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Housing the urban population: solutions for our cites

In June, 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.

“One of
the reasons Swan have looked towards offsite manufacture is they want to
control their supply chain,” explains Kieran Walker, associate at Waugh

The scheme
contains 158 modules of 85 different types.

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

“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.

“A lot of
our housing need can be delivered on repurposed sites,” explains Alex Ely,
principal at Mae.

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

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

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.