The Housing Design Awards aim to celebrate housing of great ambition and vision. Housing that works well now, and will continue to do so in the future. These awards date back to 1948, and an important practice has been the multi-disciplinary skill base among the expert panel sent out to visit each potential winner. Entrants tend to be awed by the long line of judges filing past them into their schemes. But the number and variety of focus of the judging panel ensures that schemes are looked at in the round. Is it good streetscape? Will people want to live here? Are all the details right? How will initial appeal be sustained for future generations?
This year English Partnerships have joined their support to the Housing Design Awards’ original four partners, Communities and Local Government, RIBA, RTPI and NHBC. With the Housing Corporation already sponsoring the Richard Feilden Award for affordable housing, and CABE involved in the judging process, these awards are incomparable in uniting Government and its agencies with institutions and companies responsible for raising both professional standards and the consumer experience.
Judges are retained for not less than five years so their collective memory allows them to compare and contrast each year’s output and decipher patterns in new development. This year the judges were struck by how many entries were whole streets of buildings, rather than single blocks. There was evidence of neighbourhood planning which pointed to the active involvement of the local authority in the design of these schemes. And mixed-use schemes were prevalent, such as those with residential units above active street frontages. These also included other intensive non-residential uses, some supporting the wider pre-existing community, such as facilities for primary healthcare, crèches and day care centres to provide a genuine anchor at street level. There were new squares, new natural pedestrian routes and a wealth of variety and form to the buildings that already have shaped the schemes’ success as new quarters.
The other pattern to impress the judges this year was the volume of schemes with a clear eye on the future and its challenges. Some were designed to minimise the carbon footprint of the buildings both in construction and during occupation, running significantly ahead of regulations. Others had been planned for long life with internal plans and generous proportions that would support a range of occupancies over their likely long time in use. There was also a pool of schemes designed for an ageing population whose appeal was so strong it looked as though they might tempt emptynesters out of the much needed family home a little earlier, freeing up one of the housing stock’s most demanded properties. Future-proofing is vital for our housing stock and this year the Awards invited Melanie Howard of the Future Foundation to flag up the think-tank’s expectations for the consumer in housing over the coming decades in her essay.
The judges felt that schemes that have made such special efforts to focus on these new challenges should be acknowledged, and that each year at least one should be acknowledged as a beacon for the future. The first such “Future Proofed” winner is Jubilee Wharf in Penryn, Cornwall. The low-carbon design was made possible by the developer retaining freehold of residential and commercial premises and choosing to build energy and maintenance costs into the overall business model. Other schemes also receive an honourable mention for future-proofing, notably Dale Mill in Rochdale where the ability of properties to house extended families was commended.
Finally, the Historic Winner. The judges chose Odham’s Walk, in Covent Garden, London. This is a project commissioned in the 1970s, and a winner in 1983, which still impresses today. It is a superdense development, albeit in a great location, and was believed so intense at its origin that it had to be reviewed by the housing minister to guarantee it was not breaching the limit of the habitable. The changes in the surrounding area since its completion have meant that the scheme has had to contend with issues relating to construction, commercial leases, anti-social neighbours and some of the capital’s busiest pedestrian routes. However, it has thrived because of the active community of owners (40%) and tenants (60%) whose smartly-led management co-operative fully controls their environment. It shows how well dense, mixed tenure developments can work if properly designed, and the importance in more complex schemes of engaging the end-user to encourage them to maintain what they first appreciated on moving in. It is a triumph for the design and for the occupants – many of whom have lived there from the start.
Awards Committee Chairman