The Ryde, Hatfield New Town

Historic Winner

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Architect

Phippen Randall Parkes

Developer

The Cockaigne Housing Group

Planning Authority

Hatfield Urban District Council

Click any image for a larger view

The Ryde was a groundbreaking commission from the Cockaigne Housing Group, founded by Michael Baily in 1962 with members garnered from a front-page classified in The Times. Baily, the paper's shipping correspondent, was excited by the potential of the "Adapatable House" shown at the 1962 Ideal Home Exhibition by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government R&D group.

Baily's interest in the MHLG's design led him to the R&D group and David Parkes and Peter Randall who were working on family and sheltered housing. They led him to Peter Phippen who was then at London County Council. Baily appointed Phippen and the partnership of Phippen Randall Parkes, now PRP, was formed on the strength of this single commission.

In the early 1960s access to quality new housing was difficult for those on medium incomes. Low income households joined a local authority waiting list: the affluent, if they were in the right area and had a big deposit, bought a home designed by Eric Lyons for Span Developments (see Awards 2005). But Building Societies then the only mortgage lenders disdained middle income households seeking something better.

Cockaigne's achievement was to negotiate 100% mortgages for its members secured by Hatfield Urban District Council on the purchase of 12 plots in the New Town, shunned because they backed on to a railway line. PRP turned this unpromising site into a trailblazer for co-operative ownership, featuring high quality, economic design responding to the priorities of prospective purchasers from a published questionaire by Barbara Allen, a MHLG sociologist.

All three architects had been immersed in R&D. So The Ryde was to incorporate the new Parker-Morris space standards, only a talking point then until their introduction for local authority housing in 1967; government research on high density single-storey layouts; economic constructional concepts; pioneering work on sunlight/daylight standards, and the results of user studies which were to form the basis of the influential Space in the Home design bulletin.

The Ryde had immense influence. More, it demonstrated that people on modest incomes could get high quality affordable homes through co-operative endeavour, and that the New Towns could play a role in making sites available for such schemes. And it opened the way for more similarly funded schemes, such as Shrublands and Forestfield in Crawley for PRP's other 'dream client', John Pennell.

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The 1965 aerial photograph shows a graphic contrast with the surrounding development. In place of the 12 low density detached two-storey houses envisaged by Hatfield UDC, there are 28 terraced single-storey houses 71% of them 3- and 4-bedroom together with a tennis court and a clubroom incorporating a flat for visitors.

The elevation to The Ryde is continuous, dipping in and out; with a standard 22'3" (6.8m) frontage to each house between buff concrete block party walls, infilled with glazing and black stained timber boarding. The size of the houses varies in response to the depth of the site, but the planning rationale remains the same a central access route, along which are shuttled bedrooms and bathrooms, semi-enclosed kitchens, and open living and dining areas.

In the larger houses a generous central patio gives light and access to bedrooms and living rooms, while a freestanding garage at the front screens the kitchen from the road. At the rear, the gardens are completely private, with the full height party walls continuing on to the rear boundary. Here, the properties give on to a landscaped footpath linking the tennis court at one end with the clubroom and semi-wild landscape area at the other, opening out in the centre with a further communal area.

To move through any of these houses is to encounter a perfectly judged series of interlinked internal and external spaces which flow naturally one into another. After 40 years, little has changed. The architects antcipated that owners would extend their properties, and this has happened in a number of cases, following the original concept and detailing. Some owners have glazed over the central patio, to form a winter garden, and again the construction lends itself naturally to this type of intervention.

The clubroom remains fully used, and has recently been extended to cope with demand, while the landscaping always an important feature of this practice's work has matured to give a natural transition between the road frontage and the semi-private entrance areas.

In a 1966 radio interview, Michael Baily noted that "the problem of how to raise the standard is not an easy one, but must depend greatly on the quality of patrons as well as the quality of architects". That remains as true as ever, as The Ryde now Grade 2 listed - demonstrates.

internal and external spaces flow naturally into one another