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Design: The Local Approach

21/05/19
Posted by: Christopher Ruddick

Kit Malthouse earlier this month said that the current generation of houses being built will be “ripped down and bulldozed” as unsuitable, just like the architecture from the 60s and 70s is currently being now.

Additionally, he went on to say that 70% of people in the UK would not buy a new house, preferring to buy second-hand homes that are every old, unlike the bad new builds which are “soulless, lifeless and ubiquitous”.

Furthermore, to resolve the issue he highlighted that the industry should be looking to “build something they like” and “…build stuff that’s capable of being a conservation area in 50 years time.”

All of these comments lead many to potentially think that the industry is failing in architectural design terms. But, is that really true?

Looking on the positives of what the industry currently does in terms of design for new homes:
The overall process of delivering homes has responded to the challenge (to some degree) set down by the Government to reach the required 300,000 new homes per year
Modern Methods of Construction has seen significant investment within the industry and introduces the potential for more creative, less restricted designs 
Government commission in the form of the building better, building beautiful commission setup to help ensure that the house building industry is delivering homes that meet community needs and expectations
Increasing number of developments that have successfully integrated themselves with effective local distillations that utilise local design, materials, shapes, forms and boundaries of the development

On the flipside if we look at the recent report distinctively local report from leading architectural firms and RIBA’s 10 characteristics, we can come up with a number of ways the industry is being questioned on in architectural terms:
Is the industry really delivering a place to start and stay as RIBA have included in their top characteristics?
Equally, do people really feel they have a sense of belonging in that area if all the designs are mere copies of designs that a developer uses elsewhere in the country 
Are people really proud of where they live, more so if they have recently moved to an area and therefore will be less used to the local areas designs, traditions and materials
Are these new homes really responding to the community needs, in essence are they the right type of homes required by people in that area and moment of their life?
Are the homes that are being constructed really that sustainable in terms of materials, how and how far those materials have to travel to site?
Do these homes have honest local context, or has a base model just been tweaked with a new façade to meet local planning concerns.
Some developments fail to take account of and carryout an adequate distillation of a place leading to disjointed neighbourhoods that fail to adequately fit within their communities. The most obvious issues being failure to take into account local street design and structure and at the boundaries of the development where the old and new meet.
Industry perception that the Government commission - Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission was made up of a number of people that were not supportive of more radical modern architects within the sector and therefore the potential is that the designs the commission pushes are simply more traditional.
Modern Methods of Construction with homes that are more than likely going to be modular homes represent an opportunity and risk that design could equally just be as “lazy” as it would be more effort in developing alternative designs that would fit better within the local development landscape.

Overall, it is clear that the industry if the viewpoints and “facts” Kit Malthouse has voiced are correct then design of new developments needs significant improvement to overcome the fact that many people would prefer to live in older properties than newly constructed ones. 

Furthermore, there are potentially a number of points that can be improved on so that new developments respond better to the communities in which they are being developed.

For example more effective distillations of a location that can introduce better materials, shapes and forms from the local area. 
Despite all of the above though there is clear progress in terms of architecture that a number of developments are now taking account of and being a better fit within their development locations. Added to this is the fact that in some areas many objections come from parties not even living in the locality and therefore potentially would object whatever the new development looked like. 


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