Category Archives: architecture

The Failed Veenhiuzen Experiment for Dumping of Anti-Social Tenants

There has been a lot of media about the Labour Mayor of Amsterdam’s new policy that:

“Repeat [anti-social] offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighbourhood and sent to a village for scum”

But its been tried before.

The province of Drenthe is a remote area. In the past served as peat mining district and dumping ground for thugs and thieves. Even into the 20th century, Drenthe had an infamous penal colony, aimed at “educating” anti-social types.

There is today even a museum of the colony, Veenhiuzen, now  a World Heritage Site -see Wikipedia

Did it work?  No it became a badge of honour to have lived there, with a Dutch folk singer redoing a version of Johnny Cashes San Quentin (replaced with Veenhuizen) after spending time there for alcoholism.  It also became a school for crime amongst youth.

Id add some nice pictures but WordPress is having a bad day.

Slew of Problems at Kevin Mc Cloud’s Swindon Triangle

Last year we were severely critical of the Glen Howells designed Swindon Triangle project to Kevin Mc Clouds’s Haboakus .

It seems we are not the only ones with complaints

AJ

Issues raised by occupants of the £4.2 million ‘environmentally responsible’ social housing development include water leaks, cracks in walls and ceilings and difficulties with doors and stairs.

Haboakus – which developed the 3,465m² project in a joint venture with housing association the GreenSquare Group – said that contractorWillmott Dixon and the association ‘were working together to resolve the issues’.

In a statement the company admitted it was ‘hugely upsetting that residents have had to bear the brunt of the problems’.

Architects Fail Foul of China Scam

AJ

 ‘The scam, we are told, is usually to get you to China, to wine and dine you, to get you to pay for everything (they say it shows respect), to go to a special shop to buy gifts, and the following day, on signing the contract, to pay a lawyer’s fee of between $5,000 and $10,000.

‘On returning from what seemed a successful trip, you find they have all disappeared, do not answer calls and emails, and you do not, in fact, have a contract.’

The Local Housing Delivery Group – Standards, Standards, Standards – what a poor report #NPPF

The second output of the Local Housing Delivery Group 

set up in 2011 to respond to the Government’s challenge to boost the delivery of new homes, to simplify housing standards where possible, and to support growth and high standards in home building by helping local authorities and developers find agreed ways in which they can fulfil their obligations under the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Unlike the other report on viability – which produced a finished usable out of the box product this report is just a report on problems (‘an interim report’) and seems poorly informed.

I note that no-one on the delivery group seems to be a designer of homes so it is no wonder sad to say, though there were a couple of architects on the standards working. group.

Grant Shapps had earlier proposed a muddles and unworkable ‘local standards framework’

conceived as a clearly costed menu of standards from which planning authorities would be able to select priorities, the overall intention being that the effect on viability of individual developments would be more transparent and more widely understood.

But as many standards will immediately come off the price of land or enable major savings in energy this effort would have been meaningless.

the proposal for a costed menu as originally conceived was rejected due to a lack of support.

The report indentifies the 10  most common standards and then focuses on four areas for further work.  The interaction of the standards was identified as a key cause for concern.

It became apparent from the submissions made by the standards’ owners that they have often been developed for good reasons in response to specific needs or concerns. However some did appear to us to have been created in isolation and without regard to other initiatives. There is criticism of the way in which some standards have been developed, operated and maintained, and the way in which the same requirements may need to be ‘ticked off’ more than once to satisfy multiple standards.

On the subject of accessibility they propose a two or three-tier accessibility model to replace lifetime homes etc.  The group seems unaware of the considerable work on a British Standard for accessibility which would do just that.  No disability reps on the group which would have told them that immediately.

On Energy it proposes to replace the Merton rule – about time too as it conflicts with the direction of travel of building regulations and has encouraged counterproductive tokenist interventions like microgeneration on roofs which create far more carbon in their lifetime than they will ever recover.  No mention though of the massive work done through the Zero Carbon hub to replace the CSH.  Again no expert on the working group – why not someone from BRE?

