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Inspiring housing #1: Seth Rutt on Molenplein

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[More Homes Better Homes] Hawkins\Brown’s Seth Rutt tells the AJ why the government should learn from Tony Fretton’s Molenplein housing scheme

Why do you like the scheme?

For me, Tony Fretton’s project at Molenplein in Den Helder is a favourite. Designed in collaboration with Geurst en Schulze Architecten, the two architects have arranged a series of townhouses in a poised balance between variety and repetition. The domestic scale continues to a series of intimate rear courtyards and private terraces.

The facades exude a quiet restrained quality, in keeping with the Dutch Calvinist spirit. Well-chosen brick is laid in random bond, disrupting the tyranny of banal stretcher bond.This softens the skin and roots the buildings into an older tradition of brick architecture. Large, human proportioned windows generously overlook the street, and flashes of stone celebrate the entrances.

What could government learn from it?

It is no surprise that it’s in Holland and not in the UK. These are not extravagant buildings - yet the level of quality suggests a greater alignment between client, contractor and architect than seems possible back home. Can government help to transcend housing above commercial commodity in order to create better homes and neighbourhoods with longevity?

Architects are divorced from the material selection process

Architects working on housing in the UK are increasingly divorced from the construction and material selection process - yet it is this stage that finally determines the streets and houses we’ll live with - not a CGI in a Design and Access Statement. Could planning conditions demand greater input from the architect after planning?

The extension of housing standards across the UK is welcome, albeit in a diluted form compared to the ambitions of the London Housing Design Guide. Some of the London Boroughs are more proactive in ensuring a healthy amount of space- could other authorities do the same?

Austerity has led to under-resourcing of planning departments, preventing developers from delivering quickly - whilst allowing greater license for reduced quality. This has to be resolved.

Let’s build for the future and not just for now - let’s build more Molenpleins in the UK.

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