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Peer urges later-living housebuilders to ‘bring back the architects’

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Housebuilders need to use more architects to improve design and to appeal to older generations looking to ‘rightsize’, peer and councils chief Richard Best has urged

Around 5.7 million over 65s in the UK want to move but lack options, the crossbench member of the House of Lords told a housing conference organised by almshouse charity The French Hospital last week.

’We need to bring back the architects,’ he said, adding: ‘If we’re building large-scale housing for older people we need to bring back to the centre stage design and architecture as disciplines.’

The peer, who is also vice-president of the Local Government Association, accused the UK’s major housebuilders of catering only to young families more willing to compromise on standards instead of older, more ‘discerning’ consumers.

‘The major house-builders did a pattern book in 1996 and that was the last time they employed an architect,’ Best said at the conference to mark The French Hospital’s 300th anniversary.

‘Instead of families having to cram into overpriced flats with small space standards and gardens we want to release those suburban houses that were made for families.’

Delegate Sarah Wigglesworth, of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, which has a high-end retirement scheme in Devon nearing completion, said architects were vital in making ‘age-friendly’ homes.

‘If we thought about housing from an older-age perspective, we would make housing that suits everybody and we would stop building for the short term,’ she said. ‘That is not what housebuilders are interested in though, of course, because the more they build the more profit they will make.’

In a presentation to delegates, Best highlighted a range of housing options including care homes, retirement villages and almshouses that conform to the design criteria drawn up by the Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI).

These key principles include good lighting, ease of mobility, shared spaces for residents, and designs that are care-ready.

Best singled-out Pollard Thomas Edwards’ Woodside Square in Muswell Hill for praise. The residential development is a joint venture between developers Hanover and Hill.

Woodside Square is mixed tenure with units ranging from high-end houses to flats for social rent circling a courtyard. It includes a number of communal areas.

Delegates also heard about the increasing popularity of the co-housing model from Maria Brenton, who spoke on behalf of the group Older Women’s Co-Housing (OWCH).

Driven by a ‘dislike of anything else on offer’, the group of women, aged between 50 and 86, created New Ground, the UK’s first senior co-housing community in High Barnet.

The residents worked together with Pollard Thomas Edwards on the design of the small housing complex, and not-for-profit developer Hanover acquired the site. It features communal spaces as well as planned communication areas allowing residents to meet up naturally.

‘Senior co-housing means you essentially remain in charge of your own lives,’ said Brenton. ‘It is developed, governed and managed by its own residents entirely. The OWCH group didn’t want to wait until they have a health shock, but to plan and prepare for old age.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Chris Roche

    Developers are increasingly building flats rather than houses - largely in response to the economics of building development, but also in reflection of changes in planning policy which in recent years has reversed density priorities for towns and cities. Consequently too many flats are occupied by families, and too many houses by the elderly who struggle with stairs, heating, and maintenance. The housing "market" lacks the variety of nuanced offer provided by the motor industry and greater scholarship, research, and thought needs to go into providing a truly diverse housing offer to suit an increasingly sophisticated and demanding population. Once size of home to fit all, irrespective of age, family circumstance, or access needs clearly is not the answer, and whilst developers will typically remain risk averse we need imaginative responses from national and local government to provide for the increasingly complex needs of the future.

    Chris Roche / 11.04 Architects

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