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Sean Cook: ‘Clarity of standards needed’

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Sean Cook, head of design at First Base, on wanting rigour from architects and why housing standards shouldn’t become ‘colour by numbers’

What kind of schemes are you working on?
We are developing everything from large family homes in west London (Ashchurch Villas by Pollard Thomas Edwards) and 150 flats in Islington (Parkhurst Gardens by AHMM), through to two huge regeneration projects – East Village on the Olympic Park and Silvertown Quays in the Royal Docks. And we have a few interesting new opportunities in the pipeline for 2014.

What do you look for in architects?
Rigour – intellectually and throughout the design process. We have been fortunate to work with world-class architects. An eye for detail is invaluable.

What do you think about the government’s attempts to drive housing development?
The average age of first time buyers in London is pushing 40, so schemes such as Help to Buy are essential to get people on the property ladder.

What do you make of the mooted Housing Standards Review and the potential introduction of space standards?
The more consistency and clarity they bring to space standards and building regulations the better. One of the main challenges we have is dealing with the varying design standards from borough to borough. We have seen a number of regulations fall out of sync and in many cases they are contradictory. That makes developing projects in London particularly challenging.

The more clarity they bring to space standards and building regulations the better

Having said that, it is important that standards do not become overly prescriptive. The danger is schemes end up being developed by using a ‘colour by numbers’ approach. True creativity and innovation should not be stifled. Standards do tend to form a fairly blunt instrument, but are an essential for raising design standards and construction quality.

Clients and investors are looking for better solutions. The recession has shown that the highest-quality schemes are still successful at delivering strong investor returns, as well as high-quality homes.

Which is the favourite of your projects and why?
Adelaide Wharf by AHMM. It was our first scheme and benefited from a fantastic synergy between the client and architect. It embodies the core business objectives with an overwhelming desire to ensure the project was as good as it could possibly be.

Which regeneration scheme most inspires you and why?
High Line by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It took a crumbling site and turned it into something special and accessible to ordinary New Yorkers.

Adelaide Wharf by AHMM

Adelaide Wharf by AHMM

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