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Barber's win 'celebrates the life of the street'

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Peter Barber Architects' competition-winning scheme for a site in Bow, east London, is an unashamed rejection of the 'tiresome' obsession with 'building as object', according to the practice.

Announced last week (AJ 27.9.01), London-based Barber beat five other practices to build a new complex of social housing in a competition run by the Architecture Foundation and Circle 33. Barber said his 'notched terrace' scheme, on a tricky 0.29ha site, was a deliberate attempt to 'celebrate the social life of the street'.

'The scheme was driven by one idea, and every decision flowed from that idea - we've tried to make sure that everybody can see each other, recognise each other and maybe even get to know each other, ' said Barber.

'There's a desire for streets to be vibrant, thriving and busy, and that means giving them a life 24 hours a day.'

The practice won in the face of stiff opposition from runners-up Circus Architects; East;

Robert Ian Barnes Architects; White Design from Bristol; and Poppl and Strassburger of Germany. The competition originally received submissions from 140 practices internationally, including outfits with a strong housing pedigree such as Stock Woolstencroft, HTA and PRP Architects.

The Barber scheme, of 43 maisonettes and six live-work units, was chosen unanimously by the jury for creating a high-density complex without compromising on rights to light or overlooking. The scheme, which has managed a density of 530 rooms per ha, also offers scope for prefabrication.

'The jury was also impressed by the winning scheme's potential for generic form, permitting both the opportunity of unit expansion accommodating future change, as well as its possible future use on other sites, ' said jury chairman Roger Zogolovitch, who praised all the entries for their efforts to make the best of a brownfield site. 'What we're talking about here is design. How do we design something that is beautiful?

How do we end up with something that's desirable?'

Each home will have a front door opening directly onto a street, although Barber has worked hard to provide each unit with privacy through working a series of internal courtyards through the scheme. The twostorey complex of interlocking maisonettes will be faced in a non-cracking, resin-based render rather than 'bland' brick, said Barber.

The site is currently dominated by a block of social housing which is due to be demolished, although a timescale (and budget) has yet to be agreed.

The competition represents a new venture for Circle 33, which until now has not embraced design to the same extent as other housing associations such as Peabody. But Circle 33 director Jane Blom Cooper said she is considering making the competition a biennial event in order to foster better relations with architects. She also announced a new housing competition for students (see page 14) in an effort to wean young architects away from any ambition to build iconic buildings.

'Student architects are the people we really need to be getting at right now. They should stop thinking about building icons in the City and start thinking about the cityscape and housing, ' she said.

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