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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
    Thistleton.

    The scheme
    contains 158 modules of 85 different types.

    “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.

    “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
    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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