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Reed Watts wins contest for stop-gap homes in disused spaces

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Reed Watts Architects has won an ideas competition to transform disused structures into temporary living spaces for homeless Romanian migrants

The London-based studio’s proposal – dubbed ‘The Flat Pack’ – was chosen ahead of five rival finalist submissions in the contest which received more than 20 entries overall.

Reed Watts’ winning scheme harnessed surplus construction materials to create low-tech pods and was described as ‘well-considered and deliverable’ by the judging panel.

According to a competition statement: ‘The design uses a series of low-tech pods which make use of anti-flammable surplus construction materials to address the immediate needs of the immigrant communities.

‘Each room is created through the simple assembly of panels put together using off-the-shelf brackets and bolts. To bring a unique, personalised feel to the design, each pod can also be decorated with patterns, chosen by the occupants, to create a specific identity for the pods. In addition, residents can fix mirrors, pictures, shelves, and clothes hooks using the existing holes.’

Open to all, the competition, organised by Commonweal Housing, sought ‘loose fit, light-touch’ proposals to transform abandoned offices and industrial units into transitional, short-term accommodation for Romanian workers living in makeshift encampments around London’s busy North Circular Road.

The project aims to return the encampment sites to community use, and identify standard solutions to help all people forced into unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. Participants were asked to design low-cost and flexible accommodation for people who are sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough and struggling to access suitable private rented tenancies.

Commonweal Housing trustee Russ Edwards said: ‘Through this competition we believe that if the right design solution can be found, the lives of those Romanian migrant workers identified in the Thames Reach research and the communities negatively impacted through the presence of encampments could be dramatically improved.

‘It is fantastic that the brief captured the imaginations of the design fraternity in such a way. In particular, the designers ability to address the specific challenges associated with the group of working migrants the competition aimed to support, moving beyond the functional requirements in the brief, is to be commended.’

Phineas Harper competition judge and assistant director of the Architecture Foundation said: ‘This projects attempts to face up to a severe situation in a practical and specific way. While it is clear that design alone cannot address social injustice it was impressive to see so many teams grapple with the brief in a sincere and compassionate manner.’

The number of Romanian people sleeping rough in the capital has nearly tripled since 2013, when restrictions on emigration from Romania were lifted. There are currently about 1,545 Romanians living in unsanitary conditions in large open spaces, woodlands and parks surrounding the North Circular Road. The camps deprive local residential communities of vital amenity spaces. The project aims to address this double injustice by delivering new transitional living spaces within nearby underused spaces.

Commonweal Housing is a privately funded charity, which delivers bespoke housing solutions for target groups suffering social injustices. The group aims to identify prototype solutions that can be scaled up for wider application across the country.

Proposals were expected to harness empty meanwhile-use space – such as community halls, offices and warehouses – to deliver temporary, low-cost accommodation. Solutions had to be flexible and typically offer beds on a nightly or weekly basis for about £8 a night, as well as communal toilets, showers and food preparation areas. Rooms may be shared.

The competition’s judges included Gensler director Jonathan Breen, Architecture Foundation assistant director Phineas Harper, dRMM director Sadie Morgan, and Commonweal’s board of trustees chair, Fiona Mactaggart.

A team comprising Sofía de los Ríos, Adrian Feige and Constantino Baranda won the competition’s second place prize.

The ‘Ying Yang’ proposal provided ‘a simple, flexible, micro accommodation solution which can be easily adapted to meet the temporary needs of Romanian migrant workers.’

A special commendation was also jointly awarded to Manon Portera and Cecile-Diama Samb, and to Federico Ortiz and Gaston Saboulard.

The shortlist

  • Inter Urban Studios
  • Reed Watts (winner)
  • Federico Ortiz and Gaston Saboulard – Independent entry from Spain
  • Sofía de los Ríos, Adrian Feige and Constantino Baranda – Independent entry
  • Manon Portera and Cécile-Diama Samb – Independent entry from Amsterdam
  • Joshua Doyle – Independent entry
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