The architect of Park Hill Estate, Sheffield on the rules of good housing
Apart from those things that are practically necessary, what makes a house a home? It is a place to feel secure, sheltered emotionally as well as physically, a private place apart from the world outside. A house is where people come together, it is also where they may choose to be alone. Sometimes it is a place for peace and quiet, at other times a place to party. A house requires its own outside space, its garden, courtyard or terrace, large enough for sitting around. On both the outside and the inside, every detail is seen close-to, and consequently the colour, texture and touch of every material has a strong impact on the feeling of homeliness. Above all, the house is a place to belong, to have a sense of identity. The entrance therefore has a particular significance; it is where a visitor is welcomed and invited to come in; it is the interface between the outside and the inside, the public and the private, and requires to be celebrated.
Groups of houses form edges and these can be used to define streets
Progressive contemporary housing must be set against the background of those many estates that have been built in Britain and elsewhere on the outskirts of cities, towns and villages; anonymous uniform developments that are unrelated to their locality and could be anywhere. It is here that the issue of identity is most acute, but how can this be achieved? There are valuable precedents. Groups of houses form edges, and these in turn can be used to define streets or squares or landscaped areas that you might pass through on your way home, and perhaps have a casual conversation with neighbours. This is where children might play, supervised from nearby windows. There are different qualities living at ground level, at the top, or on a level in between; ends and corners similarly offer opportunities to enhance a sense of identity. Expression of the whole dwelling rather than the repetition of separate windows can order the scale of a large building, and further give clues to where one lives. The sensitive designer searches for the particularities of each site and its relation to the existing urban grain.
There are continuing pressures of change. Different lifestyles affect the house and its surroundings; increases in population and land values impact on density; there is more mobility and car ownership; the internet is influencing ways of working, shopping, as well as meeting together. Consequently there is need for innovative design. Some developers attempt to achieve identity by the imposition of arbitrary forms and a medley of different materials and colours, but these are superficial gestures. What is required is patient reflection and an understanding of the complex and discreet issues that generate a sense of place.