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RIBA Awards winners 2014: Housing

This year five housing schemes have won RIBA National Awards - and never has there been more focus on the sector writes Ben Derbyshire

I have been designing homes and housing for 40 years but I do not recall a time when there was so much excitement and anticipation, so much relevance and importance, so much urgency to build more and better homes.

The argument seems to have been accepted across the political landscape that we need to hugely increase supply - and not only for those in housing need; there is demand for all tenures and prices that requires we double output of new homes to more than 200,000 a year. Just as important, we are committed to slashing the carbon footprint of the 26 million existing homes.

This is not the place to gripe at government inability to free up land or stimulate investment for housebuilding, or indeed to set standards and provide incentives to retrofit existing stock. These changes will come as political pressure builds and the credit crunch eases.

And some things are unquestionably better. The streamlining of planning legislation and the commitment to design quality now prominent in the National Planning Policy Framework makes the process more transparent, if not noticeably quicker. Neighbourhood Planning and Community Right to Build look like huge opportunities to democratise the planning process. And Building for Life 12, when it finally takes off, should give us a workable benchmark for quality housing layouts. Furthermore, the Housing Standards Review promises to cut red tape in ways we have been advocating for years.

So, it’s a moment to celebrate and engage in the diversity of approaches that will be required if we are to head off serious social and economic consequences of continued shortage. It’s the sheer diversity that should provide the opportunity for architects to improve the quantity and quality of housing. We will see self-build, custom build and co-housing. We can expect the emergence of new products and brands built for private rent. We will witness a renaissance in off-site manufacture. Local authorities are homebuilding again after a lapse of 40 years. Our design contribution is essential to meet the huge demand for high-density urban housing. Perhaps the biggest challenge is for architects to make themselves indispensible to housebuilders, who presently see no case for employing us to design and procure the mass speculative product. Everywhere you look there are opportunities.

Before we begin the run-up to a potentially huge leap in homebuilding, I have a particular plea. Let us not embark on this immense increase in the quantity and range of housing products without taking steps to properly label our output in ways that help consumers. The homebuilding industry lags far behind all others in offering digital data useful in a variety of ways. There are a number of initiatives looking at labelling the housing product right now, for example at Reading University, BRE, and our own Home Performance Labelling Pilot at The Housing Forum. We need your support to give these initiatives recognition.

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner, HTA Design

Saxon Court & Roseberry Mansions, King’s Cross by Maccreanor Lavington Architects

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This residential scheme, which is a part of the King’s Cross masterplan, comprises two individual elements that are Saxon Court, tenure-blind housing, and Roseberry Mansions, extra-care flats for the elderly. The complex is an exemplar in how to design tenure-blind housing and state-of-the-art housing for the elderly. It is achieved with careful control of detail, subtle proportioning and careful use of colour and texture, which combine to create an outstanding building.

Client - King’s Cross Central Partnership
Contractor - Carillion
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 13,854m²
Region - London North

Brighton College Boarding House by Allies and Morrison

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The boarding house takes its form and aesthetic from the existing historic campus buildings. The knapped flint facades were created by casting flints into block panels, which were mortar-pointed in-situ. The elevations to the courtyard are breathtaking. This is an immensely accomplished work, representing a pinnacle of collective achievement by an inspirational and driven client, a sophisticated and intelligent architect and a fastidious builder.

Client - Brighton College
Contractor - McLaren Construction
Contract value - £4 million
Gross internal area - 1,758m²
Region - South East

261 West Princes Street, Glasgow by Elder & Cannon Architects

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Two new blocks of student residences, 66 flats in total, are linked to the conversion of the redstone block on the street front, previously the Scottish Ballet school. This contributes a further 37 self-contained studio apartments. This development replaces former dereliction with attractively composed new buildings and garden spaces and weaves much-needed new student residences into an existing neighbourhood, setting high standards for future such projects to follow.

Client - CCG
Contractor - CCG
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 2,516m²
Region - Scotland

Officers Field, Weymouth by HTA Design

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Simple pitched roofs and self-colour render finished walls set against Portland stone offer a richness, a layering to the ensemble and anchor the development to the place that gave us the stone for half of London. The houses are terraced, although many appear detached while actually connected at lower levels by garages. At the corners, taller houses exploit all sides to gain light and views. An exemplary housing scheme and rare in developer-led housing in the UK, this is up there with Accordia.

Client - ZeroC Holdings
Contractor - Acheson Construction
Contract value - Undisclosed
Gross internal area - 9,333m²
Region - South West

Hargood Close, Colchester by Proctor and Matthews

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Organised around two courtyards, the project provides temporary housing for the homeless in a respectful, robust and adaptable form elevated by commendable attention to detail and a generosity of space and spirit. The reinvention of the alms house typology underpins the success of Proctor and Matthews’ design strategy that is beautifully executed with brickwork detailing. What impressed the jury is the combination of craftsmanship and the dignity it affords to its users. (AJ 27.06.13)

Client - Family Mosaic
Contractor - ISG Jackson
Contract value - £3.4 million
Gross internal area - 2,409m²
Region - East

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