On Security the report is rightly critical of the Secured by Design Approach as they can conflict with good spatial design.  But again the report fails to recognise that the DCLG commissioned a design guide to replace secured by design and integrates with good urban design, as it was written by some of the same people that did the Urban Design Compendium.  Again no specialist.  We are building up to an omnishambles here.

On Water efficiency it sensibly recommends that part G have varying standards depending on local water stress. But again no Environment Agency Rep.

The bibliobiography is full of holes, no evidence base identified for car parking standards.  Err what about the major report on this commissioned for the DCLG and several other private research programmes.

What needed to be done is for the government to set out its policy objectives and then commission a firm piece of research identifying how these could best be delivered through an integrated set of standards – whether b regs planning, funding whatever.  Practically I think this would require an integrated design manual as well as the two areas are so closely linked.  The model here is the London Housing Design Guide  and Levitt Bernstein’s ‘Easi-Guide to Good Housing Practice’.  Then a firm work programme should have been set out including key stakeholders by regulatory sector integrating with in a programme management approach parallel initiatives such as the Zero Carbon Hub.

This report is a classic example of how you shouldn’t expect House builders to regulate themselves.  They have no incentive to build sustainable, roomy, accessible homes.  The report is shoddy, poorly informed and has already pissed off many many bodies such as the UK Green Building Council.  It also shows how the ‘light touch’ approach to regulation by DCLG is a failure.  What was the DCLG rep doing at the meeting their seems to have been no attempt to steer it back on course.  We expect better from our taxes.

Now ‘Dame’ Zaha Hadid Could Buy the Design Museaum

Building Design reports that Zaha Hadid is favorite amongst the 8 bidders for the Design Museum with plans for an architecture museum.

The Design Museum is moving to the former Commonwealth Institute site.

Congrats – at last – to Dame Zaha Hadid

On July 11th last year we called for a Damehood for Zaha Hadid.

So today we congratulate her on finally getting the big one in the Queens Birthday Honours.

Peel Land Gets First Major Southern Consent – But Uses Good Masterplan for Once

The worlds worst property developer Peel has gained its first South of England planning consent for a 5ha Mixed use scheme at Chatham Docks granted last week by Medway after 2 years discussion.

Quite unlike their North of England monstrosities however they have used good architects 5 plus – plus a good masterplan which shows some coherence of form, urban structure and interplay between land and water.

Is it that in the south unlike the north they know cllrs will not automatically roll over isn desperation however ugly the scheme but will instead demand some quality?

Death in Fake Venice – How a Critical Design Fault may have led to death of 19 (13 children)

The Middle East may have some of the most opulent and extravagant buildings in the world but it also has some of the latest construction standards in terms of fire safety, often ignored in the rush to build.

The Villagio Qatar  Mall is a classic example of opulence, its Venetian themes gives it a grand canal at its centre, 220 stores,  360 000 sqm of retail GFA, Marks and Spencer, Next and Lois Vuitton as well as an incredible footfall for the region (where malls are often near deserted due to oversupply) of 42,000 per day.

Yet this morning around 11.00am a major fire break out close to Entrance three.  Reports from social media suggesting casualties were quickly dismissed however it is now confirmed that there were 19 deaths, including 13 children (including 3 triplets), 2 nursery supervisors and 2 firefighters.

Why was the causality rate so high.  Looking at the mall plans you can immediately see a number of key design faults in terms of means of escape.

We know the fire broke out near gate 3 and two major stores were gutted.  These were likely to be the Masimo and Zara stores flanking the entrance from the TV images.

The major source of casualties was the Gyampanzee children’s play area (B91 on the map) which despite being a high risk play area for children has no direct means of escape the nearest fire exist being over a ‘bridge’ over the ‘grand canal’ and out onto the service yard.  Many would I imagine attempt to pass down the cramped alleys next to the canal where the direct means of escape would be directly to the source of the fire gate three and the better gate 4 being a long dogleg away.  Smoke would have quickly filled the area.  As an open plan mall there are no fire doors.  The poor children didnt stand a chance.

