Different

Coldean Community Organisation is GO! by Ian Bailey

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The continuing community led development work in Coldean that Studio Sevens have been helping to facilitate alongside the Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust has led to the setting up of a new organisation! Coldean Community Organisation is a Community Benefit Society which has the express aims of providing affordable housing, sports and community facilities to members of the Coldean neighbourhood. Formed with a board of highly skilled and motivated local ladies CCO is powering forward with the development of its relevant policies with a view to welcoming its first members in the coming months.

CCO is partnering with BHCLT to develop a site in Coldean and provide 16 affordable family homes built to a highly sustainable specification and a substantial community sports facility that will also provide additional spaces for other uses too including commercial enterprise. They will be seeking to raise some funding through grants and community shares as well as conventional borrowing for the project so watch this space and we will keep you updated with how you can connect into the project as it develops.

Studio Sevens are supporting CCO as they develop the project and continuing to facilitate ongoing Have Your Say meetings in the area to maintain community engagement in the collaborative design process for the site and its buildings.

Coldean Community : Have Your Say II & more... by Ian Bailey

During May & June Studio Sevens and the Brighton & Hove Community Land Trust hosted two more Have Your Say meetings in Coldean. These explored further the key themes which were developed from the initial meeting; Green Spaces, Affordable Family Housing, Community Connections & Community Facilities.

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During these meetings members of the community came together to specifically investigate how these themes might develop into tangible projects which would benefit the local people. Small groups of people naturally coalesced around these themes based on their own interests and  working with a combination of collaborative discussion groups, brainstorming and analogue mapping techniques based on local experience they explored opportunities, concerns and associated factors to the development of projects for each one.

These projects vary significantly in their potential outcomes, but carry a common theme of benefitting the community of Coldean in one way or another. Community sports facilities, adult education & meeting spaces, encouraging bio-diversity on the green spaces within the built environment, tree planting and children's play spaces, affordable community owned family housing, cooperative productive food growing spaces, road safety and infrastructure development; all of these different opportunities are all being investigated.

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The next stage will be for the small groups who are taking ownership of these ideas developing them, seeking funding, collaborating with agencies both local and national to enable them to grow and facilitate change. We expect there to be another meeting in the autumn where the groups will feedback to each other on the progress they have made and begin to support one another further with their own learning and experience. In the meantime Studio Sevens will continue to seek funding support for developing a neighbourhood plan which encompasses many of the values and the shared vision for the community which has come out of the meetings to date.

What happens next has the potential to impact the current residents of Coldean positively of course, but more importantly it carries the opportunity to make the area sustainable for the next generation of residents. This relates as much to local infrastructure such as affordable housing, education, health & well being and local facilities as it does to developing a shared vision and common values that help to bind people together as a community.

Kinetic Boundaries : Expanding physical and professional field conditions by Ian Bailey

Stan Allen presents the transition of architecture from object to field as a means of approaching heterogenous space in architecture and urban design. The field is not just “another design trope, in that the field significantly alters the modernist relationship between form, programme and space, as well as blurring the normative boundary between discrete architectural building and larger urban forces and conditions.”(1) This implies that there is a clear shift from architecture as the means of producing buildings to that of organising manifold relationships within an environmental context. Sanford Kwinter describes the field as “a space of propagation, of effects. It contains not matter, rather vectors and speeds, local relations of difference.”

Field conditions are bottom up phenomena that rely upon intricate local connections. A while ago I undertook a project in Bognor Regis to consider the spatial and productive conditions that might form a new masterplan approach to the faded seaside town. It was observed that those connections are critical over many levels of the urban conditions that operate across the town. These connections are critical in ensuring that any intervention (be it physical, developmental, economic, social or political) be successful and integrated into the existing context. Stan Allen states that “Form matters, but not so much the forms of things as the forms between things.”(2) Often theory operates within a vacuum of academia, however it is important that it is applied in real world conditions to test it and develop it further. Here lies the dichotomy of testing ‘bottom up’ theory - it’s arisen out of ongoing practice, fleshed out in academic isolation and re-applied like a laboratory rat, observed and experimented upon rather than growing organically out of an existing condition within it’s context.

