Are Barratt Homes Almost Alright?

Are Barratt Homes Almost Alright?

By Elly Ward

Lesson 4_1

Unlike many of the other neighbourhoods established in Milton Keynes, Monkston was not conceived as part of the original masterplan and was not designed by an architect.  Developed in 2007, it is a perfect example of modern volume housebuilding – a tightly packed maze of mildly aspirational, predominantly detached, Barratt style ‘executive’ homes.  Typically, this style of housebuilding is not considered ‘architecture’ and is generally either disparaged or ignored by those who practice it.

Why is architecture not involved in this huge segment of the built environment?  And does it deserve to be so much maligned?  The people who buy and live in these homes do not seem to be too unhappy.  One opinion is that the greater public are not informed enough to know whether their homes are good or bad and need an architect to tell them (discuss!), but perhaps it is because they simply do not have a choice, or, could it be that Barratt Homes Are (actually) Almost Alright?

Supply chains and aesthetics aside, I carried out some comparative analysis on a series of homes ranging from two to five bedrooms – some Barratt Homes, and some 1930s architect-designed homes (those seemingly most favoured by homebuyers today given the choice).  Oh, and a original Levittown ‘Ranch House’ too for good measure.

Two Bedroom Houses

Lesson 4_2

Three Bedroom Houses

Lesson 4_3

Four Bedroom Houses

Lesson 4_4

I also looked to some of the modern masters for inspiration.

Lesson 4_5

Apart from the obviously bespoke nature of the commissioning clients brief, one major difference between mass built development housing and architect-designed homes – whether they be 1930’s semi’s or ‘key buildings of the 20th Century’- seems to be linked to orientation.

A one-off home or small cluster of homes can be designed totally for their context, fitted with neighbouring buildings and full advantage taken of the availability of light and views.

Off-the-shelf housing can never respond to the demands of an individual site (let alone eventual occupier) and any decisions about orientation are a case of fitting the required number of homes in a certain area and trying to avoid too much overlooking.

Lesson 4_6

But are we really so defeatist to think that mass produced housing can never satisfy anything more than a basic shelter function, to simply squeeze in as many as possible and then add a few details, trimmings and mod cons here and there to help disguise this fact and persuade homebuyers they are getting something better?

Alvar Aalto once proposed the cherry blossom as a model for mass housing: “all the flowers are essentially the same but no two are exactly alike due to their individual history and position in relation to adjacent flowers, the sun, the wind and so on”.

There must be a way to provide generosity of space, generosity of light, views and moments of delight along with choice, identity and the opportunity for adaption to create individual homes that people truly desire too.  We just have to care more and design better.

Lesson 4_7

Density & Detachment

Density & Detachment

By Elly Ward

Lesson 3_1

Monkston has an area of 73 hectares, a population of 2,145 and a total of 927 dwellings which equates to 12.7 dwellings per hectare.  Of the 927 dwellings, 485 are detached houses, 173 are semi-detached, 184 are terraces and 85 are flats.

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan has an area of 24 hectares, a population of 19,101 and a total of 8,757 apartments which equates to 364 dwellings per hectare.  The 8,757 apartments are grouped into 36 tower blocks that are 17 storeys high.

Both Monkston and Stuyvesant Town have a large central, public green space for residents use and the residents are predominantly – though not exclusively – white, educated middle income families.

Stuyvesant Town is described by residents as being like ‘surburbia in the city’.  This suggests that form and density are not necessarily the driving characteristics of suburban life and that perhaps the suburban characteristics and other successful elements of high density environments could be identified, extracted, tested and reapplied to other low density situations.

Lesson 3_2

Lesson 3_3

Lesson 3_4

Monkston’s most desirable residence is a five bedroom detached house.  To many, a detached house is the ultimate, aspirational dwelling – an impossible dream for the average urbanite but an attainable goal in the suburbs.  Even in a low density, suburban context it can be difficult to satisfy the number of dwellings required without attaching them in some way, and very often the spaces that exist between so-called ‘detached’ houses is laughably minute provoking scorn and disbelief in their desirability.

But it is human nature to not want to be too close to one’s neighbour.  We claim and defend our personal space, visible or not.  Some crave complete exclusion but most people like to be where are other people are and feel part of a community.  Close, but not too close.

Detached.  Not touching.

Lesson 3_5

If each household in Monkston was allocated a one acre plot with a detached house as in the proposal for Broadacre, the ultimate low density city proposed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1932, either a site seven times the size would be required, or the plots would need to be stacked seven storeys high.

