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BOOK

REVIEW

Place & Home: The Search for Better Housing - PRP Architects Black Dog Publishing, 2007. 288pp. £34.99

Their story has all the right ingredients of legend. Three young architects - Peter Phippen, Peter Randall and David Parkes - meet as students at the RWA Bristol in the early 1950s. Their paths then diverge via private practice, the LCC Architects' Department and the R&D Group of the Ministry of Housing, where Peter Randall played a leading role in their pilot housing project in West Ham, the first built expression of Parker Morris standards. This group's energy, idealism and vigorous investigation of everything which made up the home enriched the trio when they won their first two commissions.

And what a debut: The Ryde in Hatfield (1963) remains to this day a stunning demonstration of the richness and exibility of the singlestorey patio house, here developed as a staggered terrace of 28 houses. Sliding screens, canny location of rooms and courts, intriguing views and great suppleness in family use combined to create housing of enduring quality, rightly listed.

In many respects The Ryde encapsulates the virtues which were to mark the emerging practice - imagination, ingenuity and tenacity among them. Equally innovative is its scheme at Shrublands in Crawley (1963), where a core two-bedroom house was used to generate a rich array of plan permutations and potential extensions.

Heroic, then, these early years of PRP Architects, as the practice became known. A vivid first-hand account by the founding partners of how these and subsequent schemes evolved - the driving ideas, client relationships, seismic shifts in the housing market and the changing face of construction - forms the first chapter of this weighty practice monograph.

It captures so well the ethos and excitement of that era, but what happened next?

Nothing if not pragmatic, PRP has evolved and prospered by responding to successive housing markets, deftly embracing the agendas in estate renewal, new communities, urban villages, inner-city mixed-use, broader urban regeneration and third-age housing, through sustainabilityaward-winning key worker ats in Lambeth to the (inevitable? ) exclusive villa project in Moscow.

To judge from the very full presentations of selected schemes, PRP has advanced by latching early upon the key principles underpinning a work stream such as estate renewal, and then devising its own solutions. Hence much of Place & Home is composed of 'how we did it' case studies, which are leavened by three essays from Peter Stewart, Jeremy Melvin and Stephen Mullin, setting PRP in a wider social context and attempting to define a distinct DNA for the practice.

There are no neat answers.

PRP is not in the business of iconic architecture or showpiece schemes. Projects do not leap from these pages as stunning or 'special'. What we have here instead is a celebration of designing the middle way.

Neil Parkyn is a London-based architect and writer on design

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