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Brooks: house builders ignoring lessons of award-winning schemes

Builders still struggle to ‘combine density, adaptability, and generosity’, says Stirling Prize-winning Alison Brooks

Alison Brooks has spoken of her frustration at the failure of major house builders to take on the ground-breaking ideas used in her award-winning housing schemes.

Speaking at the More Homes Better Homes conference last week, Brooks admitted ‘the qualities of Newhall Be [were] difficult to bring forward into new housing projects’.

The 85-home scheme, which was shortlisted for last year’s Stirling Prize (AJ 20.09.13), was widely praised for creating a new typology – the terraced courtyard house.

But Brooks, who also won the Stirling Prize in 2008 for her work on the Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios-masterplanned Accordia housing scheme in Cambridge, said house builders still struggle to ‘combine density, adaptability, and generosity’.

She said the practice had to ‘fight to deliver’ generous hallways, cathedral ceilings, habitable roofspaces, open-plan kitchens, and 2.6m-high ceilings.

‘These are very difficult to get into our projects since Newhall – they’re deemed extraneous to the value equation. We argue that beautiful windows and generous floor to ceiling heights have huge value, but it is not reflected in the way we sell houses,’ she added.

Gerard Maccreanor of Maccreanor Lavington Architects, who also spoke at the event, agreed: ‘Suburban housing largely remains undesigned by architects.

‘Developers, planners and regeneration officers often quote Accordia as a model to study. Some developers have seen the light. Barratts, for example, asked us to ‘design an Accordia’ for the Stonegrove Estate regeneration in Edgware and went further by requesting the same brick. And there are other examples where the influence can be seen. But they’re relatively few if you consider the bigger picture.’

Speaking after the conference, Keith Bradley maintained house builders were catching on and that some elements of Accordia, the first housing scheme to win the Stirling Prize, had become more mainstream.

‘At Accordia we got a landscape architect on board early. This was a first for house building. We also brought two other architects on board, Maccreanor Lavington and Alison Brooks – another first for house builders – to have a masterplanner, lead architect and two other architects on a scheme. Both these Accordia key successes are now regularly done,’ he said.

But he said the difficulties came when house builders’ budgets were too low and when architects were not retained throughout the whole process.

‘To get the quality of detailing and materials and ingenuity of house types is still a struggle. House builders try to do it on a meaner budget than they should,’ he added.

Responding to the claims high quality design was not flittering through to most, major housing schemes, a Home Builders Federation spokesman said: ‘House builders provide a wide range of home types of varying size and design – to meet consumer demands. The industry must build homes people want to live in and can afford. The industry clearly achieves that balance and the people who matter, those who buy and live in new build homes, are overwhelmingly happy with the homes they buy.’

Readers' comments (2)

  • John Kellett

    Spot on.

    A cause of bad design is the planning committee and other politicians, or fear thereof. House-builders are under pressure to keep NIMBYs happy.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Volume housebuilders pursue profit to the nth degree, so that in the end everyone pays but them. I know of one who would willingly save a £1 by installing a single socket outlet instead of a double.
    Also the reason for installing nasty little windows a few years ago was to squirm out of the overall area weighted U value improvements in Regs , occupier ends up with lights on all the time.

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