Lesson 3_6

If the total area of Monkston was divided equally between the residents, each household would be able to have a detached house on a plot that measured 787.4m2.

Lesson 3_7

If the space currently allocated to streets, public space and SLOAP in Monkston were rearranged and reallocated, it would be possible to award the existing ideal of a detached property with an average total floor area of 168m2 over two storeys on a 354m2 plot to every single household in Monkston in any number of different arrangements.

Lesson 3_8

See “Re-Imagining Monkston : Adventures in Low Density” for more.

The possibilities are endless, but which one best resolves the negative aspects of the suburb and successfully delivers the dream?

The Cul De Sac : A Suburban Icon

The Cul De Sac : A Suburban Icon

By Elly WardStreet layout in Monkston

The word ‘cul-de-sac’ began as an old French hunting term.  It translates, literally, as ‘bottom of the bag’ – where snared rabbits were shoved, face down, to keep in the dark and restrict their motion.

Monkston’s street layout, though attractive in plan and on paper, feels confusing, unwelcoming and suffocating on the ground.  Four streets lead out of the neighbourhood to connect with the main grid roads and two further streets connect with neighbouring grid squares via an underpass, the remainder are dead ends and cul de sacs.

Is the literal translation dangerously close to the reality?

The Cul De Sac - A Suburban Icon

The modern cul-de-sac was invented about a century ago in England, and was adopted by the United States in 1928.  Essentially they are designed to bar traffic and give residents a secluded public space.  The strategy does create safe, quiet neighbourhoods but also lengthens the journey to anywhere else which has given urbanists, planners and environmentalists cause to wage war on this suburban icon.

The case for…

Advocates say cul-de-sacs embody the idea of  ‘defensible space’, now common in British planning and policing, which contends that crime is deterred when access is limited and residents own or take responsibility for the spaces around their homes.  As for safety, they insist, cul-de-sacs win hands-down.

Criminals stay away, they say, because everyone can see the street from their homes, intruders are obvious and there’s just one escape route.  A study that showed burglary rates soared when cycling and walking paths were punched through one British cul-de-sac to create connections.  Another study found crime fell 26% after a ‘troubled’ district in Dayton, Ohio, was restructured to create cul-de-sacs.

Ultimately, most residents insist they are a great place to raise families.  They’re quiet and friendly and kids can learn to ride a bike or play in the road.  Their parents all know each other; visit while their kids play, watch each other’s homes and often socialise together.

Lesson 2_3

The case against…

Environmentalists say they consume vast amounts of land – much higher densities can be achieved  in traditional grid neighbourhoods of straight streets and right-angle intersections – and they create car-dependent zones where inhabitants can create four times as many greenhouse gas emissions as city dwellers.

Some argue that they cause obesity – one study found that, due to their dependence on cars, people on cul-de-sacs weigh nearly three kilograms more than those in other street layouts – and that they are not necessarily as safe as people think.  One British study says the burglary rate is 30 per cent higher and some actually turn out to have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children, the main cause of death being backed over by a vehicle unseen by a family member.

Other detractors claim that they segregate communities and entire neighbourhoods – isolated and insular, they can promote an atmosphere of self-absorption and pettiness that turns its back on the wider world.

Lesson 2_4

I think community cohesion has more to do with shared ownership and common interest than street patterns.  I didn’t see any children playing in the streets and cul de sacs of Monkston, but then I didn’t see anyone doing anything much anywhere in public at all.  Any resident activity was taking place behind closed doors in private homes and gardens.

As for walking, transit and efficient land use, those are all benefits of density, and have more to do with general suburban sprawl than any street pattern.  Grids do tend to house more people per hectare, but the gap between them and cul-de-sacs needn’t be as big as it is.

Would cul-de-sacs be so popular if they weren’t so spacious and so private?  Space and privacy are, after all, key factors of the suburban dream.  Instead of denying people the dream, shouldn’t we instead try to find new ways of making it more possible?

Monumental Suburbia – Just What Is It That Makes A Circle So Appealing?

Monumental Suburbia – Just What Is It That Makes A Circle So Appealing?

By Elly Ward

Monkston

The street layout and arrangement of public spaces in Monkston suggest a beaux arts style, ‘City Beautiful’ approach to its planning.  The most notable feature is Monkston Circle – a huge, flat, public green with a diameter of 200 metres located right in the middle of the grid square and presumably intended as the prescribed ‘centre’ for the neighbourhood.

