I have the unique experience of living and now, through this past year of COVID, working in a Levitt Bernstein-designed flat at Sutherland Road in Walthamstow. We’ve all been spending more time than ever at home and, with this firsthand knowledge, I can confirm that many of our Practice’s core housing design and placemaking principles – pockets of communal spaces to chat with neighbours, external walkways that are wide enough for plants and seating as well as movement, and light-filled, dual aspect homes – have been key to not only surviving, but even enjoying spending so much time in our flat during 2020 (and now into 2021).
Our south-facing, triple aspect flat has a huge amount of natural light coming in all day long and expansive views out. Even on the grey days there’s no real need for lights to be switched on, and it is especially delightful when the low winter sun shining in warms up the inside. We’re up on the third floor with no buildings blocking our views over the rooftops and the marshes, yet it’s just the right height that we’re still connected to the street level. People-watching from the balcony is a constant entertainment, with a small pedestrian street below and the Blackhorse Workshop and coffee shop across from us. Spending so much time sitting out there during the spring and summer, we came to know the characters and weekly activity of our neighbourhood: the electric bike veg box delivery guy, the honey man, Turkish radio station, sounds of welding from the workshop and smells of coffee roasting all making up the local community.
As we all now know, access to outdoor space has been key to surviving this last year in London. The variety of spaces just outside our door – balcony, walkway, courtyard and the wetlands – has kept me sane, providing fresh air, activity and places to meet friends. With all the extra time and attention, our potted gardens expanded and thrived over the summer. The balcony, soaking up the southern sun, has taken on a Mediterranean theme with small olive and fig trees, lavender and yarrow, and was perfect through spring and summer for a morning coffee and lunchtime sandwich. The external walkway on the other side filled up with flowering geraniums and vines, herb boxes and some veg. This year we figured out it’s an ideal spot for a late summer evening meal as the sun moves around the building.
Sutherland Road was designed and built to provide quality affordable housing, with residents moving in just a couple years before the lockdowns where working from home became the new norm. Living in our flat through this year I have experienced how small, yet specific design decisions, like a bit of flexible space and connections with the outdoors and neighbours, really do positively affect day-to-day living. Hopefully, as everyone has collectively shared in the COVID experience and people recognise that ‘nice to haves’ in a home are really ‘must haves’, we can all continue lifting up the standards of new build housing, making the city more liveable, pandemic or not!