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The best of housing

By Ruth Slavid
A selection of projects from the Housing Design Awards shows just how good housing can be, and the importance of the role of landscape.

Speaking at the AJ100 Awards in June this year, academic, architect and critic Peter Cook ruffled some feathers by talking about the prevailing ‘biscuit’ character of much contemporary design. He was being deliberately controversial, but he has a point as there has been a resurgence of beige brick in many projects, particularly housing. You can see this here in a selection of projects
from the Housing Design Awards, announced at the beginning of July.

Those who seek a less sensational architecture than Peter Cook does may see this as no bad thing, and the projects awarded, while having their fair share of baked earth, show just how good and how interesting housing can be. Much of it is urban and much is medium rise. While there are some individual houses with private front doors, most still work as a part of a whole. When recognising the best of housing, these awards steer away from bland suburban boxes to favour, quite rightly, schemes with cohesion and the ambition to foster a sense of community.

Look at some of the plans and you will be struck by the dominance not of beige or of taupe but of green. With the interiors of housing pretty much determined, design effort goes into not just the exteriors but the environment, the inter-relationship and the planting.

This is the preserve, or should be, of the landscape professionals, so it is a little disappointing that initially so few of those making submissions actually acknowledged the landscape architect. But these schemes show just how good place-making can be. Most are award winners, but there are initially also a couple that may have missed the gong on some account, but excel in terms of landscape. In particular, there is a scheme for the RNIB where wayfinding is dominated not by signs and traffic lights but by sensory planting – a development that is truly set in a garden and where the consideration that is given to the blind and partially sighted creates an environment where the surroundings should be loved by all.

The work is divided into built schemes and those that are still at the project stage. We present them here to show that, whatever the shortcomings of the housing market in terms of both volume and quality, there is some excellent and inspiring work taking place that should be an inspiration for all.
Completed Projects

The Malings. © Ash Sakula

The Malings, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne – Overall winner

Architect and landscape designer: Ash Sakula
Developer: Carillion Igloo
LPA: Newcastle City Council
Contractor: Gentoo

One would have expected to see an apartment building in this edge of city regeneration. Instead every unit has its own door to the street, thereby avoiding the management costs associated with lifts and other common parts such as lobbies and corridors.

The double-stacked maisonettes reinvent the ‘Tyneside flat’ where two doors at ground-floor level next to each other lead to one unit with access to a yard, the other above without any outdoor amenity. Here the uppermost duplexes have mostly SW facing terraces big enough for the entire household to take meals in good weather. As well as shared-surface pedestrian-prioritised streets, there are pedestrian paths, and a larger triangular piazza in the heart of the scheme, containing a communal refuse and recycling area and a residents’ terrace and play area. Within the scheme there are shared micro-allotments.

Ely Court. © Alison Brooks Architects

Ely Court, South Kilburn, London NW6 – Mayor’s Housing Design Award jointly with Kilburn Park

Architect: Alison Brooks Architects
Developer: Catalyst Housing
LPA: London Borough of Brent
Contractor: Willmott Dixon Housing
Landscape architect: Churchman Landscape Architects

This scheme, which revitalises a former builder’s yard with a frame of new blocks, creates a new public garden square of 1500m2 with embedded play space. The scheme reinstates the coherent block and street pattern of 19th century Kilburn by reintroducing a mews, a shared surface with parking and new street trees. The mews brings public access to a previously hidden backwater, creating street frontage for mews houses and Gorefield House. All new homes have private front and rear gardens, and all public spaces are overlooked by windows, residents’ balconies, and roof gardens.

Kilburn Park. © Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands

Kilburn Park NW6 London (formerly Cambridge & Wells Court) – Mayor’s Housing Design Award jointly with Ely Court

Architect: Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Landscape architect: Churchman Landscape Architects Developer: Catalyst Housing
LPA: London Borough of Brent
Contractor: Willmott Dixon Housing

Each unit has a private garden, terrace or balcony, and there are also communal gardens and play areas. The boundaries between public and private space have been made legible with green spaces linking the two developments along a restored nineteenth century ‘spine route’. Car parking totals 95 spaces for the whole ‘Kilburn Park NW6’ site, while a designated homezone and travel connections prioritise pedestrians.

Extra Care Housing. © PRP Architects

Extra Care Housing, Weale Road, Chingford – HAPPI Award

Architect and landscape design: PRP Architects
Developerand: Circle 33 Housing Trust
LPA: London Borough of Waltham Forest
Contractor: Higgins

The building encloses a secure garden to the west and parking court to the east. Large mature trees to the northern boundary have been retained and hedges strengthened to provide an established landscape setting for the new garden. The garden provides an accessible space for the residents to enjoy outdoor activities as well as a visual amenity space from the communal spaces and open deck circulation. A simple and controlled soft landscape palette complements the existing landscape setting, contributes to local biodiversity and minimises future maintenance.

Frampton Park. © Matthew Lloyd Architects

Frampton Park Baptist Church & Apartments, London E9 – winner

Architect: Matthew Lloyd Architects
Landscape architect: James Blake Associates
Developer: Telford Homes
LPA: London Borough of Hackney
Contractor: Telford Homes

There is a large south facing communal garden for the apartments, and surrounding streets have been re-landscaped as ‘home zones’. The new church is accessed from Frampton Park and the cafe opens onto a new green space which can also be used by residents. All apartments above ground have private balconies, and ground floor apartments have a small private patio area and direct access to the communal garden. The site is well located for public transport and cycle storage is provided. 

hoUSe. © ShedKM

hoUSe, New Islington, Manchester – Graham Pye Award for Plan Forms

Architect and landscape designer: ShedKM
Developer: Urban Splash
LPA: Manchester City Council
Contractor: SIG

In this innovative project, households get to choose their house plan through computer modelling, then have it manufactured. There is a range of facilities nearby, including Cotton Field park close to the canal. The mix of architecture at New Islington adds to the sense of place. Each hoUSe has an allocated parking space, based in a private courtyard sitting behind the back garden of each property.