Interdependent field conditions as considered in Bognor Regis (S7S 2014)

Interdependent field conditions as considered in Bognor Regis (S7S 2014)

Because Bognor Regis has an existing context of fishing and working into the sea it is conceivable that a development such as that which I am proposing be considered an evolution. The fishermen have always relied upon the tide being in to launch their boats, dependent upon the tidal (field) conditions to enable their interaction with the sea. To expand this field condition it makes sense to facilitate a means that would enable the fishermen to launch their boats at any point during the day (or night). Proposing a breakwater with jetties on the inside offers this to the fishermen as well as giving some safety to the boats and releasing the shoreline from their presence. Facilitating the fishermen to fish at different times of the day enables their field to grow and in turn the connections it has to grow.

Field conditions are expandable, they can be replicated, manipulated and developed. Evolving the existing conditions into an expanded field sometimes means taking the strategy for one program and applying it to another. For instance; the beach along the South Coast often hosts beach plants, many of which are either edible or productive in some way. Because Bognor Regis’ beach was quarried extensively during the 19th century the plant stock there was devastated. Re-introducing Sea Kale, Horned Poppies, grasses and other plants and shrubs will provide a more stable beach condition whilst offering productive space to the benefit of the local community whilst also expanding the ecosystem further.

Expanding the productive field in Bognor Regis (S7S 2014)

Expanding the productive field in Bognor Regis (S7S 2014)

The way that this re-introduction takes effect can be predicted but should not be controlled. Allen refers to artists who work with materials that cannot be controlled, they’re rather directed and the naturally occurring results become the outcome. Similarly with the expanding field conditions there will be a naturally evolving outcome that becomes the overall condition. The sense is that the “matter itself shape and calculate possible configurations, only loosely directed”(3) by the architect or designer. When considered in the context of community this becomes even more important to keep in mind, architects and planning professionals accustomed to considering conditions, analysing potential and proposing opportunities frequently miss out on the opportunity to enable local conditions to define themselves, instead favouring the design approach. This goes against many years of training, turning the top-down approach upside down and starting from the perspective of people, rather than quantifiable outcomes.

Considering the field as a material condition rather than a metaphor enables one to think more about the connections between organisation, matter and making. Often there is conflict between these conditions but considering them as a series of events or activities rather than objects enables them to become part of a fluid and sensitive response to the local differences. For architecture this is a particularly interesting possibility where traditionally it acts as the incoming juggernaut of change rather than the connection between existing systems. These connections often thrive at a local level where ownership can be held and becomes a tangible marker of change in the field.

Generating an architectural field where built forms operate as part of a sequence of events, they’re part of a local process and invested within a particular context is vitally important for Bognor Regis’ growth and development. The sea is Bognor Regis’ kinetic threshold and offers the expansion of it’s field where new spaces and experiences can be formulated as part of a local strategy for productivity. Brighton and Hove has clear geographical thresholds in the form of the South Downs National Park to the north and the sea to the South. With sub-urban sprawl impossible strategyic consideration needs to be given to where the spatial kineticism for the city can be considered, addressed and appropriated to serve the needs of the city, both in a productive and architectural manner.

Brighton & Hove Land strategy considerations

Land is of short supply in Brighton and Hove. As already noted the city is sandwiched between the sea and the South Downs National Park, both of which act as barriers to conventional housing development when homes are developed in traditional low rise or high rise formats with gardens and green spaces as appropriate for the assumed demographics of end users. This context is not unique to Brighton & Hove however given the proximity and ease of connection with London, Brighton & Hove has seen it’s housing market, and housing stock expansion placed under additional open market stress which has seen land prices reach a premium reducing the viability of affordable housing provision. Coupled with the increasing numbers of students wishing to study at the two universities within the city and the lack of campus based housing means that there is additional need placed on the housing supply.

