alike, but when it works, it can be quite something.’
The first speaker, Ed Barsley, founder and director of the Environmental Design Studio, provides an insightful overview of retrofitting for flood resilience, which also happens to be the title of his new book, published by the RIBA.
According to Barsley, many more communities in the UK will be caught in a perpetual state of flood recovery and reinstatement, so designers need to ‘think about what we can do to break that cycle and reduce or eliminate the associated waste and disruption for communities’.
Just because a building is exposed to flooding, it does not have to be vulnerable, he adds. A toolbox of strategies to increase resilience can include ‘wiring electrics from the ceiling down and specifying products or materials that are less affected by floodwater, or that could be quickly reinstated.
Weather resistance is a theme also tackled in a presentation by the first sponsor, VMZINC. The manufacturer’s low maintenance Anthra-Zinc product forms the striking dark standing seam roof and upper floor cladding on Crosby Granger Architects’ Water End House in the Lake District, itself a building resurrected from damage due to flooding.
Many more communities in the UK will be caught in a perpetual state of flood recovery and reinstatement
It all comes out in the wash as they say, and Coffey Architects’ Moor’s Nook project in Woking, the next case study, transforms a neglected industrial laundry into an award-winning residential community for retirement living.
As project director Steve Jones explains, a series of ingenious interventions helped breathe new life into the typology. A communal lounge, rather than being located at traditional ground floor level, is on the first floor, ‘embedded in the architectural composition’. All residents benefit from dual-aspect apartments, while top-floor flats extend into the pitched roof space where large skylights boost natural daylight.
Furthermore, the relocation of a substation at one corner of the horseshoe-shaped plan enabled the creation of a public courtyard and colonnade where residents and the general public can sit and meet.
At a time when housing demand, in terms of sheer numbers, threatens a legacy of substandard properties, it’s encouraging to see a development double down on quality to ensure the original design intent is delivered across all RIBA stages of work.
The award-winning Gables housing scheme in Crosby, presented here by Dave Dickerson, director at Liverpool-based DK Architects, comprises 30 brick-built family houses for a range of tenures on a highly constrained and overlooked site.
Key to tackling these obstacles, and delivering a very high density of 44 dwellings per hectare, was the introduction of back-to-back courtyard houses at the centre of the site.
Scale and massing were also crucial to retain a sense of space and to allow light to penetrate into homes, achieved by positioning single-storey terraces between properties and providing the twin benefits of dual aspect units and a new type of external space for residents.
Residents have spoken 'glowingly' about the properties since moving in, says Dickerson. ‘It gave them a type of house and an experience they never expected to achieve within that budget.’
A warm glow is a feeling we also expect from radiators, but the next presentation, from low-energy underfloor heating supplier Wunda, questions the suitability of such technology in the context of future changes to Part L and a net zero future.
Low carbon aspirations were front and centre during the design of the final case study, the award-winning Eddington key worker housing scheme for staff at the University of Cambridge.
As Kaori Ohsugi, director at Stanton Williams Architects explains, the brief was to create an exemplar for sustainable living and the largest single Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5-equivalent development in the country. Key measures to achieve this across the 264 dwellings included high-performance facades, a site-wide district heating network, photovoltaics, high daylight levels to all apartments and responsibly sourced materials. A focus on long-term adaptability to changing needs saw all properties designed to the Lifetime Homes Standard, with primary structures designed to last 120 years.
Spaces in historic Cambridge colleges also provided the inspiration for the new urban realm, says Ohsugi. ‘The network of communal spaces of different scales and character, the informal relationships between spaces and the use of transitional between spaces we found very attractive and wanted to capture within our design'.