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Superdensity driven by 'frenzy of avarice'


Leading architects have demanded the end to the unbridled rise of ‘super-dense’ developments in London spurred by a ‘frenzy of avarice’ from investors

According to a new report, the capital could lose its unique character as its streets and green spaces are overshadowed by the surge in high density residential towers.

These are the chief worries of architects from HTA, Levitt Bernstein, PRP and Pollard Thomas Edwards who today (22 May) fired their latest salvo in their campaign to raise worries about accommodation cramming.

In their new publication, Superdensity: the sequel, they flag up their latest thinking about ‘the immediate social and environmental impacts of very dense developments and their long-term sustainability’.

‘We…observe that super density – [what] we’ve dubbed hyper density when it’s over 350 homes or dwellings per hectare – derives not from London’s distinctive and popular urban forms but from global development patterns.’

Is London becoming a victim of its own success?

‘We may well ask, is London becoming a victim of its own success, meeting demand by sacrificing the very distinctiveness which makes most people want to live here?’

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner at HTA, told a breakfast briefing the report aimed to warn Londoners that vibrant street life in the capital was put in peril by high-density developments.

The city risked being swamped by poorly designed high density developments, fuelled by a ‘feeding frenzy of avarice’, he added.

Andrew Beharrell, a senior partner at Pollard Thomas Edwards said the country was ‘sleep-walking into hyper dense development without proper regard for the long-term consequences’.

‘We haven’t yet reached the densities of Hong Kong but we are heading that way,’ he told the launch event.

The drive for super-dense developments was driven in part by the surge in investment from Asian countries, he added.

‘Most buyers are from Asia and are familiar with this kind of thing. It is spreading beyond London to become the norm for regeneration projects.’

He continued: ‘We are worried about some of the things our clients are asking us to do. It is time for a review.’

The report includes a number of recommendations to safeguard the capital against harmful super-dense developments. These urge:

  • More mid-rise development to meet London’s housing needs
  • Resisting hyper-density with a presumption against developments of more than 350 homes per hectare. These “should be confined to exceptional locations and subject to exceptional justification”.
  • That towers are integrated with “street-based typographies”.
  • An active promotion of street life
  • Consideration given to making service charges in high density developments ‘affordable for all’.

The recommendations urges policymakers against giving into ‘collective amnesia’.

“We have spent the last 30 years trying to understand an correct the mistakes of post-war development.”


Readers' comments (3)

  • Ben Derbyshire

    Since our four architectural practices came together to publish the first Superdensity report in 2007 (Recommendations for Living at Superdensity) many of its recommendations have become accepted best practice. However, the intensity of development in London continues to increase, in some cases way beyond the densities envisaged in our earlier study,so we feel it is time to both restate those principles and air emerging concerns.

    These include the immediate social and environmental impacts of very dense developments and their long-term sustainability. We also observe that this new 'hyperdensity' - over 350 homes or dwellings per hectare - derives, not from London’s distinctive and popular urban forms, but from global development patterns.

    Our report is not another campaign against towers. Rather, it gives positive guidance on how to combine ambitious densities with popular and familiar urban forms and offers case studies of where we believe we have proved the point with schemes at 'superdensities' of between 150 (the now abandoned GLC maximum) and 350 homes per hectare.

    Above that, and into the realms of 'hyperdensity', we believe that further scrutiny is necessary if we are to successfully perpetuate the quality of life currently enjoyed by Londoners. In our NLA presentation (though not in the published study) we also call on the Government of London to instigate measures whereby Londoners can share in any added value generated by such schemes in order to offset the inevitable costs that will ensue.

    Ben Derbyshire.
    Managing Partner, HTA Design
    Chair, The Housing Forum.

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  • Paul McGrath

    Collectively, the architects who have produced this "report", have a stranglehold on housing and housing policy. So by collaborating is their intention to strangle at birth any alternative view on how our cities are to develop? Or is the intention to pre-empt any future debate? The sincerity of seeking a "review" is also highly questionable as their opinion is absolutely clear. Higher density is wrong.

    Nor is their collective ethical position beyond reproach. These architects also have no hesitation in accepting work from Housing Associations who now appear forced to start acting more and more like commercial property developers. Although architects may be an easy target, the militancy of people's reaction to loosing perfectly good tenancies will increase due to Housing Associations using subsidies from "luxury" flats to build so called, "affordable" housing.

    Calling for policymakers to impose yet more restrictions also smacks of a dictatorial approach. Thank goodness the Government did not accept the argument put forward by the same group of architects for introducing mandatory minimal space standards.

    Someone needs to stand up to this group of practices who are seeking to establish a monopoly of opinions on housing.

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  • @ Paul McGrath: The logical conclusion to what you're saying is that experts should not be allowed to write articles. That's ridiculous, particularly in a professional journal.

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