The simultaneous growth in demand for new homes and warehouse space is giving rise to innovative new combinations of buildings, writes Paul Finch
There were plenty of architects, and plenty of ideas for discussion, at last week’s annual Resi conference, held in the leafy surroundings of the Celtic Manor Hotel, Newport.
Not the least of these came from Bill Dunster, who presented his latest ideas on the provision of homes above parking spaces, an idea whose time has surely come, via his new flat-pack self-assembly kits. The £50,000 cost of the kit could be repaid in five years at the rate of £500 per month, allowing for a productive deal with the site owner (who could, of course, still use the space under the house for parking). Bring it on!
Design ingenuity at a domestic scale contrasted with presentations by four practices on ideas for inter-generational housing on struggling retail sites, a programme set by Property Week magazine, which runs the conference. Assael Architecture, BuckleyGrayYeoman, Chapman Taylor and The Manser Practice gave quick-fire presentations to a panel, and then faced questions from an audience who voted, X Factor-style, for their preferred design – Assael’s, in this case.
Housing was not the only subject discussed: a varied group of speakers included futurist Calum Chace, who had a nice way of describing exponential growth that was new to me: if you take one step, of 1m, then a second of 2m, then 4m and so on, when you take the 29th step you will have reached the moon. The 30th step will get you back to earth, being more or less the sum of all the previous steps.
He went on to discuss the implication of ‘cognitive information’ and AI for the jobs market and for humanity generally, looking forward to the ‘economy of abundance’, while warning about the problem a universal basic income if it is not big enough. Slightly scary, but tinged with optimism, he encouraged us to think about ‘making the jobless future wonderful’.
Back to the here and now, and a fringe event addressed by Savills research director Kevin Mofid. This was an intriguing account of the rise and rise of a new building type, or rather combination of building uses: beds and sheds, arising from the simultaneous demand for new homes but also for ever-increasing quantities of logistics space.
The calculation is that, for every new home built, you will need 69 square feet – the property world clings to imperial measurement – of warehouse space, to take account of the world of retail and delivery (two-thirds of what used to be called ‘industrial’ space is now taken up by retail or retail-related uses). If the ambition to build a million homes in the Oxford-Cambridge ‘arc’ is achieved, it will require rather a lot of big sheds.
Add to this the implications of low-emission zones and traffic congestion, and you find a new demand for this logistics space in the middle of cities rather than on the edge, hence the emerging combination buildings which include the Travis Perkins building at St Pancras with student housing above; Segro Park in Hayes; the Mount Pleasant complex near King’s Cross, and a Gazeley development in Docklands, described as ‘ultra-urban logistics’. Multistorey facilities are also emerging as the result of rental growth and land shortage.
Where, by the way, does the Big Shed property gang hold its annual conference? Not at Celtic Manor, having been banned, for reasons which have never satisfactorily been explained, since 2009.
Grand Designs changed our world view
It is 20 years since Grand Designs came to our television screens, and has never really left them, in the process generating various spin-offs which owe much to the original, with its hour-length format allowing a fuller picture to emerge than is often the case with TV programmes.
Interviewing Kevin McCloud at one of the conference sessions was enjoyable because of his ongoing enthusiasm for the cause of promoting good architecture and design for everybody. His recent business problems have done nothing to change the contribution he has made to discussion of architecture in public life, any more than Jamie Oliver’s difficulties have detracted from his promotion of good food.