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Back to the terraces

technical & practice

The development of hit-and-miss housing accommodates the car and gives back-to-back homes a whole new meaning Terraced housing is making a comeback - if it ever went away.

Many developers and architects are revisiting the efficiencies densification can offer, but it is important that a reimposition of a previous architectural typology be introduced with care and attention to the changing social conditions. A-EM Studio seems to have done exactly that.

Row housing in the 1840s was well documented in Friedrich Engels' The Condition Of The Working Class In England. Here he gives another take on urban compaction:

'These slums are pretty equally arranged in all the great towns of England, the worst houses in the worst quarters of the towns; usually one or two-storied cottages in long rows, perhaps with cellars used as dwellings, almost always irregularly built. These houses of three or four rooms and a kitchen form, throughout England, some parts of London excepted, the general dwellings of the working class.

The streets are generally unpaved, rough, dirty, filled with vegetable and animal refuse, without sewers or gutters, but supplied with foul, stagnant pools instead. Moreover, ventilation is impeded by the bad, confused method of building of the whole quarter, and since many human beings here live crowded into a small space, the atmosphere that prevails in these working-men's quarters may readily be imagined.'

By the end of the 19th century in many towns and villages - especially those centred on heavy industry - two-storey terraced housing, as opposed to tenement row housing, prevailed as a standard response to mass housing need. In post-war Britain, however, the terrace seemed to have been consigned to the dustbin of history with the spread of the suburban semi.

Although this did not happen, terraced housing still seems to hark back to another era - suited more to the pony and trap than the automobile.

But with a renewed belief in 'community' values and urban compaction driven by developers' profit motives, terracing has a lot to offer if it can update its image.

A-EM Studio director Pascal Madoc-Jones believes that one of the main challenges is the need to cater for the changes in transportation.

'Some people say that the car has no place in the future of our towns and cities but, in fact, most people have cars, ' he says. Since cars 'dominate the environment, it's better to try to improve the situation than to be proscriptive about it, ' he adds.

The development of what he calls 'hit-and-miss' housing has progressed from a concept house competition entry at the Ideal Homes exhibition.

'Given a plot size - depth, breadth and height - we wanted to optimise usable space, maintaining the principle of density and yet accommodating the car, ' says Madoc-Jones.

'An important aspect, though, was to offer terraced house densities while retaining a 'real sense of privacy from the neighbours', which is often a modern complaint from occupants of old terraced stock.

The idea is straightforward.Dovetailing two rows of terraced housing so that they nestle between each other 'like fish in a crate', describes Madoc-Jones.

A look at the saw-tooth pattern of terraced housing on an Ordinance Survey plan shows how the principle evolved, imagining two opposing blocks of housing on shifting tectonic plates that have been pulled apart.

Using the simple device of tapering each dwelling, the hit-and-miss design layout ensures that each property has a front and back door but that these alternate, maintaining a distinct separation, unless otherwise chosen by the residents.

This layout also ameliorates the car 'problem'. Here the terrace is not blighted by a blank face of garage doors, but they alternate to maintain visual interest. 'In fact, ' says MadocJones, 'you end up with more green space or potential for green space.'

Terracotta blocks form the internal and external walls to cater for sound and thermal regulations. A rainscreen render is applied for decoration and water resistance. Concrete ground floors and timber upper floors are at basic Part A spans and shared roof gardens add to the insulation factor.

The architect is currently working on refinements that will improve the basic 'template' for even greater flexibility of internal arrangements; from garage to study to granny flat, all are easily accommodated. Hit-and-miss housing increases the useable area of an equivalent standard Victorian terrace footprint by 15 per cent.

A-EM Studio has spent a great deal of time studying the proportions of terraced housing in London (although this architectural vision is applicable in most conurbations) and believes that about 30 houses (15 frontages) would be an appropriate scale of development in one 'run'.

The architect is considering the potential to incorporate maisonettes, flats, shops and offices within a standard footprint, varying the height of the finished roofline.

The architect's street vision includes some revisions to the cramped public realm, including street patterns with central parking and planting reservations. It calculates that a 12m road width would suffice for on-street visitor parking, enhancing the sense of scale of the overall development at the same time. It is now working on the technicalities of introducing diagonals within the street pattern.

Although the houses are 'traditional' in that they replicate normal housing stock and plug into the mains infrastructure, there is potential for the scheme to accommodate a range of 'green' initiatives - from solar panels to roof windturbines, grey water reuse and composting WCs.

'Usually green buildings look like B&Q DIY extensions, ' says Madoc-Jones. With this proposal, terraced housing has made it into the 21st century.


ARCHITECT A-EM Studio: Pascal Madoc-Jones and Glyn Emrys ENGINEER Arup: Sarah Kaethner QUANTITY SURVEYOR Hanscomb: Jonathan Harper BUILD COSTS Approximately £900-£1,100 /m 2, (£140,000 per unit)

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