New London Architecture

Housing design – more important than ever before?

Friday 27 March 2020

Alex Ely

Mae Architects Ltd

In a time of a global pandemic our homes have never had to provide so much for us. The home has always been a place of shelter and of security for us and our family, but how many of our homes have ever had to accommodate home working for one, let alone both parents or provide office space for multiple flat sharers? How many of our homes have never been a school classroom for our children or a home gym, or worst case had to allow space for a sick relative to live in isolation from other householders? How many homes can accommodate all these things simultaneously? The pressure on some households at the moment must be immense.  
When I drafted the first London Housing Design Guide in 2007, I knew that implementing baseline space standards was essential for enhancing quality of life. 

I had read the evidence, which showed that people living in overcrowded or cramped housing are more likely to suffer family stress, depression, lower performance in schools. I knew that people living in homes with poor insulation and damp are more likely to suffer from ailments such as asthma and be in fuel poverty. The Mayor recognised the need for better housing and committed to introducing minimum standards and I was pleased when the London Housing Design Guide standards became the basis for the government’s nationally described space standards. However, as government sought to raise quality with one hand they immediately took away with the other as they introduced permitted development rights for office to residential conversion requiring no baseline standards and with shocking consequences. And we have continued to see some developers insist that quality standards aren’t important and that they compromise their ability to deliver much needed housing or argue that people should have the choice to live in micro flats because the city —with its bars, restaurants and leisure facilities is their living room. 
Of course, our current predicament of having to work from home, of not having access to pubs, clubs and restaurants, to gyms and schools is unprecedented. 

And of course, we can’t design housing to anticipate all eventualities but we can design it generously, with good amenity space, with flexible layouts, with good environmental performance so that when situations – as we currently experience due to Coronavirus – arise we can live in dignity. 
I have always campaigned for better quality of housing and thankfully the Mayor of London has continued to recognise the need to demand better. With my team at Mæ I have been working with his team at the GLA to draft updated housing guidance published as four modules under the collective title “Good Quality Housing for all Londoners Supplementary Planning Guidance”. 
The suite of documents aims to bring together and communicate national level regulation and updated London plan housing design policy by establishing: a methodology for determining optimum site capacity at both the plan making and development management level; guidance on the preparation of design codes for incremental residential intensification of small sites and a refresh of the London housing design quality standards. A significant number of case studies are used to illustrate the guidance and to showcase developments that the Mayor deems to be exemplary. 
The guidance sets out how to achieve the right quantity of new housing, of the right quality, in the right places. It is centred around people and communities and prioritises the health and wellbeing of those living in urban environments.
And it addresses head on the climate and biodiversity emergency aiming to raise environmental ambitions for housing; promoting zero carbon housing –both in operations and in embodied carbon– and promoting the circular economy, recognising the need for construction to play a significant part in meeting London’s ambition to be a zero-carbon city by 2050. 
The SPG has been published at a time when we are seeing a seismic change to the way we live and work and at a time when the economy is under huge strain. But, nonetheless, in due course our demand for housing will continue and we must raise our game, finding new solutions for better housing if we are to manage bigger challenges ahead.

Good Quality Homes for all Londoners SPG Pre-consultation draft

Alex Ely

Mae Architects Ltd




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