I am moved to write this after visiting a place on the edge of London where a large number of homes will be built and where some have already been completed, and I want to briefly talk about the design of new homes in the UK. I suppose that to be totally accurate I will be talking about the external appearance of the buildings rather then the functional design although I will touch on the latter.
The first lot of homes to be built are a contemporary take on the town house and look like this:
I am not saying that these are brilliant, far from it, but they are a move in the right direction. They are ‘clean’, with no fake and nonfunctional dormers which have just been put on for a bit of ‘decoration’, and use materials which a sharp and modern (well modern ish) look without using fake rustic materials to lend a bit of fake heritage. I am not that keen on the cul-de-sac like road layout which has been used in places, and I have seen much better window treatment on other developments. I do like the fence which has been put around a small park, but this attention to detail isn’t carried through elsewhere (what is that ugly timber compound in the first picture?), and good urban design is about more than a nice isolated touch. And the high fencing next the road will not help in place-making nor assist with natural surveillance.
Now consider this development which is currently under construction a few hundred yards away:
Frankly, I don’t know where to start on this. Firstly, why do these homes have to be built right on top of the roundabout which will be the entrance to what will become a large development? Secondly, where is the sense of arrival and where is the place making? The opportunity to create a gateway to a new modern settlement rather than stumbling into a faceless estate has been lost. And it is totally out of context with the modern ‘Innovation Centre’ which is out of shot on the opposite corner. Finally, the external design of the homes just leave me speechless but not in a good way – what is the point of the 6 inch change in roof levels?.
The latter example totally fails to take advantage of the site’s location. The marshland setting can take bold design but is being wasted in much the same way that too much seaside design on infill plots does. The former examples are a step in the right direction but even they don’t go far enough. I believe that bold, modern, design would have increased the value of the site for the developer which, being marshland, is a challenge for some potential residents – bold design and active place-making would have made up for the type of site which many people find visually challenging.
And one final criticism about the town houses – I have been told by someone who actually viewed them internally that they are too small. Those which are being sold as 4 bedrooms have, in their opinion, only enough space for two adults to be comfortable.
I am finding the above being repeated in too many housing sites in the UK.
If we are really going to build the numbers of homes which we need (and that is a big IF at the moment) we really must get this right and do it soon, both that a detailed individual home level and at the urban design scale.