Assessor's Report

This has been a year of change. Stephen Mullin, for the past 10 years our dedicated and hardworking rapporteur for the awards, has moved to well-earned retirement. Nancy Mills, the everobliging administrator for the awards, has retired with the closing of RIBA's Birmingham office. The baton of responsibility has passed to Design for Homes under David Birkbeck's stewardship. First changes have been that the format of the Housing Design Awards book has been enlarged to enable more detail of the winning schemes to be included. The dream of my predecessor, Pat Tindale, to see the importance of the awards reflected by presentation of the exhibition and the winners in an appropriately historic setting, is also now achieved with this year's function in the Banqueting House, Whitehall.

The exhibition provides the backdrop against which the winners, whether project awards or completed schemes, are judged. There is always something new to learn from the exhibition and they reflect the spark of originality in illustrating new form or re-presenting older and more familiar forms. The increasing standard of those schemes selected for exhibition is reflected this year in the award of a certificate for every scheme exhibited.

Inevitably, reflecting current planning policy towards higher-density urban settings, whether recycled housing sites or recycled "brownfield" other-use sites, there was a preponderance of apartment schemes among the submissions. Nevertheless, at the award level the assessors felt they were visiting schemes of a higher standard than they had ever seen before. In this context two schemes stand out - the apartment block at 15 - 25 Davies Street in Mayfair and the new Bennet's Courtyard apartments at Abbey Mills.

In contrast, in terms of scale, it is always intriguing to visit small and intimate schemes making use of "leftover" or dilapidated land. Again, two schemes stand out: Haven Mews in Islington, a terrace of three townhouses with a separate gatehouse, and Newbury Mews in Kentish Town, where 35 lock-up garages were replaced by 15 stylish mews homes.

The Staiths in Gateshead is a large-scale and very bold experiment by a major housebuilder, presenting good "ordinary housing" in an inventive way. On the other hand, the 140 dwellings at Bryanston Hills, Blandford St Mary, provide a range of vernacular design (including folly buildings) in a traditional and intimate townscape, but with lush landscaping bursting from every available gap or verge between house and street. Reflecting the importance of the range and scope of affordable housing, increased participation from the Housing Corporation has been very welcome. Oakridge Village in Basingstoke replaced an earlier scheme of maisonettes that had proved impossible to let developed at a surprisingly low 25 homes / hectare, with a more traditional scheme (involving modern methods of construction) of houses, apartments and some shops, for both social rent and shared equity sale, at a more respectable 37 homes / hectare.

Finally, we have had the pleasure of reviewing awards from the past. This year we are commemorating the 1985 award to Span, Mallard Place in Twickenham, a development of houses and apartments built to a density of nearly 58 homes/hectare, with characteristically voluptuous landscaping, illustrating both the benefits of higher density and the contrasting foil of landscape. This development reminds us of what we continue trying to achieve 20 years later. Premium re-sales remind us that customers agree.

Graham Pye's signature

Graham Pye
Awards Committee Chairman