Dreary Design or Dream Homes?
We all love seeing great buildings and they make the greatest difference in a positive way to our urban fabric.
But why do we often end up with the banal and boring when it comes to large scale housing schemes, particularly housing estates? This is something that was recently debated on BBC Five Live and caught our attention.
In this guide, we'll examine some of the reasons behind this trend and offer some suggestions as to how planners, architects and housebuilders can collaborate better, leave a lasting legacy and improve sales in the long-run.
What's the problem?
Well in my view there are three specific reasons for the trend towards staid design:
- Polarisation of just a few large scale house builders: They will naturally look to protect their margins and to do so, they rely on tried and tested volume approaches to their product. From a purely commercial perspective, it's easy to see why it makes sense to repeat the same product 50 times and use the same 50 doors.
- Lack of imagination: I think the house builders need to think more about the long-term legacy of what is produced. Larger-scale sites will benefit from better early product to set the tone for the whole scheme and this would also positively impact on sales down the line.
- Lack of challenge from Local Planning Authorities: a lot of planners do not understand design - and likewise, architects often look puzzled at the planners! Similarly, there is a fear by local authorities that if design is the only matter to resolve, then refusing a scheme on poor design may lead to an appeal and consequent possible lack of defence.
So how could things change?
Large scale builders will always look to the bottom line. Some have improved their product and there has been a noticeable change in quality linked to the type of market they are targeting. By and large, higher-value areas seeing better design.
As the economy improves, I expect to see more niche local builders moving forward and this should lead to more varied design.
But finally, planners need to firstly understand design much better and seek to challenge the banal when it comes in front of them, but in a constructive manner. I have had too many occasions where planners say they don't like a design but offer no clear direction about what it is they want to see!
We often end up effectively mediating on design matters between clients and local authorities, I hope with mainly positive results. Sometimes the economics of a site lead to a more simplistic approach, but there are always opportunities to improve the result through planning and set a better quality environment for the long term.
Do you have any examples of staid design to share, or have you had any positive or negative experiences in this area? If so, be sure to leave us a comment or shoot us a tweet on Twitter – we always love to hear what you have to say.
Image used courtesy of David Martin on geograph.org.uk