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Southwark housing framework looking for ‘talented, idealistic’ new practices

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Southwark Council is planning to kick-start an ambitious new civic and public housing framework with a special ‘first-of-its-kind’ lot aimed exclusively at emerging talents

The inner London local authority – which has pledged to deliver 11,000 new environmentally-friendly council homes by 2043 – is seeking to engage a ‘new generation of designers’ in a bid to break with the ‘private gain over public good’ design culture of the past.

The new framework, which will launch early November if approved by Southwark’s cabinet on Tuesday (29 October), features an innovative lot for new designers with a £2 million maximum turnover threshold and ‘forward rather than backward evaluation’ based on current work and future commissions.

Leo Pollak, Southwark Council cabinet member for social regeneration, great estates and new homes, said: ‘We want to build a cohort of the most talented designers in the country to determine the look and feel of what council homes will look like in the future.

‘We want to be part of the emerging movement signified by Goldsmith Street’s RIBA Stirling Prize win in Norwich, which has raised the prestige of social housing. There will be a special lot for new designers which will provide an opportunity for talented, idealistic designers to come into council housing. It is the framework some architects have been waiting for all their years.’

The five-year framework will be used to procure approximately £10.5 million-worth of design services every year from 2020 to 2025. At least 50 new design opportunities – including infills, rooftop schemes and large sites suitable for new estates – could be advanced by the council over the next two years, according to Pollak.

There will be seven lots covering masterplanning and feasibility; education, social care and community; housing; commercial and industrial; conservation and heritage; landscape design; and new designers.

According to a report due to go before cabinet members on Tuesday, the new designers’ framework – worth an estimated £1.5 million in fees annually – will be ‘less prescriptive in its requirements for previous sector experience and will evaluate on current work and future commissions previously won outside frameworks.’

Applicants to the lot must have professional indemnity insurance cover of at least £2 million and an annual average turnover of less than £2 million to apply. Examples of ‘recent experience and evidence of design innovation’ such as competition entries may be submitted rather than public sector work completed through previous frameworks.

The procurement process – which claims to be the ‘first-of-its-kind’ – is part of an ambitious new approach to public housing delivery by the local authority which has one of the highest proportions of social housing in the country but has been criticised for its approach to large-scale estates regeneration in the past.

Albion Street in Rotherhithe by Bell Phillips. A total of 14 council homes and 12 London living rent homes, starting on site 2020

Albion Street in Rotherhithe by Bell Phillips. A total of 14 council homes and 12 London living rent homes, starting on site 2020

Albion Street in Rotherhithe by Bell Phillips. A total of 14 council homes and 12 London living rent homes, starting on site 2020

Pollak, who was appointed to Southwark’s cabinet in May 2018, said: ‘The framework is part of a generational target to expand and accelerate our programme of building on existing sites and also building on new large sites we are buying such as on Old Kent Road and in Nunhead, which could take big housing estates.

He added: ’We want to encourage architects who are values-driven and who have aspirations and ideals around good composition, who are passionate about creating light, generous, spacious homes, and want to create the ideal conditions for communal living.’

The borough of Southwark has about 285,000 residents and covers large areas of post-industrial and suburban inner London. More than 40 per cent of the borough has been earmarked as a regeneration zone including parts of Elephant and Castle and Old Kent Road, which are expected to receive up to £4 billion-worth of investment in a range of developer-led schemes.

Recent schemes completed by Southwark Council include 66 new council homes on Sumner Road in Peckham, designed by Levitt Bernstein and East. Last summer, the local authority announced plans to launch its own construction company to help establish a skills base and achieve greater control over its supply chain and housing delivery.

The latest framework will supplement an earlier framework launched last summer by the council, which also covers additional technical services alongside architecture. Teams shortlisted for the previous framework will be invited to tender in the coming weeks.

The council estimates more than 150 teams could apply for the new framework when it goes live next month. Pollak said: ‘There are lots of opportunities coming forward and we want a good, diverse range of architects that are as ambitious as we are. At present we have a site identification suite looking at infill rooftops, new land, and sites adjoining other landowners.’

He added: ‘These are really big juicy opportunities for designers who want to create part of the townscape of Southwark.’

