Last month, Brick By Brick, the housing development company set up by Croydon Council to improve access to high quality and affordable housing in the borough, launched a design competition in partnership with the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.
Prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought many issues across UK society into sharper focus (from the climate emergency to widespread inequality) the design competition was focused on creating housing for a better world.
During lockdown, our homes have become increasingly central to our daily lives. This ‘Housing for a Better World’ competition was created to seek out bold and thought-provoking ideas for how our homes can improve the urgent issues of health, sustainability and an inequality for residents and wider communities.
The competition set out to find practices with diverse talent, bring forward positive change within the architectural profession and better reflect the diversity of the neighbourhoods in which they work.
Entrants were asked to demonstrate their commitment to diversity through existing staff or planned action as part of the competition process. As Croydon is one of the most diverse boroughs in London, the winning practice needed to field a diverse team and show how they could respond to local issues to best meet the needs of the local community.
The shortlisted teams presented their ideas as part of the Architecture Foundation’s 100 Day Studio programme (available to watch here), with the judging panel tuning in live before meeting virtually to decide the winner.
Yesterday, the winner of competition was announced…
Jas Bhalla Architects won on the strength of their ‘Parade Living’ concept, which seeks to improve poor quality housing above linear retail parades by providing alternative models of housing. The Practice beat the five other teams to win a commission to design one of the schemes on Brick By Brick’s next small sites programme, which is due to start in the autumn.
The linear shopping parade at the heart of their concept is prevalent across Croydon, with associated housing disproportionately used by minority ethnic groups. These homes rarely meet space standards and are often accessed via undesirable services yards. Through targeted intensification, Parade Living seeks to demonstrate that these locations can provide homes that are generous, flexible and commercially viable.
This concept aligns with Brick By Brick’s ethos of addressing the housing crisis through creating high quality homes on piecemeal infill sites throughout the borough.
The proposals are characterised by dual aspect units designed to work with long and narrow plots. New accommodation will exceed national space standards, providing additional storage and external amenity. Homes are designed to utilise volumetric and/or panelised modular construction to deliver several benefits, including lowering embodied carbon, maintaining high quality and improving viability. Preliminary plans illustrate how offsite manufacturing can be used without creating overly cellurised, deep single aspect units.
The competition represents the first step for Brick By Brick in redefining how consultancy services are procured to ensure that their homes are designed and built by people who are more representative of the wider population in Croydon and London. The initiative is intended to enable the developer to widen its network of designers and start to build relationships with a range of talented practices that have been under-represented in commissioning to date.
Chloe Phelps, Head of Design and Commercial at Brick By Brick / Common Ground Architecture, said:
“We’re really excited to start working with Jas Bhalla Architects. Their competition entry demonstrated an in depth understanding of the challenges facing Croydon in terms of housing quality and high streets, with a clear and intelligent concept. Although we had to name one winner, this process has opened up a new network for us and we will seek opportunities to work with the shortlisted practices in the future. This competition has shown how, with the right process, you can identify talented and exciting practices and architects from all backgrounds. We’ve learnt that by integrating the thinking into the process, the result is a more diverse field – and we hope the wider industry will start to take this approach.”
Pragga Saha, judge and alumna, Stephen Lawrence Trust, said:
“The competition has been engaging at each stage and choosing a winner was so challenging as the shortlisted entries all had different strengths. Jas Bhalla Architects had a strong clarity of concept and their research was fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed being part of this process, and it is a testament to what can be achieved by community driven and diverse practices when given the chance!”
Jas Bhalla, Principal, Jas Bhalla Architects, said:
“We are really excited to have been selected by Brick By Brick, especially given the rich ideas and extremely high standard of presentations given by all finalists. The competition has been a great opportunity to explore new concepts of collective living and discuss ideas in the context of issues such as viability and delivery, ensuring proposals focus on improving housing for under-represented groups. At the heart of our concept is the idea that if we are serious about tackling race-based inequality, it’s important to develop a nuanced understanding how and why different cultures live a certain way. If we can do this, there’s a huge opportunity to not only deliver much need housing numbers, but also bring material change to some of the most disadvantaged groups across the borough.”
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