Housing the urban population: solutions for our cites

Housing the urban population: solutions for our cites

Three architecture practices came together with Graphisoft UK, the company behind the BIM software solution, ARCHICAD, for the premiere of Habitation: Reinventing housing for the urban age. 

The film looks at issues such as urban density, affordable homes and sustainability, and outlines how each architecture practice has offered a solution to these challenges.

Three innovative approaches

Designed by Waugh Thistleton, Watts Grove is an affordable modular scheme of 65 homes for Swan Housing in east London. The project is set to be constructed with cross laminated timber (CLT) panels produced in Swan’s factory in Basildon.

After taking the decision to go modular, Swan commissioned Waugh Thistleton to develop its initial outline scheme based on the architects’ previous experience with CLT schemes. The scheme contains 158 modules of 85 different types.

“One of the reasons Swan have looked towards offsite manufacture is they want to control their supply chain,” explains Kieran Walker, associate at Waugh Thistleton. “The important thing to understand about offsite modular construction is that it’s really about repeatable processes and customisable products,” explains Walker. In this way, he adds, “we can get homes much quicker and more cost-effectively, onto more difficult sites.”

While Waugh Thistleton has turned to modular, offsite construction and engineered timber, Chris Bryant, partner at Alma-nac, has embraced a concept that he describes as “urban dentistry”.

“You can look at this idea of urban dentistry as carefully picking apart or adding to what’s there with a sort of surgical precision,” Bryant explains.

Alma-nac has applied this approach to Paxton House; an office to residential conversion in Croydon, south London. Although initially conceived as a build-to-rent scheme, some tenants have since purchased their properties.

Bryant’s team have managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of this type of project by designing dual aspect flats, with living spaces oriented to the south and south west and an access gallery to the north side of the building.

“Most of our work happens in this highly complex urban environment – complex in terms of policy, in terms of the urban fabric, sustainability and the environment,” Bryant concludes. “All of these parameters together set up something where innovation really shines.”

At Brentford Lock West, Mae Architects created an innovative residential scheme of 557 homes on brownfield land. However, this does not mean designing and delivering identikit housing devoid of character. Instead, Mae Architects designed the scheme to fit in and reflect the qualities of the surrounding area, while still delivering a dense residential scheme.

“It’s a mixture of responding to the industrial past and then trying to marry that with the human scale of a neighbouring conservation area,” says architect Helen Clark.

This means not only creating a mix of dwelling types, such as townhouses and flats, but also integrating architectural features such as garden walls, front gardens and gable ends. Such an approach created a mix of housing types while also addressing the need for family housing in outer London.

“We tried to innovate in the project [by developing] a new typology of villas connected by townhouses. The villa plan allows us to create a lot of dual aspect apartments with generous outdoor space and well-lit, generous internal spaces” adds Ely.

Creating homes for all

From reimagining the waterside, to embracing offsite techniques and adapting existing structures, these schemes prove that the challenges of the UK’s housing crisis can be overcome through innovation. Moreover, the urgency of housing need does not have to drive the delivery of knee-jerk, reactionary developments that sacrifice quality and architecture in order to achieve speed.

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Jess Bacon
Jess Bacon
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