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Exclusive: Patrik Schumacher to test council estate prototype

schumacher kelly collage

Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is drawing up plans for a prototype part-social, part-private housing scheme that would add new homes to an existing London council estate

The practice is working with developer Baylight on an application for outline planning permission to build a scheme of about 30 units on land owned by Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

The project, the design for which is being led by ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher, will be the first iteration of a ‘consent and implement’ idea proposed by Baylight’s Crispin Kelly to ‘densify’ London estates by harnessing the energy of small developers.

Kelly told the AJ: ‘The concept is that, because councils don’t have the resources to look at the little bits and pieces of their estates, smaller developers should have the freedom to make applications. But if they get consent they would have the right to implement that consent on the basis they give half of what is built to the [land] owner.’

Under the proposed scheme, a five or six-storey block of flats, featuring a series of double-height spaces and a roof terrace, would be built on unused land at the heart of an existing – but as yet undisclosed – Hammersmith & Fulham council estate.

Schumacher told the AJ that, by area, half of the compact scheme would be private housing comprising ‘very small’ units sharing work and social spaces, ‘quite small’ studio flats and ‘very small’ one-bedroom apartments. The other half would be social housing – ‘maisonette-like’ family-size houses at the bottom of the building with gardens, for use by the council.

Schumacher came under fire in November when he told the World Architecture Festival in Berlin that social housing should be scrapped.

When asked how this project fits with those views, he said he and the practice were working within the framework and were ‘quite happy working with the social component there’. He added that his ‘other hat … thinking about other frameworks’ was ‘on a different page’.

He said: ‘That [speech] was more of a theoretical speculative contribution to a discourse and here I’m talking about what we can actually do here and now within the given framework and satisfy the rationales in a creative way.’

Schumacher said the scheme was a ‘prototype’ exploring how to ‘densify these kind of council estates’ and provide the kind of small units missing in the market, with the private element addressing affordability issues.

Unit sizes can easily fall. They have been too large

He said the size of the studios and one-bedroom apartments was inspired by Pocket homes, which are aimed at middle-income, first-time buyers and are priced at least 20 per cent lower than the open market by maximising use of space. ‘Unit sizes can easily fall,’ he said. ‘They have been too large. There has been a strange insistence on too large standards when they used to be smaller and those older products, which are smaller, are doing very well in the market.’

Schumacher, who lived on an estate when he first came to London as a student, met Kelly at a talk about the future of London ahead of the mayoral elections last May and was impressed by his ‘entrepreneurial approach’ to the idea of central London densification. He also said he admired Kelly’s work with Peter Salter on the Walmer Yard residential scheme in west London.

If the Hammersmith & Fulham development receives planning permission, Schumacher said the same idea could be replicated on the same estate a few times, as well as on other estates in London, where adding something could ‘break up these vast spaces and make them more intimate’. He said: ‘There are many places where one can make inserts and incisions and I think that would be really cool.’

Kelly said he thought the approach would be particular suitable for estates dating from the 1930s to the 1960s because they were planned ‘in a very loose way’.

Schumacher, who said he had been talking to housing activists Architects 4 Social Housing, sees opportunities for architects in Kelly’s idea. In some cases, he said, it could be an alternative to the policy of flattening and rehousing entire estates.

He said: ‘That’s not on the cards in this estate [in Hammersmith & Fulham] but that has been happening in some of these estates, like at Elephant & Castle, so there would be a different approach here potentially, which could be faster with the provision and more incremental, and aiming for the densification we all feel is a good idea.’

The team has yet to discuss its proposals with Hammersmith & Fulham council, which has entered into a 15-year joint venture with developer Stanhope to deliver homes on its land. However, Kelly believes the proposed site for the prototype scheme will not be of interest to Stanhope on account of its ‘small scale, corners and crevices’.

He said: ‘Our view is we should make an outline planning application to test the question of whether such a building is something that would get planning consent.’

This application will be submitted in the coming weeks. Schumacher hopes to show the scheme during the Green Sky Thinking event in London in May.

Kelly raised his idea when he appeared as a guest at a Greater London Authority planning committee on Tuesday to discuss increasing housing density through the London Plan. A report to the committee noted that the capital’s population is expected to exceed 10 million by 2036 and that London would need to build an additional 49,000 homes a year between until 2036 to meet demand.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Is this an early april fools joke? Really- the same Patrick Schumacher......

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  • John Kellett

    Sounds very similar to what many small practices were doing in the 1980s, are are continuing to do today. Taking a 'social housing' site, adding dwellings 'here and there' (underused garages was a good one) and thereby achieving densification. Slightly different business model but same principle. 'Tiny' homes are very market sensitive, they are popular at the moment only because property prices are over inflated in proportion to income, especially in London. The buy tiny or rent bigger is a battle being lost by private developers.

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  • So the answer to London's shortage of homes Londoners can afford to live in is not - it turns out - to demolish our council and social housing in the middle of a housing crisis and replace it with property investments for international capital designed by social cleansing practices like HTA Design, Mae, PRP Architects, Hawkins\Brown, dRMM, Haworth Tompkins and Karakusevic Carson (which the Evening Standard this week identified as the 'go to practice for estate regeneration' for the social cleansing of the King's Crescent estate in Hackney - a bargain at £120,000 for a 25 per cent share in a 2-bedroom flat or rent from £1,100 per month), but to increase their housing capacity with infill.

    Now why didn't we think of that?

    Who knows, maybe Patrik Schumacher will turn the full 180 degrees and suggest the funds raised from the private sales and rents are invested not only in building more homes for social rent on the estate, but invested in refurbishing the council homes that have been neglected by councils for so long?

    Go on Patrik! You may not have the courage to meet us in a public debate, but one day you could be known as the Saviour of London's estates, and no-one will remember your 'theoretical' speech in Berlin. And we promise you and whoever this bloke Kelly is can take all the credit. Architects have short memories.

    Simon Elmer
    Architects for Social Housing

    P.S. Once again, and for the umpteenth time, we remind the AJ that ASH are not activists but architects. Our alternative designs to the demolition of West Kensington and Gibbs Green, Central Hill and Knight's Walk, using infill and roof extensions and refurbishing the existing homes, can be viewed on our website here: https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com

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  • If I had to compare the significance of Mr Schumacher currently doing a 'reverse ferret' and Walter Segal's demonstrations, many decades ago now, of how to achieve a lot more with a lot less on similar sites - I'd opt for Mr Segal, who has influenced many, in a quiet and unassuming way, to create affordable housing that people really can be proud of.

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