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Saturday26 July 2014

Only good design can open the door

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Nick Boles’ attack on ‘pig-ugly’ housing is a step in the right direction

Ellis Woodman

Ellis Woodman- Executive Editor

Blindingly obvious as they may be, the observations of the planning minister, Nick Boles, on the pig-ugliness of new British housing are welcome. At last, a minister recognises that improving design quality is a prerequisite of any dramatic expansion of housing delivery.

Having empowered local communities through its radical reframing of planning legislation, the government now has to find a way of persuading them that large-scale development is in their interests. But there are pathetically few recent UK models that would suggest that it is.

If architects have a central role in that fight, they are also surely key to ensuring that Boles’ vision of expanding the area on which we build doesn’t result in the obliteration of the countryside.

Local authorities are now auditing their land-holdings with a view to identifying sites where housing could be built. There is also much to be done in increasing the densities of the non-residential parts of our cities.

It now falls to the government to start offering some solutions in which design is assigned the importance it deserves.

 

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Readers' comments (5)

  • I agree with the planning minister that a discussion about quality needs to take place.

    I thought Wayne Hemmingway could of stressed more about the scale of design procurement (I.E Architects per number of houses designed) during his news night appearance, money is only part of the issue where quality is concerned. My feeling is design diversity and site planning are the key issues.

    I also thought where were the front line Architects represented in the news night discussions and nothing was mentioned about the contribution of this and the next generation of Architects. Letchworth the example of exemplar housing put forward by the Minister was designed by Architects!

    Many Uk Architects are capable of producing fine housing but the volume house builders side line them. The volume house builders should come on board with Architects but I believe they do not appreciate the real threat to their business models and believe the status quo will go on forever.

    There are plenty of examples in Europe and even in the UK where collaboration has born profitable fruit. Too much slagging from the house building sector is common place as the craftsmen/designer relationship has been lost by these businesses and been replace by shareholder demands. The net result is our built environment is becoming monotonous and the overall quality is poor.

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  • In defending his plan for hundreds of thousands of new houses, many of them on green countryside, Planning Minister Nick Boles argues that “the built environment can be more beautiful than nature” (Ugly housing blamed for shortfall, BD 30 November). Judging by the mass protests now flooding the popular media, new developments will have to be that if they are to survive local obstruction! To overcome such opposition we will (a) have to find consultation methods that fully draw most local people into the formation of major new development plans – not just 5% or 10% , as is the case with ‘Design charrettes’ and ‘Enquiry by Design’, though the latter may have a role; and (b) solve the problem of how to achieve a high degree of beauty in hundreds of thousands of new buildings, when very few of these could be individually designed.

    On the first issue, may I suggest that the easiest and most effective consultation method would be for the local planning authority, assisted by expert organisations such as the RIBA, DesignCouncil/Cabe, and the Prince’s Foundation, to select a range of existing examples of architectural excellence, broadly comparable to the proposed development in terms of density etc, which cover all styles and characters from high-rise to low-rise, from ‘classical vernacular’ to ‘cutting-edge modern’, etc; and then to invite local people to narrow down the choice to the few best-liked options by marking a simple questionnaire. In a particular case one of the ‘traditional’ exemplars might for instance be Wick Village, Hackney Wick, London E9 (Levitt Bernstein); a ‘modernised traditional’ exemplar might be Bernie Spain Gardens in the Coin Street development, Duchy Street, London SE1 (Lifschutz Davidson); and so on across the architectural spectrum. If bidding developers knew the preferences of local people before hiring an architect, and knew that planning permission would be eased by respecting these preferences, we could greatly reduce the number of hated new developments, and create new towns people actually love. And because all of the guiding exemplars had been specifically selected for being excellent of their kind, architectural excellence would be assured – no need for purists to bang on about second-rate ‘pastiche’ etc.

    On the second issue, as half a million (or whatever) new houses cannot possibly be individually designed, it is urgently necessary to develop, again assisted by the organisations above, standard house types of various sizes and types that (a) are technically excellent, and (b) are regarded by the public as beautiful, to help developers achieve large-scale excellence at moderate cost. As your leader Bold may not be beautiful (2 December 2011) correctly argued: “an urbanism based on standard house types has every possibility of being rich and sustainable”, and Ellis Woodman’s participation in the Prince’s Foundation competition for “a family house with traditional design elements that would look beautiful in a street of similar houses” (News, BD 2 August 2012) is a welcome step in the right direction.

    If realised, the Government’s house-building plans will transform the appearance of this country, and we owe it to future generations to get this right. The first step, now, must be a programme to test the widest possible variety of ideas and procedures in all of the above matters.

    Maritz Vandenberg

    [Author:
    AN INCLUSIVE ENVIRONMENT (Butterworth-Heinemann 2008)
    FARNSWORTH HOUSE: MIES VAN DER ROHE (Phaidon 2003)
    etc etc].

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  • Nick Boles seems to have been briefed by the National Federation of Housebuilders. Politicians have bosses.

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  • And what's the answer when we've used up all of the greenfield sites?

    Papering over the cracks and ignoring the elephant in the room that is over population and not enough room on this island to house people

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  • zecks_marquise

    @LunaVC it's funny that that the by far the biggest drain on the economy is not foreign immigrants but british pensioners. The very same people who want to read the mail and complain that it is everyone else's fault.

    I think it's time for soylent green

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