The scale, absence of activity and sense of enclosure are quite overwhelming.  The houses surrounding the circle form a neat, discreet and civilised horizon line between the immense blue sky above and the green fields below – the suburban idyll?  Or a waste of (public) space?

Monkston Circle

Does a neighbourhood of 927 households really need such a big public space?  And what’s so appealing about a circle?

The following comparative study examines the scale of Monkston Circle.

Lesson-1_3

The next study compares other well known circles and circles in scale, use, arrangement and ambience.

Lesson-1_4

These locations are all far more successful examples of public space which is likely to be attributable to the level of resident activity, the scale and proximity of surrounding buildings and by the more considered use of hard and soft landscaping.

The overt scale and central dominance of Monkston Circle suggest heroic aspirations, but the vastness of the space and yet unyielding density of the surrounding houses generate a peculiar and uncomfortable combination of both agoraphobia and claustrophobia and the level of resident use and activity is practically non-existent.

Monkston Circle exists purely as a monumental, token centre and feels totally out of place in this suburban setting.

Monkston Colosseum

The Suburban Renaissance

Tristram Hunt makes the case for suburbia in The Observer, Sunday 19 July 2009.

“Tight, compact cities such as Florence and Siena have been the inspiration for far too long. We now need to take a lead from Croydon and Kingston-upon-Thames. That would really turn Evelyn Waugh’s stomach”

Read the full article here

The Challenge of Change

The Challenge of Change

By Jonathan Turney

the challenge of change…
Homeowners sometimes need to make changes to their properties. yet the planning system stands in the way of the simplest change if it doesnít meet stern criteria. the sketch is of a novel way of creating storage space in a private parking space.
Page2:
Modi?cation to properties, be it
a conservatory to enjoy sunny days,
a garage for that new car,
or an extension to run a home business,
are common in suburbia.
needs and functions change over time and
with new owners…
Downhead Park has its fair share of extensions and adaptations. They all blend in to the built fabric – constructed of similar materials, and hidden behind walls or in back garden, due to planning restrictions which keep a tight reign on developments…
Page3:
Comparison of Private Space in Downhead Park and Upper East Side
The potential adaptive space in Downhead Park far exceeds that
of the Upper East Side – space in Downhead Park awaits…
Page4:
Residents told me that this garage extension had gone ahead without getting planning permission. If this was the owners back garden, they might be OK, as it is, down itíll come…
Page5:
The adaptation loophole – ìpermitted developmentî regulations
These are developments that can be undertaken without the need to submit a planning application to the local council, often a lengthy and frustrating process. 
Recently updated in 2006, the new regulations give more scope to permitted development, but still creates guidelines which do not help a large number of households due to existing site conditions.
No extension forward of the principal elevation or side elevation fronting a highway.
No extension to be higher than the highest part of the roof.
Maximum depth of a rear extension of more than one storey of three metres including ground floor.
Extensions cannot be within two metres of the boundary of the property, if their eaves were higher than 2 metres.
Side extensions to be single storey with maximum height of four metres and width no more than half that of the original house.
Page 6 & 7:
95 percent are in the back gardens of properties…
1.4 Adaptations per house…
Page 8:
How the suburban detached house isnít fit for adaptation…
The houses are situated in the middle of the plot, which means that the space of the front garden is not permitted for development…
Any development have to be at the back of the house, as the house fits nearly the whole width of the plot…
The development can only go back 3-4m which limits potential of development…
The Cavity Wall construction   so familiar in Downhead Park is costly and difficult to extend…
Page9:
How the adapt-it house exploits the regulations…
The original plot has little space for ìpermitted developmentî (shown in red). The new plot configuration uses a false facade to bring the front elevation to the front of the plot, and sites the house down the side of the plot to allow sideways development.
Page 10
The Adapt-It house (basic model)
Page 11:
The Adapt-It house (with permitted development

Homeowners sometimes need to make changes to their properties. Yet the planning system stands in the way of the simplest change if it doesn’t meet stern criteria. ModifIcation to properties, be it a conservatory to enjoy sunny days, a garage for that new car, or an extension to run a home business, are common in suburbia.

Needs and functions change over time and with new owners.

Downhead Park, Milton Keynes, has its fair share of extensions and adaptations. They all blend in to the built fabric – constructed of similar materials, and hidden behind walls or in back garden – due to planning restrictions which keep a tight reign on developments.

