Posted Jul 7 2023 | By Jessica Howard

Reflection on Family housing

Manchester studio’s tenth birthday - what a year to make the move up north! My family and I made the move back to my home city, Liverpool. To allow this, I swapped from Thane Villas to Bonded Warehouse, and feel incredibly lucky that Levitt Bernstein has both a London and a Manchester studio. We are seeing the benefits of the move already, particularly for my son, Luke and his grandparents, who have been able to spend much more time together.

In London we had a lovely two-bedroom new build apartment in Brixton. It was your standard London Plan two-bedroom two bath single aspect apartment, with a large balcony and great views. While it did overheat in the summer, it was snug in the winter and our energy bills where extremely low, thanks to the efficiency of combined heat and power (CHP).

Nevertheless, with the move up north, I got very excited about the idea of being able to live in a traditional house! It got me thinking about family apartment living and the pros and cons of living in both home types with a family.

Although excited about living in a house for the first time, we were also very happy in our flat in London. As we all know, it is becoming increasingly popular for families to live in high density apartments and is something that is particularly important with inner city living, due to housing shortages. For many, it is often the only viable option. However, the general perception is still that traditional houses are more desirable for family living, over high density apartments.

So what are the pros and cons of apartment living versus living in a house with a family?

Traditional houses have gardens, are generally larger, offering more space, and providing you with your own front door. But being arranged across multiple floors can cause more disorder for some families and generally are more upkeep. Low density housing tends to be an inefficient use of land, thereby sprawling people further from amenities, schools, and community hubs.

Apartment living generally offers better connectivity to amenities, is generally more affordable, maximises housing density and is better for the environment and sustainability. Apartments can provide great community living, where you get to know your neighbours well and less maintenance equals more family time. They are smaller and a bit more restrictive in terms of indoor/outdoor living, but well-arranged layouts and balconies/terraces, as well as well-designed communal spaces, go a long way to offsetting the negatives.

It’s incredibly important that successful apartment developments are designed for family living from inception. At Levitt Bernstein we design family apartments very well - we are leaders in the field – however I feel the housing industry needs to catch up, particularly planning policy and design standards across the country, with so much sub-standard housing being developed. Although we loved our London apartment, it massively overheated and is just one example of how housing design and policy can do better. It is essential, particularly with global warming that all housing addresses passive solar design, orientation, and sustainable design measures.

I believe the reason Levitt Bernstein design better family apartments than typical developments, is that we consider flexibility, zoning and separating living spaces around family lifestyles, creating easy flowing spaces. We design in plenty of easily accessible storage, incorporate sustainable, passive design measures, eliminating single aspect apartments, and design more useably shaped balconies and terraces for family use.

Our placemaking studio ethos is the foundation for all our schemes and an integrated part of the design development throughout - shaping external communal areas which are not only beautiful, but also safe and practical for shared family communal living; incorporating outdoor eating places; play areas and growing spaces.

These are just some of the ways Levitt Bernstein focus on good design and put the family at the heart of the home. We have multiple precedents and built examples where these design principles have been put into place: Aberfeldy New Village, Vaudeville Court, Buccleuch House, Aylesbury Estate, Ocean Estate, Gascoigne Estate, Bermondsey Spa, Loudoun Road and Acton Gardens, to name just a few of our recently built family housing schemes. We enjoy working with a wide range of clients from Local Authorities, Housing Associations, private developers, and Community Land Trusts.

I’m extremely proud to work for a practice which puts people first and is a leader in the housing design field. I look forward to the future as a new member of the Manchester studio, with many more successful years ahead, striving for housing excellence for all.