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Peter Barber reveals Newham back-to-back housing

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Peter Barber Architects has revealed plans for back-to-back housing in Stratford, East London

The 26-home scheme draws on the benefits of the back-to-back housing typology which was built throughout northern towns and cities before it was outlawed by the 1909 Housing Act.

Built around a newly-formed tree-lined square the shared-ownership terraced homes create two new streets.

The four-storey two-bedroom houses each have their own roof terraces and are arranged to provide a dual aspect.

The scheme is set to begin on site in the coming weeks.

McGrath Road back-to-back housing by Peter Barber

The architect’s view

Back to back housing was the default typology for low cost high density housing in many northern and midland industrial  cities during their rapid expansion in the nineteenth century. Hundreds of thousands were built in cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, Birmingham and Leeds, though strangely it was rare in London. Their construction was  outlawed in the 1909 Housing Act  although some local authorities sanctioned their continued construction as recently as the late 1930’s.

In my view the type had a great many benefits. They were cheap to build and therefore relatively inexpensive to rent, they were arranged along streets and in courts which assisted in creating the potential for neighbourliness. They delivered reasonably high density while providing people with a house rather than a flat.

Little back to back housing has survived. A significant fragment remains in Kirstall and Burley areas of Leeds  and the National Trust has saved 6 houses in Birmingham  (out of the original 60,000 in that city)  as a back to back museum. I went there in January and I thought they worked beautifully. I was shown around by  a couple of ex back to back dwellers who had lived a street or two away. They had been kicked out in the 60’s slum clearance and rehoused in suburban tower blocks now also demolished! They both spoke fondly of growing up there.

Our project works with the best that back to back housing had to offer and it deals with the commonly cited (and in my view sometimes overstated) shortcomings of the  Victorian back to back.  Each house has its own bathroom (in the 19 century bathhouses were usually shared). The top floor living room has a private roof terrace and its outlook is rotated so that each home is “dual aspect”. Original back to backs had no private outdoor space and they had outlook in one direction only.

McGrath Road back-to-back housing by Peter Barber

Project data

Location Stratford, London Borough of Newham
Type of project housing
Architect Peter Barber Architects
Structural engineer Cook Associates
M&E consultant Whitecode
Quantity surveyor IGM
Client London Borough of Newham
Funding London Borough of Newham/GLA
Start on site date Summer 2015
Form of contract and/or procurement Design and Build

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Readers' comments (1)

  • This is a really interesting article and project. We have some back-to-backs in our Malings project, currently completing in Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
    Interestingly, our client vetoed the use of the descriptor back-to-back being applied these units, as it is still a toxic term up north. As well as the advantages that Peter mentions, back-to-backs, like terraces, are good for sustainability because they share, in our case, two walls with adjoining properties. Our units are all triple aspect.

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