The prime minister’s pre-election pledge to fast-track 200,000 first-time buyer homes with the use of ‘exemplar’ designs has revealed deep divisions among its architectural advisers
Two key members of the coalition’s housing advisory panel warned yesterday that the adoption of national templates could result in swathes of ‘generic’ properties which fail to fit with their neighbourhoods.
The warning from RIBA president Stephen Hodder and Landscape Institute president Noel Farrer comes after minsters said they wanted housing designs drawn up by its own panel members - most notably Terry Farrell - to become the ‘default approach’ for starter homes.
However, Hodder and Farrer said it was ‘vital’ that pressure to tackle the housing crisis did not lead to ‘sub-standard and unsuitable homes’.
In a joint statement the institute leaders said: ‘The use of national ‘design templates’ for starter homes could result in generic properties that don’t fit into the area in which they are being built. This will make it much harder to gain the support of existing and future residents.’
‘As members of the design advisory panel we will be urging the government to carefully balance the desire for fast and low-cost delivery with the need for sustainable development and high quality contextual design,’ it adds.
The comments are at odds with an official statement by Terry Farrell, who helped establish the advisory panel last year (Farrell hits out at balance of own housing design panel). Two of the three ‘exemplar’ schemes showcased yesterday were by his practice Farrells (pictured). The other was designed by Richards Partington Architects.
‘The templates developed by the government’s housing design panel will raise the design standard of new-build homes as well as raise the expectations of those who buy and live in them,’ Farrell said.
In addition Farrell’s practice insisted the government announcement was ‘the start of a journey’ which could see ‘many more architects get involved and submit exemplars to use as templates’.
The starter home template idea is supported by fellow panel member and director of Create Streets Nicholas Boys Smith, whose built environment charity issued a stinging attack on architects who put ‘artistic liberty’ over producing popular homes.
In a statement backing the government’s ‘template’ drive, Create Streets said that ‘something had gone very badly wrong with what we do to the built environment in Britain’ and warned against ‘sacrificing the liberty to have an affordable home of your own on the altar of the artistic liberty of the architect’.
Boys Smith told the AJ that the focus of design quality should be linked to ‘what people like’. He added: ‘These exemplars and templates must be proven to be popular.’
‘We should be far more interested in providing streets and homes and houses people want to live in rather than privileging architectural integrity.”
‘Many of the most popular and high density neighbourhoods such as those in Notting Hill, Pimlico and Islington were built by jobbing builders using templates – pattern books- by great architects.’
Sally Lewis of Stitch:
‘I am concerned about the apparent disregard for isssues of quality in this intiative. Pointing to a few Terry Farrell house types is not doing the job. It doesn’t even tick a box. In my opinion this is not the place for templates : we’re talking about highly constrained sites that will demand, as always, collaboration between partners and stakeholders with architects who are used to finding responsive solutions to delivering high quality homes.
This is not the place for templates
‘The assumption some schemes by an individual architect - in a privileged position - is the answer to the housing quality question is alarming. Firstly it does not recognise that good housing is responsive to each individual site. Secondly it dismisses the wealth of great housing typologies being delivered on the ground right now. This is on the ground experience with innovative ideas being put to the test on a site by site basis.’
Gary Young, partner at Farrells:
‘We’re delighted to contribute to the Starter Homes initiative, providing well designed examples for new homes, which, along with placemaking principles in Building for Life 12, will help the process of design development and engagement with local people.
‘Building on the valuable experience we have gained through working with A2Dominion as the lead developer of the largest development of true zero carbon homes in the UK, we are confident in the creation of well designed, affordable homes, that can follow the example set by the pioneering work at NW Bicester.
‘The examples cited within this initiative can be adapted to reflect regional materials and characteristics, and act as a benchmark of quality and choice for future housing developments around the UK.’