I recently took part in a panel discussion on the future of housing at the Place RESI conference. Delayed inevitably due to Covid, there was no surprise that this was the first topic on the agenda – has the pandemic changed the way we are thinking about housing and what clients are asking for at briefing stage?
It is perhaps too soon to tell the lasting impacts, but what is important in housing now is what has always been important in quality design: space, light, air, views, external space, flexibility. These are not new requirements and even though we may feel the world is very different right now, the qualities that make a good home have not changed. But perhaps the market will, and the demand from residents to see these qualities delivered may shape the way clients approach viability and what is considered to be most important at the briefing stage.
As I was on a panel with Nigel Banks of ilke Homes and Andrew Johnston of Urban Splash, the use of modular construction to deliver some of these aspirations was hot on the agenda. As a Practice we have designed concept schemes (such as our Barratt/AJ competition entry with add on spaces) whereby homes are made flexible and can adjust to changing household needs, whether that be extra bedrooms, home office space, roof terraces, or greater separation between internal spaces – for some peace and quiet! I posed the question as to whether the future might see homes that can not only expand through modular add-ons, but also contract again when these are no longer needed with the components being recycled and used again.
We also considered whether the expanding sharing economy that sees people rent desks, cars, tools might be harnessed more fully. The Home of 2030 competition recently showed us the growing appetite for accepting reduced private garden space in favour of shared access to larger outdoor areas – as seen at Stirling Prize-winning Goldsmith Street (pictured above) by Mikhail Riches. I wondered aloud whether this can extend to shared internal spaces, rather than everyone having their own private rarely used spare bedroom. At Marmalade Lane, by Mole Architects, a community room provides flexible work and play space and somewhere to host family or social gatherings.
Finally, with the help of Dan Jackson of WSP and Paul Boyfield of Lexington Communication, we delved into the planning white paper and whether we think this will ‘fix’ the planning system and help deliver more homes of the right quality and in the right places. Proclaiming myself Prime Minister for the day, I lamented the lack of engagement in development from the general population and appreciation of how it can benefit communities, suggesting that what is needed is the teaching of key principles in schools. Understanding the basics of how a community grows and evolves, and encouraging people to have their say – not only on developments in ‘their back yard’. As part of our social value commitment, this is something we regularly offer to communities in which we are working – to talk to anyone who’s interested about the positives and challenges of development and regeneration. This will become ever more important if we are to move to a zonal planning system where decisions are made long before individual developments come forward.