Everyone involved was a bit hesitant: should we be involving trendy design firms in a competition to grapple with the problems of the single homeless, and the temporary shelters which are provided in the winter months? Would it just be a piece of radical chic? The project was devised by Crash, the construction industry charity which for many years has built temporary shelters as well as undertaking more long-term work; the aj and our parent company Emap Construct are among its many building industry- connected supporters. In the event, the competition was very worthwhile, not because it threw up instant new solutions, but because it stimulated potential fresh approaches which could combine with existing ideas and techniques.
For the judges with no specialist knowledge of this field, it was an education to learn about the key requirements of any shelter (in terms of staff as well as residents); the importance of the 9m minimum distance between living space and means of escape; the key decision about placement of wcs; the importance of avoiding provision of any design elements which could be used as a weapon; the separation of 'wet' (alcohol) and 'dry' areas; the appalling gaps in the benefits system which it is all too easy for the young (especially those who have been in care) to slip through.
The designers brought a spirit of optimism, even a hint of which would add humanity to the inevitably utilitarian surroundings in which the denizens of these shelters find themselves. So congratulations to David Connor, Forster Inc, Jam, Paul Daly, Spaced Out, and Waugh Thistleton for their imagination and enthusiasm. Berthold Lubetkin once said that 'nothing is too good for ordinary people'. You cannot get more ordinary than the homeless, if you see what I mean. But like the rest of us, they can respond to the thoughtful rather than the thoughtless; the generous rather than the mean; warmth and colour rather than monotone and cold. There but for the grace of God . . .