The Bartlett School of Architecture Discusses Ways to Innovate Social Housing in London

On March 9, the Bartlett School of Architecture and ECOWEEK hosted approximately 30 architectural students in a active discussion about housing and the urban fabric of London, with a special focus on the housing crisis currently affecting parts of London.

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During the event, award-winning architect, Peter Barber presented a wide portfolio of his projects, all with an emphasis in social housing. In the beginning of his discussion, he talked about what society, politicians, and the architectural community should do in order to eliminate the current housing crisis. One of his beliefs includes cancelling the ‘right to buy’; a piece of legislation that Margaret Thatcher introduced on social housing flats. His belief is that housing flats should not be privatized. 

London at the moment suffers from a lack of social housing. By stopping the privatization of flats, Barber notes you can also alleviate the increase of prices. After explaining the issue in the context of London, architect Peter Barber presented examples of his work and highlighted a concept he developed called, ‘100-mile city’. His opinion mostly favors low height buildings with density instead of high rise buildings because he believes in the dynamic that street level housing offers. Although ‘100-mile city’ is still a conceptual project,  Barber is trying to advocate and implement the project to the London authority to take into consideration.

Peter also shared his innovative approach to architecture. This includes when he designs, he gives the user some space to become integrated in the project. He uses this technique to provoke their creative reactions. For example, Barber may place a window in an unlikely place, expecting people to interact with the window. Or he may leave the space near the front door free, encouraging residents to fill it up in their own personal style. Peter’s approach generated discussion and opened possibilities for thinking in unusual directions, and in often challenging ways, positioning social housing as an attractive field for young architects.

Additionally, Peter’s ideas help promote improving cities and communities by having a positive impact on the quality of housing and the personal identity of the residents. Improvement of tenants’ perception often offers them equal outside and inside spaces which improves their psychological health and also helps them develop communication skills. The way the houses are being designed offer more spatial qualities rather than focusing on minimizing square mile for profit.  

Social housing in a way, is  currently a ‘hot’ issue, not only in London but throughout Europe – especially now with the increased influx and movement of immigrants. As the number of immigrants grow, the need for social housing also grows. The need is getting higher not only due to local Londoners not being able to afford housing, but also because of the influx of immigrant and refugee populations landing in new countries after leaving their homes. There is no doubt that we need better social housing: not only in budgeted solutions, but personal, carefully designed projects, that give people an opportunity to feel at home in a new country, encouraging easy assimilation.

The ECOWEEK GENIUS event in London generated discussion on social housing, and triggered interest among architectural students. Even after the lecture, a very creative and lively dialogue emerged between the speaker and the audience. The event in London also helped forged a relationship between ECOWEEK and the Bartlett School of Architecture towards future activity on similar themes of social housing, that will not only raise issues and generated discourse, but will also give the students the opportunity to propose new ideas through design thinking workshops.

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