Q&A

Leo Pollak, Southwark Council cabinet member for social regeneration, great estates and new homes

Leo Pollak

Leo Pollak

Leo Pollak

What is the new framework?

Its’s a new framework for architecture and design for public sector design in Southwark and across London, with lots for council housing, as well as industrial, educational and social care buildings.

We want to build a cohort of the most talented and ambitious designers in the country to help define what the model dwellings of the twenty-first century will look and feel like, and we want to create civic pride in other council buildings from industrial to education, through to social care and libraries.

The framework will feature straight-forward questions about design and communication, and will deliberately set low thresholds to entry. There will also be a special lot for new designers which will provide an opportunity for talented, idealistic designers to come into the council housing sector. 

We have listened to what architects have been saying about the challenges of navigating through public sector procurement, and my hope is that this the framework some architects have been waiting for all these years. 

We mean to discriminate in favour of those architects who bring full care and consideration to their designs, who will fight for the details that really make a difference to our residents, we want architects whose ideals are intact.

What do you want to achieve?

We want to elevate the expectations and status of public sector design by making explicit our commitment to good design throughout the process, from how we write site briefs, to how we bring the influence of residents into the design process, to how we follow through on the details with contractors. 

The key thing is small and emerging practices will have a route into council housing building through this framework because very often frameworks are set up in ways that suit those people who are good at writing bids rather than good for buildings. 

Southwark is on a journey towards building 11,000 new council homes within a generation, and as we are expanding and accelerating our programme while also bringing in new sites on existing land, as well as buying up small and large sites for new housing estates. 

We want to put the message out that there are really great opportunities for designers who want to help shape the future built environment of Southwark.

Rodney Road in Walworth by Levitt Bernstein. A total of 26 new council homes,  currently tendering for a builder

Rodney Road in Walworth by Levitt Bernstein. A total of 26 new council homes, currently tendering for a builder

Rodney Road in Walworth by Levitt Bernstein. A total of 26 new council homes, currently tendering for a builder

Why is it so important to engage micro-SMEs to meet the council’s housing targets?

Some frameworks are better than others, we regularly used the Peabody framework and GLA framework for instance which consistently have good practices. However, we know it takes the express will of a design commissioner to create opportunities for new voices and new perspectives, and we want to give ambitious new designers a chance. This is the only framework being launched at this stage with an opportunity for small and emerging practices to bring new innovative thinking into council homes design. The new design lot will be the ability to be partly based on forward evaluation. This means applicants will be able to use competition submissions and things which haven’t been built yet but give a strong indication of the type of designers they will be.

The new framework will supplement the framework we brought forward last year. That framework will go out to ITT in the next week or two and we will be selecting architects for that around January. The main focus of that framework is however on the wider range of technical services, but given the sheer scale and range of our house-building opportunities we thought it would be sensible to have two frameworks in place. And one in particular that emphasises an opportunity for new designers.

Who do you want to apply?

We are looking to attract designers from all across Britain and Europe. But in terms of the profile of designers, we want to encourage architects who are values-driven and who have aspirations and ideals around good composition, who are passionate about creating light, generous, spacious homes and want to create the ideal conditions for communal living. We also want architects who like working with residents and value their voice in shaping new living environments.

There is a growing enthusiasm and recognition of the importance of council housing, with council housing schemes now winning the Stirling Prize and national campaigns, such as George Clarke’s, gaining real traction. We are part of this movement and in a moment where municipal housing is expanding and growing in the public consciousness, this is a good time as any to open up this space and signal that we want the most talented and ambitious designers to feel that they can help shape a better society by working with councils like Southwark.

How will you select teams?

We will be asking architects for examples of their work rather than just written submissions to questions. We will also be wanting examples of the engagement methods they will use with residents which is very important for estates work. We find that everyone elects a council that wants to build council homes, but not everyone elects to have a construction site next to where they live. 

Also included in the new designers’ lot will be the ability to harness forward evaluation. This means applicants will be able to use competition submissions and show design work which hasn’t been built yet but gives a strong indication of the type of designers they will be.

We will very likely be running mini-competitions for most of our sites going forward and in some instances this will include public exhibitions with residents deciding on how to go forward. Residents’ needs matter first and last to us, and we want architects who will build a strong relationship with residents and find co-design approaches natural and normal.

