As we scramble to address the housing crisis and rapidly changing demographics, we must not overlook the positive difference good design can make to the lives of people and communities.
There’s nothing quite like travel to give you a new perspective.
Last year I travelled to Singapore, where I was pleasantly surprised at people’s ability to live in small compact spaces, combined with generous shared inside and outside areas with excellent communal amenities. Architects were designing sky gardens and breaking up tall buildings every 30m (the maximum distance in which you recognise someone’s face) with outside open space. These communal areas encourage interaction, and create opportunities to get to know your neighbours. Clever, thoughtful solutions by designers with people in mind.
Last week I visited China, and the contrast could not have been more stark. Despite all that I had read and been told about the place, I was still shocked by the scale of construction and the acres of concrete. What little greenery there was I found covered with a thick film of dust. There seemed little appreciation or thought given to those of us at a human scale navigating the streets and residual spaces left behind.
Clean, fresh air is something we all take for granted, but when it’s taken away from you, you’re left feeling helpless and angry – tight-chested and red-eyed.
The relentless housing blocks offered few opportunities to nurture any sense of community – ironic I thought, considering the origin of the word. That feeling of “place” gets harder and harder to achieve the denser and higher you build. Too often, spaces and amenities that make a place are lost in the first round of value engineering, or at worst aren’t designed in the first place – something that is common the world over.
As we in the UK struggle to deliver the 200,000 homes a year we need, it’s important to learn from others’ successes and mistakes.
When we’re trying to achieve high numbers, our focus must be on quality as well as quantity: something that those in the developing countries will need to be increasingly mindful of. And as the housing crisis continues to dominate thinking over here, we need to bear in mind that the answer to the eye-watering numbers needed is not always breakneck speed.
the answer to the eye-watering numbers needed is not always breakneck speed.
Above all, we must never forget that houses are homes, homes make a community, and communities make a place… Continue reading on the Building Magazine website.