Global Currents

2018, london.

Global Currents was a think tank led by Steven Kennedy from Grimshaw, Javier Quintana from IDOM, Joseph Zeal-Henry from Jestico + Whiles, Chris Worsfold from Wimshurst Pelleriti. And LSA students Robert Buss, James Clarke, Abiel Hagos, Cameron Lintott & Roni Zachor Barak.

#london #research #collaborations #urban #residential
In London, the average house is only affordable for the top 7% of people. The 100% mortgages of the early 2000s were bailed out with the money of those only now coming of age. Yet new rules to reign in these excesses prevent them from getting a mortgage of their own. In the search for enough space to start a family, young people have two choices: continue the unstable and transitory living of their early 20s, or leave the city. They can continue to rent, thereby transferring wealth upwards or abroad; or they can move out as far as it takes to get a mortgage, forcing crippling commutes on to breadwinners and diluting the vibrance of the city by smearing it on to the countryside around.

Humans always strive for closeness, this is how cities came to be; people had the urge to gather together, help and sustain themselves and others more successfully. The outward growth of cities, while inescapable, is counter to their initial intent. Cities are collections of bustling and colourful spaces to which people flock. Sprawling over more and more land defeats their purpose and is, we would argue, irresponsible at best.

Over the course of this term we have attempted to understand what high density should look like when creating housing and ownership for young families in London. The nature of this challenge means we have had to address ideas of adaptability and culture, two aspects we see as key to success in dense situations. Young families are seen as a vital constituent to facilitate social cohesion and community and so they are the barometer from which successful housing must be measured.

Ownership is really the overarching theme of the project – how the house becomes a home. We contend that ownership is the key to good housing, promoting longevity in the community rather than the pass-through housing of today.
Our solution? We propose a new way of funding affordable housing for young families; a way to cement their lives - family, social and professional- into the city fabric. Land values are the root of the London housing problem, yet councils are selling it to developers wholesale in the hope of paltry so-called ‘affordable’ housing hand-outs. Currently, Section 106 agreements are lump sums essentially paid by developers for planning permission. Councils, rather than scrabbling together what money they can for poorly procured projects, should instead be using 106 to reverse the tide, recouping parcels of land from large-scale developments. These sites open up the space for smale scale, responsible and invested outfits, to create genuinely affordable homes that people can move in to for the long term.

Our non-profit developer is called Homely, an enterprise aimed at promoting ownership for young families in London. Its method is to build adaptable units on council land recouped by Section 106. To further increase their affordability these flats are sold slowly, half when families first arrive along with a 15 year tenancy agreement, and half when that agreement expires, allowing for much smaller mortgages spread over time.

However, young families are not just moving out to the suburbs for prices, there is something in the way of living that has been encoded in to the British psyche over the last century. We believe some of this should be retained in high-density proposals to make them an aspiration rather than a resignation. We reject the pancake floor-plate blocks of today for a more sensitive and receptive typology. In the British home drawing you can see aspects of the semi-detached home we have aimed to retain in our unit design. The loft, the subconcious of the house where memories are stored and identity is retained; the stairs, which divide functions in the house and act as an incidental space for the occupants; the front garden, a mediation space between public and private; and the bay window, a space for overlooking and keeping watch on the public space. These elements can all be seen throughout the drawings, bringing these accepted British icons in to the modern highrise.

The unit itself is centred around a desire for adaptability, allowing inhabitants to take ownership of their space. At the most basic level this comes from the L shaped section. Both flats enter on a shared Level 0 but step either up or down to a level that is the full width of the bay. This allows much of that second storey to be left open so that, to begin with, each flat has a large double-height space. Beams are pre-situated in the walls so that, over time and if you so choose, the flat can be expanded from a 1 or 2 bed 80m2 apartment in to a potentially 120m2 3 or 4 bed.

The genuine adaptability comes from the materials: timber is easily workable by a majority of tradespeople or any DIY-eager owner. Externally, cross-laminated timber has been used to create a kit of façade modules as an off-the-shelf choice for most residents, yet, being based on a standard grid, they are easily replaceable and changeable down the line.
This kit contains both introvert and extrovert type parts, allowing users to choose areas of privacy and areas of overlooking where – like with the traditional bay window – you can mind the public space outside. Internally, CLT and plywood make up a modular core structure with all the basic amenities needed to move in, arranged dependent on how you might want to live. Extra kitchen and toilet for letting out your spare room? Know you’re going to be putting in a kitchen and want the extra storage? These core modules are also where the remaining elements of the British home move in to the design. The corridor module, linking two sides of the maisonette, has a loft-type space above it and there is a staircase for linking the two floors of the flat.

Although the specifics can sound rather dry, the reality of this adaptable approach is that units can take on the shape of their users. With ownership over their space and long tenancy-agreements there is real value in investing in your home, adapting and changing it at will. Although this may sound aspirational, it is a pasttime that is encoded within the British traditional home. Seagal’s British self-build, the house extension and the loft conversion are real indicators of a taste for this kind of agency in housing. To get a taste for the kind of variety of approaches to this type of freedom we surveyed over 100 people about the favourite part of their houses to get a flavour of what they might build. These responses have been displayed as graphics on the left hand side and, on the right, each member of Global Currents has taken one of the respondents and hypothesised what their eventual apartment might be like; from the serial party-goers to the ardent cooks.

Yet the idea of a family is far from static. Families can start in any different number of ways, have many children or none at all, most London families are made up from an array of different cultures. Furthermore, as these households grow in to the unit they themselves will change needs. Perhaps Mum retires and wants to spend more time with her daughter, perhaps one of the kids leaves for uni or - more likely nowadays - one kid comes back and needs a place to stay. Those same methods that create a model of customisation also make one that is durable for longer-term and repeated changes. These can be seen in the images overleaf which start to suggest a timeline of choice, building, inhabitation, growth and adaptation.

Although our proposal has a deliberate British slant, there is space for it to be applied more widely. The model and method are sound and so we are left wondering what this might mean in other contexts. What might the typical American bungalow look like in this kind of framework, arrayed throughout New York as a solution to crippling housing prices. What traditional typologies might form the basis for a development in Hong Kong?

In an era of ‘generation rent’ ownership can feel contentious, but the housing rental economy has incredible power to redistribute wealth from the poorest to the richest that we find equally contentious. Modernist, mass produced housing was the height of the non-descript where you became a number in a large machine for living, with mass produced housing there is only so much you can do to create identity. What really makes the house specific to the person is them taking ownership of their own space, with all the kitsch and chintz that involves. Painting windows is an act Hundertwasser realised as a key moment for homeowners. Just having a front door that you can make yours, displayed and beautifully coloured, can give an identity sorely lacking for young families in many modern cities.