Comparing to British Regulations – and Part E of the building regs has a special section for enclosed shopping centres with malls, you will see dozens of breaches.  In particular I would stress E7.8

Every crèche provided within an enclosed shopping centre with a mall must be designed so that it is -

c. located adjacent to an external wall and has at least 2 exits, one of which must be directly to a place of safety.

No one seems to be owning up to be its architect, however whoever it was should deserve a jail sentence.

Update:  We now learn there was no sprinklers or smoke alarms at the mall – incredible.

What are we looking at? The Selective Release of Architectural Imagery

There is an increasing trend in the staged release of architectural imagery on major projects before submitting planning applications.  Thankfully we are well past the helicopter imagery age dominated by images from viewpoints few would ever see and of architectural models that give little sense of scale or views at street level.

The trend is a welcome focus on street level views, especially of the animated public spaces within a scheme and vistas and links opened up.  A classic example being the release of images for PLP Architecture’s project to redevelop Sampson House and Ludgate House in AJ, what will the scheme look like from across the Thames, no idea.  There are many other examples, perhaps the most breathtaking was the recent exhibition for the redevelopment of Sainsbury’s at Vauxhall – an exhibition focussing on reopened railway arches and ground floor active frontage uses but giving no clue as to the height of the towers on top, and at a riverside site.

The aim clearly is part of the PR/Engagement strategy for the site.  Release images of ‘urban design goodies’ first to get people exited, new open spaces, dramatic new views, life breathed back etc.  Do those images say much if anything about the overall site vision, architectural concept, how it will look from middleground views, is massing and form – no.  So we have imagery of streetscape but not wider urban design – let alone architecture.  So im setting a new rule on here which in vain I hope the professional press follow, not to publish images of schemes which dont allow you to form some impression in your mind of what you are looking at in terms of the form of the project in space. A 30 second sketch on the back of a napkin can allow you to do that – thats all we need, as in the recent skecths for Battersea Power Station for Chelsea, which showed that a large part of the pitch will spill over onto an adjoining waste and concrete wharf in different ownership showing straight away the scheme was a non starter unless it bought and shifted them.

A Readers Guide to Unwin’s Town Planning in Practice – Part 9 – Plots and the Placing of Buildings

Today we’ll cover chapter 9 of Raymond Unwin’s ‘ Town planning in practice; an introduction to the art of designing cities and suburbs‘  of 1909.

Unwins begins the chapter with a discussion of the victorian by laws which allowed development of tight terraces with rear yards of only 25′ depth – which with narrow frontaged cottages Unwin considered inadequate for health and comfort.

It is not possible to fix any absolute limit for the number of houses to the acre which can be regarded as a maximum compatible with health and comfort. Very much depends upon the size of the houses and their arrangement. It is not easy yet to weigh the disadvantages that might arise from enlarging our towns to such an extent as would give a much lower number of houses to the acre all through, but one may safely say that, according to circumstances, the desirable number would be between 10 and 20 houses to the acre, and in this case I refer to the net measurement of the building land, excluding roads. There will necessarily be areas in the centre of towns where buildings will be crowded to a greater extent than this  figure would suggest ; but in any district where cottages are likely to be built it should not be necessary to exceed the maximum number of 20, and wherever possible the number should be reduced to 10 or 12.

The figure of 12 DPA is often given as a rigid maximum for ‘Garden Cities’ but you can see that Unwin was not that rigid, especially for areas at the centre of towns.  Indeed 12 DPA is not that low a density, especially when compared to sprawling American and Australian suburbs.

Indeed 12-20 DPA magically comes out at 30-50 DPH, exactly the recommended minimum density ranges from the old PPG/PPS3.  And we know that even large family dwellings can be provided at 50 DPH where 2-33 storey terraced townhouses are used, as at Bedzed.  We also know that family housing can be provided in streets appearing as single family dwellings at 100DPH  if certain ‘old urban’ techniques are used, as in the Swedish new town of Jakriborg, which is very similar in form to the kind of central city plans that Unwin favoured.

12 DPA was the favoured number simply because of the practicalities of cultivation as it was an essential supplement to labourers wages, such considerations are less important today as not eveyon will cultivate and accessible allotments may in many circumstances be preferable to excessively large gardens which we now know in social housing will simply see quite a large proportion left untended.

Twelve houses to the net acre of building land, excluding all roads, has been proved to be about the right number to give gardens of sufficient size to be of commercial value to the tenants — large enough, that is, to be worth cultivating seriously for the sake of the profits, and not too large to be worked by an ordinary labourer and his family….

it is only the average number of houses to the acre that needs to be very carefully considered from the point of view of health, the exact size of each garden being a matter of comparative indifference. This figure of 12 houses to the acre has now been fairly well tested, having been adopted in the main at Bournville (although here there are some larger gardens), at Earswick, at the Garden City at Letchworth, at Hampstead, and at many other places. That a greater number of houses to the acre than 12 may be planned, and yet produce a healthy suburb is proved onthe estate of the Ealing Tenants and many others.

in terms of cottages Unwin recommended a minimum frontage width of 15 feet for two bedrooms (4.6m)  and 18-20 feet for three bedrooms (5.5-6.1m), varying depending on aspect.  For plots 150 feet deep and 12 houses to the acre an average frontage of 24 feet is obtained (7.3m).  This leaves 100 yard (91.4m) distances between parallel roads.  If there was a significant reduction in these distances then any variation  in grouping would bring houses too close together at the back.

Unwin talks of the Garden City (Letchworth then) bye laws where one rule was that the building occupied no more than 1/6th of the site.  With exceptions for shop and corner sites.

Unwin was critical of the ‘apparent economy’ of narrow long plots as crossing roads in between permiter blocks (as we would call them today) become longer.  He also to the type of dark bye law house with ‘long projections running out behind’.  The architectural term for these is outriggers.

Unwin said:

It is quite a mistake to suppose that it is always economical to put the maximum number of houses which can be contrived on any space…Cases may frequently occur where the loss of ground to provide an additional cross road to open up the centre of some area of land, and the cost of the road itself, when taken together are not compensated for by the increased value of the central area of land thus developed, and it may often be wiser to reduce slightly the number of houses to the acrerather than to cut up the land with too many roads.

Of course this was the key argument in his fanmous 1912 pamplet Nothing gained by Overcrowding.  Today the argument requires some modification as the house /road cost ration is somewhat different and the key argument is now not losing to roads what land could be used for housing.

Of course where inexpensive, subsidiary roads such as have been used in the Hampstead Garden Suburb estate are allowed, it would be possible to utilise this area of land to form a green in front J of the houses on the main road, thus producing an attractive feature in the road, and at the same time securing an additional number of houses by the increased frontage provided around the green.

Though here we have the invention of the cul-de-sac there are four critical variances from modern culs-de-sac non grid layouts, secondly they were for Unwin subsidiary elements, seodnly they did not force a tree form of layout, thirdly they were often car free with central greens, and finally they fiten had filtered permeability to allow pedestrian access to the other side of the permiter block.

A critical element of housing design for Unwin, sadly almost never utilised today was to vary the housing layout and housing plan by aspect to optimise sunlighting and ensure principal rooms gained sufficient sunlight.

to secure the best result possible from any site the architect who plans it should be in close co-operation With the designer of the buildings

Sadly most architects today seem to have had no training at all in site planning and such issues seem like a bolt out of the blue revelation when you do mention it to them concerning the laying out of a site.

Unwin was a great critic of the ‘platting first’ approach to site planning, sadly prodominent especially in American planning.  We might call it Unwins ‘buildings first’ law of town planning.

it is the buildings which must be the primary consideration in laying out the site ; so much so that the designer, if he is wise, will lay out his buildings roughly, not only before he considers the division of his plots, but before he fixes the exact lines of his roads. If he is content with merely cutting up his spaces into what he will ‘ lettable’  plots, there is little likelihood of any beautiful result or satisfactory group ing of the buildings which will be placed on them. Having laid down approximately the position of the roads, the right placing of the buildings must then command his attention; he must decide on the main building lines and masses, placing any important features in his design, such as the terminal feature at the end of a road, or any buildings required to limit the size and give a sense of frame to the street picture which he is dealing with. Having placed his buildings roughly and decided on the general picture which he is desirous of obtaining, it will be time enough then to consider the plotting of the land, working from these important and fixed points. It is usually easy to adapt the boundary lines of the plots to suit the buildings, much easier than to adapt the arrangement of the buildings to any preconceived plot lines.

And on the backs of plots:

Nothing more thoroughly expresses the shoddy character of our modern town development and the meanness of the motives which have inspired it than the treatment of the spaces at the backs of buildings. It seems to be forgotten that from all the houses around such a space the outlook of the inhabitants must be on to the backs of their neighbours houses opposite, but just because these are not seen from the public street outside all attempt to make them even passably decent according to the excessively low standard which governs the fronts of such buildings has been neglected. The removal of the excessive back projections will of itself be a great improve- ment, but a little care in the arrangement of the houses and in their design may very often make the spaces at the backs as beautiful as or even more beautiful than the fronts.

Unwins approach to ‘attractive outlook’ from houses was thoroughly democratic.

it is for the site planner who is engaged in laying out sites for smaller houses, where each cannot stand in large grounds of its own, to secure for as many as possible of these houses some extent of outlook by arranging breaks in the street line, by setting the houses back round greens, by planning his roads so that they may command some distant view or may lead on to some open space ; and wherever a specially fine view is obtainable, by grouping as many of the houses as possible so that they may enjoy it.

Hampstead Garden City being a great example of how Unwin maximised view of the Heath Extension.  .

Unwin paid great attention to corner sites,

The usual modern bye-laws as to open space, requiring as they do that this space shall oe at the rear of the building, and making little or no provision for corner sites, has resulted in the production of the most unsatisfactory treatment of street corners ; and their ugliness has been exaggerated by the want of care in the treatment of the ends of the buildings at the corners of side streets, Some liberty should be allowed in the treatment of corner sites.

Not simply in terms of creating his famous ‘street pictures’ but in terms of economy of layout as where two streets meet rear garden space can be squeezed.  Unwins solution is the famous garden city open areas at corners, including sometimes houses angular to corners substituting side and frontage space for squeezed rear gardens.

Unwins treatment of this issue is supplemented by a considerable number of illustrations of possible corner treatments and I can only recommend reading the original on this point.

 

 

Unwin talked of the prejudices of the public in favour of detached and semi detached houses, and of course they are easier to light and ventilate with windows and three or four sides. But Unwin stressed that grouped terraced houses could obtain similar advantages in groups of three to five houses if the central ones had ‘ample frontage in proportion to their areas’

Taking English Village Greens and cathedral closes as his models for grouping he says:

The tendency of the modem individual has been to build his house in such a way as to emphasise its detachment and difference from  its neighbours, but no beauty can arise from the mere creation of detached units. So long as we are confined to the endless  multiplication of carefully fenced in villas, and rows of cottages toeing the same building line, each with its little garden securely  railed, reminding one of a cattle-pen, the result is bound to be monotonous and devoid of beauty. It must be our effort to counteract this tendency and to prove that greater enjoyment to each householder can be secured by grouping the buildings so that they may share the outlook over a wider strip of green or garden — in fact, that by some degree of co-operation more enjoyment of the available land can be secured than by dividing it all up into individual plots, and railing each in.

Indeed Unwin was not a fan of front fences, they secured little in the way of privacy or protection from dust.   He had seen the American tradition of open frontages and much admired them, although acknowledging that to the English enclosure was an essential feature of the garden, so naturally he preferred hedges and shrubberies instead.


			
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