How will you measure the framework’s success?

Generally it is residents who will evaluate the overall success of our council housing, not me or officers. We carry out post-occupancy evaluations which looks not only at the durability and manageability our new buildings will be, be at both the lived experience and community experience such as whether passers-by feel like these are homes which engender a sense of pride.

Marklake Court, Kipling Street in Bermondsey by Bell Phillips. A total of 27 new council homes delivered in partnership with Leathermarket CBS and completed 2018

Marklake Court, Kipling Street in Bermondsey by Bell Phillips. A total of 27 new council homes delivered in partnership with Leathermarket CBS and completed 2018

Marklake Court, Kipling Street in Bermondsey by Bell Phillips. A total of 27 new council homes delivered in partnership with Leathermarket CBS and completed 2018

What recent residential projects are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all our council housing schemes but some from the top of my head. We recently completed 66 council homes in Peckham at Sumner Road, with Levitt Bernstein, which we launched with residents and builders with a great party in the summer rain in a beautiful courtyard. Another would be Marklake Court on the Kipling Estate (pictured) in Bermondsey which we delivered in partnership with Leathermarket CBS and was designed by Bell Philips. We also have recently delivered exemplary new homes in partnership with Hollybrook at Odessa St in Surrey Docks designed by Panther Hudspith.

Of the many schemes we have coming up shortly, you could look at Meeting House Lane with Haworth Tompkins, currently under construction in Peckham, or our upcoming scheme on Albion Street in Rotherhithe, another Bell Philips project, which will be on site next spring.

Where will the future projects be in Southwark?

We will have infill opportunities on existing estates, rooftop opportunities and large plots of land where there is a broader canvas to work with, in all parts of the borough, from Bermondsey down to Dulwich. We have recently bought sites like PC World on Old Kent Road, a large site in Nunhead off Peckham Rye, and a former boys’ club site in Rotherhithe. There are really big opportunities going forward and we are campaigning with our local MP Helen Hayes for land compensation reform nationally, so we can secure more affordable land for affordable housing.

With our target for 11,000 homes I expect we will also be expanding the number of design opportunities that come forward. At present we have a target to have 2,500 homes delivered or on site by the end of 2022. With the growing pipeline of projects we are bringing into the programme I would expect there to beat least 50 new design opportunities we could bring forward in the next few years, so there are a lot of council homes to build and lot of design work to do.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Im glad that they have finally listened to us.

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  • Tarek Merlin

    Yes! Very positive and interesting move by Southwark, which is very much welcomed. Hopefully this won't the be only one of its kind and will help shape the more progressive direction of procurement in years to come.

    We are absolutely delighted about this. Following on from an article Tarek wrote earlier in the year, (here in the AJ) about how public procurement can exclude many small practice architects, we have been quietly lobbying and meeting and workshopping with some key players behind the scenes to encourage this kind of progressive approach to public procurement.

    We co-hosted a roundtable discussion at MIPIM with RIBA, and then a very positive workshop held with Future of London in the summer, bringing together local authorities and small practices. And most recently we met with the GLA to discuss ways in which we might be able to bring our thoughts together, capitalising on the great work they are already doing with small sites programme.

    Southwark held a briefing day a few weeks ago on this very framework which we attended, and along with many other voices in the room, were able to give very frank, detailed, and real world feedback which has thankfully made its way into the final version of this framework, so credit to Southwark and all involved for listening and responding so positively.

    And to echo Leo's words, and many others recently, there couldn’t be a better time for this off the back of Goldsmith Street’s RIBA Stirling Prize win in Norwich, which couldn’t be a better demonstration of good procurement and the best possible outcome. Just goes to show councils can procure from smaller design-focused architects, create beautiful housing and not break the bank.

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  • This is good news and I do hope other Local Authorities more regionally will follow suit.
    Gayle Appleyard
    Gagarin Studio
    Yorkshire

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  • Plans have been afoot for some time in the North to do just this. Stay tuned!

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  • I guess Southwarks procurement officer was asleep when they made the decision to let a 5 year framework?

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  • Now we just need other Local Authorities – and not just in London – to follow this lead; it can only be beneficial to the majority of the working population and improve our built environment for everyone's benefit.

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