In the eighth of a new series looking at influential housing plans, Charles Holland chooses PRP’s Ryde housing (1963) in Hatfield
I first came across the plans for the Ryde in Hatfield a few years, leafing through the RIBA Book of 20th Century Housing. The drawings had an immediate period charm about them with their Zip-A-Tone shading and Corbusier-style stencilled text, but it was the clarity and intelligence of the layouts that grabbed my attention.
The Ryde was the first project by architects Phippen, Randall and Parkes, now known as PRP. Within a rigid 7m cross-wall formation, they achieved a remarkable diversity of accommodation. There are 2, 3 and 4 bed single-storey houses, the larger units extending, telescope-like, via a series of courtyards. The arrangements are rigorous but the resulting spaces appear relaxed and casual. I admire the way each space links to the next, still distinct as rooms but with a subtle fluidity.
It is a very skilful and dextrous bit of planning. There is a space for everything - garage tools, garden equipment, even a boat – and the contingencies of everyday life have been allowed for. The kitchen looks comfortable to cook in and you can see what’s going on in the rest of the house. The bedrooms have enough room to swing a cat and there are lovely views through the sequence of interior and exterior spaces.
The Ryde is an interesting development in other ways too. The site was developed as a cooperative venture by the specially-formed Cockaigne Housing Group. It includes – as well as twenty-eight units - a community room and an empty house available for friends to stay in. There are private garden spaces but communal ones too and issues like shared childcare have been catered for.
The materials are simple and straightforward but put together with understated flair. In period photographs the scheme appears quietly radical, the epitome of new town Modernism. But visiting it recently, I was struck by how comfortably it had bedded in. If anything, the houses appear even more seductive, their large areas of glazing half-hidden by lush planting.
The Ryde is that most unfashionable of things: very good suburbia. But it offers higher density than the normal typology and an important level of communality. Nearly fifty years on it still represents an exemplary model for new housing development.
Charles Holland is co-founder of Ordinary Architecture and was previously a director of FAT