Adaptation - Image 2

 

Adaptation - Image 3

Space for Change

Below is a comparison of Private Space in Downhead Park, Milton Keynes and the Upper East Side, New York.

Private Space - Downhead Park, MK

Private Space - Downhead Park, MK

Private Space - Upper East Side

Private Space - Upper East Side

The potential adaptive space in Downhead Park far exceeds that of the Upper East Side. Space in Downhead Park awaits. It is ripe for change.

However, change is restricted by planning regulations. Residents told me that the garage extension below had gone ahead without getting planning permission. If this was the owners back garden, they might be OK, as it is, down it’ll come…

Adaptation - Image 6

The Adaptation Loophole – Permitted Development Regulations

Permitted Development is development that can be undertaken without the need to submit a planning application to the local council, often a lengthy and frustrating process. 

Recently updated in 2006, the regulations now give more scope to permitted development, but still creates guidelines which do not necessarily help a large number of households due to their particular existing site conditions. Below is a summary of some of the key parameters.

  • No extension forward of the principal elevation or side elevation fronting a highway.

Adaptation-7a

  • No extension to be higher than the highest part of the roof.

Adaptation-7b

  • Maximum depth of a rear extension of more than one storey of three metres including ground floor.
  • Extensions cannot be within two metres of the boundary of the property, if their eaves were higher than 2 metres.
  • Side extensions to be single storey with maximum height of four metres and width no more than half that of the original house.

Adaptation-7c

A Map of Residential Adaptations and Extensions in Downhead Park

Adaptation---Image-8

95 percent are in the back gardens of properties…

On average there are 1.4 adaptations per house…

How the Suburban Detached House isn’t fit for Adaptation

Despite the potential for change offered by suburbia and the permitted development regulations, the typical suburban detached house is not as fit as it could be for adaptation:

1. The houses are situated in the middle of the plot, which means that the space of the front garden is not permitted for development.

2. Any developments have to be at the back of the house, as the house fits nearly the whole width of the plot.

3. The development can only go back 3-4m which limits the potential for development.

4. The Cavity Wall construction, so familiar in Downhead Park. is costly and difficult to extend.

Adaptation---Image-9

The Adapt-it House

In response to the latent potential for adaptation offered by suburbia and the permitted development regulations, and the inadequacy of the typical suburban detached house to benefit from this potential, I have developed my own house design that exploits the regulations. The Adapt-it House.

How the adapt-it house exploits the regulations:

Adaptation---Image-10

The original plot has little space for permitted developmentî (shown in red). The new plot configuration uses a false facade to bring the front elevation to the front of the plot, and sites the house down the side of the plot to allow sideways development.

Adapt-it House 1

The Adapt-It house (basic model)

Adapt-it House 2

The Adapt-It house (with permitted development)

Does this House look like a Workplace?

Does this House look like a Workplace?

By Jonathan Turney

Business-1

On the face of it, not much happens in Downhead Park. The streets are quiet and the place gives you the impression that no one is home. 

 

Business-3

 

However, behind the quiet facades, there is a hidden vitality created by virtual businesses and anonymous offices.Below, the websites and Head Quarters for Penny’s Therapies, SUYA African BarBQ and Ology Consulting.

 

Business-4

 

Mapping Downhead Park’s home businesses reveals a camouflaged suburban business park.

 

Business-2


Comparing Downhead Park MK with the Upper East Side NYC


How does Downhead Park compare with Manhattan’s “culture of congestion”? Mixed-use, diverse, the apogee of urban living…

 

Business-5

 

There are actually interesting similarities between Downhead Park and the Upper East Side. Residences subtly reveal themselves as businesses – in this case an art gallery.

 

Business-6

 

And similar apartment facades hide diverse interiors.

 

Business-7

 

Downhead Park. De-Centralized Business District?


Increasing numbers of people work from home. In the midst of the credit crunch, many businesses will be looking at cutting costs, downsizing – moving the business to an existing property is an option. 

How would it affect our residential communities if the home-workers were more visible?

What would happen if planning rules were changed to allow any adaptations for business purposes?

How would our suburbs react to becoming new De-Centralized Business Districts (DCB’s)?

 

Business-8

 

Here the house currently hiding SUYA African BarBQ is extended to provide a new public restaurant. How else might we enable people to extend their homes to make public value out of private speculation. Can we create a “mosaic of episodes” in amongst the calm of our suburban streets?

 

Business-9