The Scene. © Pollard Thomas Edwards

The Scene, Walthamstow, London – London Sustainable Development Commission award for sustainable higher density

Architect: Pollard Thomas Edwards
Contractor: Hill Partnerships
Developer: ISHA and Hill Residential
Landscape architect: AREA
LPA: London Borough of Waltham Forest

The scheme creates two areas of amenity space, one at ground level and another semi-private space at podium level. The building line on the high street has been set back to create a new public space. The area is designed as a shared space with street furniture and signage forming an integral part of the landscape design. The podium garden, intended for use by all residents, has shrub planting, lawn, trees in planters to define edges and provision for play.

Trafalgar Place. © dRMM

Trafalgar Place, Elephant & Castle, Rodney Road, London

Architect: dRMM
Associates: Grant Associates
Developer: Lendlease
Landscape architect: Grant
LPA: London Borough of Southwark
Contractor: Lendlease

Permeability is a key feature with 46% of the site delivered as high-quality, publicly accessible space. Public and/or private space comprises a new landscaped pedestrianised street (New Paragon Walk), a communal courtyard and ‘grow garden’, a private roof terrace for residents, a new woodland habitat and play area and 2,000 sq ft of retail space. In addition, all 235 homes have either a private balcony, terrace or garden.

Creekside Wharf. © Assael Architecture

Creekside Wharf, Greenwich – PRS Award

Architect: Assael Architecture
Developer: Essential Living
Landscape architect: BCA
LPA: Royal Borough of Greenwich

This is the first-ever UK PRS (private rental sector) scheme designed for families, putting very large apartments in one point block among a cluster of medium rise-builldings. Shared faciltiies include a nursery, also open to non-residents, as well as a special activities room for kids’ messy play. The building designed for families has some three-bed apartments and all have oversized balconies big enough for families to eat al fresco. More than 70 per cent of the site is devoted to public space, including a new pocket park.

Goldsmith Street. © Riches Hawley Mikhail

Goldsmith Street, Norwich – Award (presented by Landscape Institute)

Architect: Riches Hawley Mikhail
Landscape architect: BBUK
Developer: Norwich City Council
LPA: Norwich

In this reinterpretation of the traditional East Anglian terraced street, where everybody has their own front door, there are a number of key social and communal spaces, and connects existing southern parkland area and transport links on Dereham Road into the site. A safe and pleasant shared environment for play and general amenity has been created for both new and existing residents.

Heartlands Custom Build.

Heartlands Custom Build, Pool, Cornwall – Custom build award

Architect: HTA Design
Landscape architect: HTA Design with Hugo Bugg Landscapes
Developer: Carillion-Igloo and Coastline
LPA: Cornwall Council
Contractor: Various

All the houses have a private garden of a minimum 50m²; some with an additional roof terrace. An open space called ‘Not the Village Green’ is proposed in the centre of the custom-build masterplan, and will be designed and managed in collaboration with the new community. An edible landscape strategy within the  site has also been developed with local gardeners and ecologists. It will provide a variety of landscape features which will be accessible to residents and have an ‘edible’ aspect that is tailored to the specific ecology of the site. The new homes will also benefit from the variety of landscaped spaces at the adjacent Heartlands Park.

Northwest Cambridge. © Alison Brooks Architects

Northwest Cambridge Lots M1 and M2

Architect: Alison Brooks Architects
Pollard Thomas Edwards
Landscape architect: Robert Myers Associates  Developer: Hill
LPA: Cambridge
Contractor: Hill

The arrangement of buildings along the streets has been designed to create a network of public and private open spaces and streets across the site. These spaces include a landscaped pedestrian street, tree-lined mews and streets and a new square. The homes have private front and back gardens, courtyards and terraces. There are two 
‘garden streets’. 

Older Women’s Co-housing. © Pollard Thomas Edwards

Older Women’s Co-housing, Barnet, London – HAPPI award and Richard Feilden award

Architect: Pollard Thomas Edwards
Developer: Hanover Housing Association
Landscape architect: Clarke Associates
LPA: London Borough of Barnet
Contractor: Quinn London

The heart of the scheme is a new garden, designed by the women of the co-housing group and overlooked by 21 of the 24 new homes. Most of the flats are accessed via a sociable rear courtyard where laundry drying space and car parking will ensure constant activity. In addition, every flat has a private terrace or balcony.

RNIB. © Gardner Stewart Architects

RNIB Redhill, Surrey

Architect: Gardner Stewart Architects
Developer: RNIB and Countryside Properties  
LPA: Reigate and Banstead and Tandridge 
District Councils
Contractor: Countryside Properties

In re-imagining the site as an integrated community fit for the 21st Century; it has been essential to ensure that residents’ needs are met, whilst enhancing the rich landscape legacy. The public realm is designed to provide an exciting sensory experience for all residents. A sensory trail  provides a safe access across the site, where pedestrians are prioritised. Sensory nodes along 
the trail stimulate the senses by use of aromatic plants, bursts of colour, sound, texture underfoot, and site features.

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