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'Good practice' example could be costly to us all

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Hearty congratulations to Proctor and Matthews Architects on being the overall winner of this year's Housing Design Awards (AJ 9.9.04). I have been impressed by the widely published design as it has developed, and was fortunate to see the finished article as part of a House Builders Federation/ Design For Homes seminar last year. It is unquestionably a step up in terms of design quality, even from its neighbours at New Hall in Harlow, Essex.

Questions about the longevity and maintenance costs of the finely detailed elevations have been raised elsewhere, in connection with this project and the practice's work at the Greenwich Millennium Village, but perhaps of more immediate concern is the simple issue of capital cost.

During my visit I managed to corner a representative of Copthorne Homes, who confirmed that the build cost was in the region of £110-120/sq ft. For more familiar volume housebuilder's product, £70-90/sq ft would be more usual.

This is an important point.

Improving the quality of 'ordinary' housing stock ought to be the objective; Design for Homes is right to champion good design, but is perhaps running the risk of confirming the house-building industry's deeply held suspicion that good design equals expensive design.

While we are on the subject of cost, I have been meaning to write to you for some time about Glen Howell's project for Urban Splash, Timber Wharf (AJ 6.2.03).

At the time I was amazed by the quoted build cost (only £53/sq ft), and recently had the opportunity to ask someone very close to the project whether this was accurate. I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised, to learn that the real cost was closer to £100/sq ft. The figures published were apparently based on a cost plan, not the out-turn cost.

In making these observations, I take nothing away from either project; both are excellent buildings produced for very enlightened clients, and I am all for that. Just take care when citing them as exemplars of good practice, or we may all be left counting the cost.

Matthew Wood, Conran & Partners, London SE1

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