In 1947 Aneurin Bevan, then Minister for Health with responsibility for housing, announced that his Ministry would be giving annual awards for public housing design and layout. After consultation with the RIBA, awards committees were set up for each of the then four English regions, presenting one medal each for an urban and a rural scheme, except for London where the medals were for one new scheme, and one reconstruction.
The initial scheme ran until 1955, and during this period awards reflected the increasing importance of the urban reconstruction and New Towns programmes, including the first high rise developments, like The Lawns, Harlow, by Frederick Gibberd (1952).
In 1960, the scheme was reconstituted as the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (later DoE) Good Design in Housing Awards, sponsored jointly with the RIBA. The new scheme covered both private and public sector housing, reflecting the emergence of imaginative speculative developments like the Span estate at Southrow, Blackheath, by Eric Lyons (1963).
The next ten years showed a significant shift of emphasis away from public sector high density high rise and private sector low density low rise to compact housing schemes in both sectors, pioneered by Darbourne and Darke's Lillington Gardens, in Westminster (1969).
In 1981 the NHBC joined the DoE and the RIBA as sponsors, to create the Housing Design Awards. The Awards became a biennial event, and the public and private sector categories were abolished, reflecting their increasing convergence, as in the private village development at Bledlow, Buckinghamshire, by Aldington and Craig (1978).
Eight years later, the RTPI joined the Awards Committee as a fourth sponsor, and a new system of Project Awards was instituted, running in tandem with the awards for completed schemes. In 1997 the two were merged as an annual event, with an exhibition of some 60 selected entries drawn from both categories which now has the facility to visit cities across England in a touring version.
The last ten years have seen a significant shift towards diversity in housing, away from the rigid categories employed in earlier years. Mainstream housing today needs to cater for a very broad range of needs, as exemplified by the small group of homes for people with mental or physical disabilities at Castle Lane in the heart of Westminster by CGHP Architects (1993).
Mix of tenure between sale, rent and shared ownership is now increasingly the norm, and public/private sector partnerships are commonplace. The traditional social housing providers have branched out into innovative cost-rent schemes, like Cartwright Pickard's Murray Grove housing (2000); while housebuilders have shown a new interest in high density urban regeneration, like the Mile End Road development by Proctor Matthews (2002).
These changes, and others, such as a fresh approach to urban extensions on greenfield sites, have been consistently signalled over the last few years by Project Award winners. Whatever the shape of housing in years to come, the Awards will continue to point the way forward for high quality housing design.