Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

aj/velux 'lifetime housing' competition

  • Comment

winner: John Burke

The velux/aj Lifetime Housing Design Competition attracted a satisfactory 70-plus entries from a wide variety of professional and student architects. The judges were riba president David Rock; Royal Society of Architects in Wales president Richard Parnaby; Irish architect, lecturer and television programme-maker Duncan Stewart; Jonathan Falkingham of urban regeneration developer Urban Splash; David Briggs, general manager of velux, and aj editor Paul Finch, who acted as a chairman. Judging took place at the aj offices in Islington on 22 June.

The judges were happy with the number of entries. If there was a general reservation about the overall standard of entries, it concerned the extent to which adaptability had been thoroughly explored as an idea. On the other hand, the brief required attention to a series of other issues, most of which were generally met.

Following a general review of schemes by the judges individually and then collectively, a 'rough cut' was made which reduced the initial entry to 28 entries. At this stage it looked as though it might be possible to arrive at rapid conclusions, but in fact it took longer than anticipated, once another cut had reduced the numbers to about a dozen. In the event, the judges exercised their right to re-allocate prize money, in order to make four commendations of £500, leaving a third prize of £3000, a second of £4000 and a first of £6000, which was considered a generous prize fund.

Of the winners, the judges liked the unashamedly industrial aesthetic of the third-placed entry by a team headed by John Smart, with its seemingly endless possibility of interior adaptation. The second-placed entry, by Dublin-based Kevin Dodd, took a typical urban house and by use of split levels and openings created an infinitely superior product. The first prize was awarded to a scheme designed by John Burke, who has just completed his diploma at Edinburgh. The judges liked the way in which he took the brief and not only proposed a housing type which could be adaptable in its own right, but then extended the idea to a 'family' of units in the same area, providing another layer of possibilities.

This submission explored possibilities for the commuter hinterland of Letchworth Garden City, proposing solutions for town centre, industrial parkland, railside gaps and green-belt edge conditions, all of which worked with existing buildings. The project went on to focus on suburbia. A mixed development of housing, work and community buildings was proposed for a windswept football field, grouped into linear strips to allow creation of a large sunken public space with a direct sense of ownership and occupation. This was augmented by the proposal for mews housing on existing back gardens designed to planning 'codes' (cubic forms, turfed roofs, mixed use, maintenance of existing trees, etc) on which owners could base their designs. Energy- efficient massing joined a plethora of environmental techniques.

second: Kevin Dodd

Starting with a two-storey terraced, three-bedroom town house, this scheme makes creative use of light, air and space. The split-level arrangement of the house maximises daylight penetration into an open interior of interpenetrating spaces. A void marks the transition zone between split levels, allows natural convection by the stack effect, and facilitates easy installation of a moveable hydraulic platform for both disabled access and flexibility of additional floor space, or different space functions where required. Accordion-type moveable partitions of sandblasted glass in oak frames act as guard rails or full-height screens, allowing light penetration while maintaining visual and acoustic privacy. A skewed loadbearing wall defines separate zones of the house and separates utilitarian functions from living areas, and allows for future flexibility. The double-height sun-space with external sunscreening counteracts the claustrophobia of the urban environment and, together with materials of high thermal capacity, makes for an energy-efficient house. Photovoltaic installations on the south face convert sunlight into electricity.

Capacity serve as heat storage elements for temperature control and an energy efficient house.

Devices controlling the form of the house:-

The split level arrangement makes optimum use of natural daylight, allowing views right through the house, notably glimpses of the rear garden from the front entrance hall; a liberating system for making interpenetrating spaces, providing spatial continuity. Box like rooms of typical three bedroom terraced house are transformed into a light and open interior, breaking down the barrier between inside and outside, expressing transparency and internal planes.

A void marks transition zone between split levels and allows natural convection up through the house. This void also allows for easy installation of home lift or movable hydraulic platform which has double function of disabled access to floor levels and as additional floorspace on any floor when required. The floor of this platform is of perforated stainless steel allowing natural convection and grip for wheelchair.A system of accordion type movable partitions, guided by floor and ceiling tracks will act as a guard rail or as a full height screen for privacy where required. Each partition is made from sandblasted glass in oak frame allowing light penetration while maintaining privacy and reducing sound transfer between rooms.

A loadbearing wall (with cut outs, for added transparency), skewed to embrace southfacing back garden, defines separate zones of the house; utilitarian functions from living areas thereby making services easily capable of future adaptations (ref. 'Raising the roof' report). The skewed wall, flanking principle living areas, providing a suitable geometry responding to hierarchy of spaces to be lit, gives a dynamic effect to otherwise parallel walls. With a single occupant only, the structural wall, column and beams above, could be expressed as a sculptural object within overall shell or alternatively, housing for bearing of structural beams could be accommodated for future expansion of upper floors.

The double height sunspace, with sloped ceiling, giving a sense of spatial expansiveness, counteracts claustrophobia of the urban environment. This space has a glazed screen separating it from living areas and an external glazed wall angled perpendicular to the Winter sun, with sections of glazing pivoting both horizontally and vertically allowing summer south face to open up. Reconstituted limestone floors (dark in colour) and unplastered concrete walls of highthermal storage capacity serve as heat storage elements. External (venetian type) blinds provide sunscreening to control glare and excessive heat gain in summer. Photovoltaic installations on south face convert sunlight into electricity, operating actuatorsfor natural ventilation by the stack effect, with supplemental underfloor heating system inwinter, with switchover for Summer cooling.

The Cross Sections show various lifetime occupancy situations which easily adapt without major construction cost implications. As more people work from home, the flexibility the house offers means it can adjust for transient uses such as office to street side, accommodating visiting clients, guest bedroom (large or small), using extra area of movable platform. This makes for a very saleable house for all age groups and a structural layout accommodating flexibility necessary for different design criteria of various internal uses.


Structure £70 000

Mech. and elec. £20 000

Glazing £30 000

Finishes £30 000 Hydraulic home lift £18 000

third: John Smart

There are three main concepts to making a mass-produced home sustainable:


Each house incorporates an artificial ecosystem which minimises consumption of natural resources by, for example, recycling greywater and using water- cooled vegetation to cool incoming air in the summer. The living towers are organised around the internal garden which forms the 'lung' to the interior and is an essential pat of the metabolic process.


The three-layer construction allows the internal environment to respond to external diurnal and seasonal variations. In summer it can be an open and cool tent structure, while in winter it is protected by the warm overcoat. The building is also flexible in its user requirements. It can expand and contract with the use of the self-assembled living towers, mass-produced in component form to suit the user.


The scheme was designed as a terraced wall within an organic landscape incorporating allotments, recreational areas, wildlife ponds, reed beds and vegetation. Public places in the park, for the new and existing community, bring together often isolated developments. The removal of the car from the site reinstates the sense of the street and everyday social interaction.

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs