Deborah Garvie: “We must end one room living”

A blog post from Deborah Garvie at Shelter about a family living in a single cramped room, and the need for space standards in new, genuinely affordable housing.

Deborah is an advisor on the project and a contributor to our forthcoming project film, Equal by Design.


Summary of discussions at Housing and Wellbeing Seminar (Part 2)

Ten months after the first seminar on housing for the project, at a time when the national crisis in inequality and housing provision has deepened even further, and the day before a march on housing took place in London, this event brought together colleagues from the Bartlett School of Architecture and Faculty of the Built Environment UCL, the University of Liverpool and ETH Zurich, to consider how wellbeing and design interrelate in: contemporary design teaching contexts; architectural and urban histories of post-war housing, and housing commissions undertaken by small practices.

Across the presentations, the design of flexible or adaptable housing was the most recurrent view about the contribution that design can make to improving housing standards, housing stock provision and quality, and in light of the historical contexts that form today’s situation. However, there were different opinions of how current practices, and historical evidence defines these aims, and how they be implemented to improve current and future housing needs in UK society:

Peter Bishop underscored how the (currently absent) political will to improve the quality and provision of housing has been highly successful when it supports high quality housing design guides and standards (e.g. historically, the Parker-Morris space standards and, more recently, the impact of the Design for London Housing Guide for the Government’s housing consultation). Secondly, this political will has resulted in very successful housing when carried by local authority housing, architect, planning and design teams (e.g. the 1960-80s, London council boroughs, the GLA, Camden Council or Greenwich). Current guidance also emphasises high standards in the ‘performance’ of housing as part of a commitment to environmental wellbeing: by linking wellbeing with environmental design defined by carbon-reduction criteria, cities and their housing can be more strongly established and ensured. Simon Pepper’s ‘three ages of post-war housing’ reinforced the historical evidence of previous political commitment to quality in housing design, highlighting how 1950s-60s progressive Conservative and Labour Governments committed to housing as a political priority, which disappeared in the 1980s, and now wholly absent from the global economic asset-driven context of today’s housing market (e.g. where international property investors purchase flats, especially in London, that will remain unoccupied; or the resale of ‘right to buy’ flats which previously housed a family to be occupied by single young professionals). Stephen Gage also highlighted how the mid-Victorian terrace still provides an extremely resilient housing model for affordable adaptive design principles through which mixed social, economic and environmental standards achieved across different client groups and demographic needs.

For Jan Kattein, Patrick Weber and Sabine Storp, the wellbeing of the client/home-owner or tenant can be improved in collaborative and adaptive approaches to the local public space, and design ownership of a ‘home’. For these architects, design which isn’t determined by the larger professional scaled interest of building standards (and which Jan Kattein felt can stymie the capabilities of the smaller architect to work with their clients, or the ability of progressive developers and Housing Associations to best maximise their provision). Their presentations emphasised the importance of responsive and reflexive design approaches in which the architect collaborates with the household/home provider (Kattein) or recognises non-standard (e.g. non-European) models of adaptation (Storp Weber) so that housing design performance extends the importance of wellbeing from internal space/density ratio to enliven/reclaim external spaces of the neighbourhood as parts of the ‘home’. Patrick and Sabine also showed how a principle of low-cost adaptation has now revived the social housing failure of Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation housing project in Le Briey, northern France.

These nuances of scale of design highlighted how, whilst there may well be a tendency to identify two opposing approaches – that is, the ‘generic’ regulatory approach versus the ‘specific’ singular design approach – also visible are flexible/open-ended design approaches by architects and their respective professional and client communities which do not solely promote one approach at the exclusion of the other. Nici Zimmerman’s graphic modelling of the social, economic, political, environmental and cultural forces that drive the contemporary housing and wellbeing landscape, provided an interesting analytical assessment of how these relations are multi-faceted and complex both on the micro and macro scales. Her ‘long-view’ approach to ‘integrated decision-making’ for improving effective environmental design of housing and the health of UK cities and their inhabitants helped to capture, clarify and visualise the complex formation of wellbeing in built environment discussions.

Finally, in his closing remarks to the day, Adrian Forty observed that the conversations could be defined in three ways: first, that while today’s current political outlook is clearly poor for housing, the presentations show us that architects working with housing are mindful of these situations, but also choose to work beyond them; that is, architects have always, and still do, respond to their political and social contexts by exploring how design can change the built and social realities of their clients and society.  Second, there was concern about whether regulated design standards are beneficial, and third, architects are, perhaps one of the few, or only groups able to make sure that wellbeing is an ethical standard in housing

Adrian’s points highlight that there’s merit not to assume a binary position of either exclusively supporting an approach to regulated housing design or non-regulated criteria; rather a mix of approaches at different scales may provide greater flexibility and effectiveness to tackling the issue. Also, wellbeing is an ethical principle in housing design: for example, also following Adrian’s responses, housing is a social asset in which wellbeing is an inherited or genetic principle of value that does not produce its entire or measurable contribution to society in the immediate present. Instead, its ethical contribution may emerge or be realised over a historical period of time.

Podcasts of the day to follow.

Equalities of Wellbeing Housing Workshop, UCL

This first event brought together our advisory group members, Alex Ely (Mae Architects), Deborah Garvie (Shelter), Brian Quinn (CABE/Design Council), Phil Hamilton (Peter Barber Architects) together with Sarah Wigglesworth (Sarah Wigglesworth Architects and University of Sheffield), Andrea Phillips (Goldsmiths) in a series of discussions which enabled us to draw out links between contemporary architectural and urban design understandings of wellbeing, equality and, importantly in the present time, inequality that informs the disciplines. Held at UCL, it was attended by colleagues and students from UCL and other UK institutions, together with architects and members of the public as part of UCL’s Urban Lab ‘Cities Methodologies’ week of events.

Beginning with technical concerns about standards of provision, Alex and Deborah highlighted how the Government’s current housing standards review follows the guidance on minimum space standards that Alex and CABE have worked on, together with Design for London’s design guide, and which – if implemented – would go some way towards the still much-valued Parker Morris Space Standards. Deborah also very usefully emphasised that the capacity for implementation is vastly increased if standards were to be put into the industry’s building regulations, rather than as political policy.   In the second panel Brian and Phil addressed design and wellbeing relations within the urban context, bringing out issues including infrastructural design (transport), and mobilising the social space of the Southern-European street for driving housing design concepts, as well as housing for the vulnerable where the ‘front door’ is also a key constituent of the individual ‘home’.  In the final session Sarah and Andrea’s discussions brought in the perspective of the rights of the individual&community, where choice enables wellbeing and ‘agency’ for the specific needs of a community (such as the elderly).

Discussions which did not get unpacked during the day – and noted in the summing up by Andrew Saint (Survey of London UCL), and Anne Bottomley (University of Kent) – were issues of land value and property speculation and the long-term management of housing, as aspects that have historically, and currently, very actively determine the capacity of an individual/community’s wellbeing/equality. So very clearly highlighting material for Part 2 of the discussion within the next months….

Beth Lord’s reflections on “Equalities of Wellbeing and Housing” workshop

Our first project event yesterday was a great success, with 6 speakers, 2 respondents, and some very high quality discussion. Much of the material was new to me, making it all the more interesting to think about ways of linking current housing design debates with Spinoza.

For example, it became clear through the presentations that the concept of wellbeing must be understood to be dynamic: it changes with people’s circumstances. This was particularly thematic in Sarah Wigglesworth’s presentation of the DWELL project, which is focused on designing housing for older people. But it also emerged in Andrea Phillips’s paper on how we might develop art – and public art – in housing developments for differing (and maybe unforeseen) kinds of wellbeing rather than in the interests of privatization. Phil Hamilton’s discussion of the projects of Peter Barber Architects, and Brian Quinn’s presentation on CABE’s Building for Life report, also drew this out: different kinds of wellbeing may be served by different, context-specific, approaches to the design of housing and public space. A surprise question that arose was whether access to a car improves wellbeing or not – which reminded me of Anthony Paul Smith’s paper in Spinoza Beyond Philosophy which treats this as a Spinozistic question of “personal capacity vs. environmental responsibility”.

It was also great to hear the development of discussions we’ve previously had with Alex Ely of mae Architects and Deborah Garvie of Shelter; and wonderful to have the interdisciplinary contributions of lawyer Anne Bottomley and historian Andrew Saint.

My own contribution to the day took the form of live-tweeting: a new experience for me, and one that helped me to understand the potentialities of Twitter as a mode of networking and broadcast.

Publications discussed at #EqualitiesAndHousing

Some of the publications discussed by Alex Ely, Deborah Garvie, Brian Quinn, Sarah Wigglesworth, and Andrea Phillips in their sessions at today’s Equalities of Wellbeing and Housing workshop.

London Housing Design Guide

Sustain: A Roof Over My Head:

Shelter: Little Boxes, Fewer Homes:,_fewer_homes

Julie Myerson’s Home: the Story of Everyone who ever lived in our house:

The Design Council: Building for Life 12

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont:

Andrea Phillips, “Art and Housing” in Social Housing/Housing the Social: Art, Property and Spatial Justice:

Equalities of Wellbeing and Housing workshop today: live tweeting

Today sees our first project event: the Equalities of Wellbeing and Housing Workshop at University College London. This forms part of the Cities Methodologies event at UCL Urban Laboratory.

There is still time to register for the event. We will be recording the sessions for later podcasting, for those who can’t attend. You can also follow the event on Twitter: Beth Lord will be live tweeting throughout the day. Follow us @EqualitiesofWB  and join in by using hashtag #EqualitiesAndHousing