The colourful design of RSHP’s pioneering PLACE/Ladywell temporary housing in south London and its use as an architectural show-home made residents feel they were ‘on show’, according to a new report
The 2,050m² building, completed in 2016 for Lewisham Council as a ‘proof of concept’, was constructed using off-site manufacturing processes to provide modular, mobile housing units.
While PLACE/Ladywell has been widely acclaimed by homeless charity Shelter and others, there has been a lack of attention to what it is like to live in, the report argues.
The building, due to be dismantled next March, is a ’significant improvement’ on other forms of emergency accommodation but it has issues with its design and management, the study found.
One problem the residents had was with the brightly coloured panels the architect picked for the building. While they might have helped to generate debate and raise awareness of the block as a prototype, they also had made ’some residents feel stigmatised’.
The report says: ’The aesthetics of the building also increased the experience of stigma around homelessness for some residents who felt like they were on show.
’Other elements of the building also made residents feel scrutinised and out of place, such as the heavy presence of cameras and the existence of the show-home.’
The report recommends that these experiences should be factored into future designs for temporary structures. ’This could for example take the form of alternative aesthetics, such as imitation brick, rather than brightly coloured, external cladding,’ it says.
It adds that residents would feel more at home if they were able to decorate and make minor adjustments to their flats and providing some non-open plan properties would help families for whom ’open plan living isn’t ideal’.
One of the other recommendations is that more consideration needs to be given to the terminology used for temporary modular housing developments.
The commonly used term ‘pop-up’ had problematic connotations and reminded residents of their ‘provisional’ status as residents, it argues.
In 2014 Lewisham approached RSHP, which teamed up with engineers AECOM and SIG to produce the concept design on the site of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre.
The building is arranged into three blocks divided by two external cores with colours identifying different elements. It is constructed as individual units stacked in a four-storey arrangement, all manufactured in a factory in Nottinghamshire.
According to Lewisham council, each home cost £156,000 to build, about 20 per cent cheaper than a typical council home and at 77m² exceed space standards for two-bed flats by 10 per cent.
In response to the report, Andrew Partridge, the scheme’s project lead at RSHP, said the scheme responds to Lewisham’s high demand for housing by offering a ‘short-term solution’.
He said: ’PLACE/Ladywell is only one solution to the housing needs of the borough and we need to involve and encourage all housing providers including both Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and traditional housebuilders to deliver alternative options for everyone.’
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: ’PLACE/Ladywell is recognised as an example of what we can do to provide a good solution to the consequences of homelessness caused by the housing crisis.
’It was designed as an ambitious meanwhile-use of a vacant space to take families out of poor quality, expensive B&B accommodation and give them stable, secure and high quality temporary homes while we support them to find permanent housing.’
PLACE/Ladywell was partly the inspiration for the launch of the not-for-profit modular housing company Pan-London Accommodation Collaborative Enterprise (PLACE), set up by London Councils.
Its scheme will deliver 200 new homes in a pilot phase planned to arrive on site by 2021. Construction firm Extraspace Solutions won the contract for the job earlier this year.
London Councils said the University of Holloway’s report had produced some ’useful findings’ which will help inform boroughs’ ongoing use of modular housing.
A spokesperson said: ’It’s welcome that the research confirms modular housing can offer a significant improvement on other forms of emergency accommodation.’
London Councils said while modular housing makes use of local sites that would otherwise remain unused, boroughs are clear that ultimately homelessness needs to be tackled by addressing London’s shortage of social housing.
PLACE/Ladywell was only scheduled to remain on site for four years, meaning it is expected to be dissembled in 2020.