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Newham moots self-build design contest

The London Borough of Newham is planning an architectural design competition calling for a new ‘London vernacular’ for self-build and co-housing projects

The Custom Build in Custom House contest is part of a bid by the east London Olympics host borough to provide more housing by involving local communities in the design and construction process.

In recent years the authority has launched a number of ambitious competitions, with varying degrees of success. Two months ago the high-profile winner of its Meanwhile London contest, the London Pleasure Gardens, was forced into administration after the site failed to complete in time for a music festival (Troubled London Pleasure Gardens go under - AJ 06.08.2012). And back in late 2011 the borough dropped plans to build Studio Octopi’s competition-winning kiosk scheme in time for the London 2012 Olympics.

The latest contest has been inspired by the Danish ‘co-housing’ movement in which developments are planned, owned and managed by residents, and will focus on a single plot in Vandome Close near Custom House where architects are asked to propose ten self-build units.

Jo Negrini, the borough’s director of strategic regeneration, planning and Olympic legacy, announced the competition at last week’s Custom-Build and Cohousing Summit in Stratford.

The competition is set to be launched in the winter and the winning submissions will be announced in spring 2013.

Vandome Close Competition Site

Vandome Close Competition Site

However Ted Stevens, chair of the National Self-Build Association, criticised the programme for failing to involve the local community. He said: ‘Design should be driven by communities not by competition. Imposing architects ideas on a group of people is not what self-build is about and is a contradiction to the idea of community design’.

But RIBA president Angela Brady defended the project, calling for further London boroughs to adopt the initiative. She said: ‘The idea of an architectural competition is a very good [way] to drive innovation and ideas’.

Earlier this year London mayor Boris Johnson created an £8 million fund to boost self-build projects in the capital. The project offered £5 million in repayable finance for house builders and £3 million in revenue grants for organisations looking to develop community projects.

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