BHCC Urban Fringe Assessment 2014

BHCC Urban Fringe Assessment 2014

With the Urban Fringe Land Assessment carried out by Brighton & Hove City Council in 2014 it was noted that there was insufficient land for the required 5 year supply of new housing stock. This has meant that the city council has had to consider how to increase density within existing areas of housing in the city, replace or convert commercial and office property with housing, and consider how to increase the size of the Marina to provide for additional housing units to be built. These strategies are limited in their capacity, the balance of housing supply with commercial and office space in the city are inextricably linked as the need for employment space has to be considered alongside the increase in population.

As such it is important to consider what other strategies might be viable to increase the provision of land that is viable for housing. These strategies will need to consider a degree of supply duration, but equally the impact on infrastructure, local community resources, green spaces, access to the national park, connection to services etc. With this in mind some options that might be considered with these things in mind are listed below for initial consideration.

1 - Allotments

 At present allotments sites are located across the city, predominantly in the East and the West which forces a large proportion of people to travel via car to their allotment causing parking issues, increases pollution and decreases the frequency of use. The location of the allotments away from people’s homes also means that they have to leave equipment on their site, often having to utilise a shed which is a target for thieves and vandals. This diminishes the productivity and viability of the allotment ideals.

If allotments could be located closer to people’s homes then it would reduce the travel requirements, increase usage and decrease pollution. To do this would require the identification of potential growing spaces scattered across the city. Currently there are a significant number of under-used green spaces which have to be maintained by the Local Authority which could serve as community gardens or public allotment host spaces. Additional some space within larger public parks could be identified and handed over to allotmenteers or community growing groups as has been successfully carried out a Preston Park in Brighton, but is a prevalent system in cities across Europe.

Brighton and Hove allotment distribution map (S7S 2017)

Brighton and Hove allotment distribution map (S7S 2017)

If spaces such as these could be appropriated for growing, it would have a manifold impact; Firstly it would see under-used spaces in the city obtain a level of public ownership, this in turn could eliminate the Local Authority maintenance requirements thereby reducing workload and budget. Secondly in allocating existing allotmenteers to these spaces would free up spaces on the existing sites. If carried out on a like for like basis this could enable a complete re-think of how allotments are provided across the city. Thirdly, by using public spaces for growing food it raises the profile of more sustainable methods of food production within the city, reduces food miles, reduces use of pesticides and GM crops, increases bio-diversity within the urban centre, enhances opportunities for demographic and ethnic mixing and cohesion and potentially has the capacity to increase CO2 absorption and carbon capture too.

The notion of re-considering the location of allotments within the city will have significant implications for those people who have held sites for many years and consider it to be part of their life and connection to the city. Uprooting some of these allotmenteers would have to be carefully considered, timetabled and managed to prevent any sense that people are being disenfranchised in any way. Case study cities & towns such a Berlin, Havanna, Chicago, Bankok, Todmorden, Rosario (Argentina) & Harare can provide exemplars of how such systems have been strategically implemented and managed to maximise benefits to the public and the municipality.

2 - Car parking

Across the city of Brighton & Hove there are a number of significant car parks which take up large land footprints and serve to encourage the use of Petrol & Diesel engined vehicles through their minimal offer of electric charging points or alternative fuel supplies etc. Car parking in the city is frequently cited as being one of the most contentious elements of public engagement for any local authority, both in terms of street based permit parking for residents, but equally with regard to the ever increasing cost of leaving a vehicle in the city for any duration of time.   

Such considerations relating to the cost of parking cannot be separated from the increasing cost and viability of alternative and more sustainable transport systems such as buses, trains, cycling and walking. The implementation of sustainable transport routes for bicycles and buses in the city coupled with the reduced speed limits across the city have been met with high levels of anger with the principle complaint regarding the increased time it takes to drive a private car in and out of the city centre. It should be noted that there is no incentive for people to utilise public transport when it costs more than parking a car. Equally dis-incentivising is the limited provision of safe cycle routes covering the whole city. To properly encourage an increase in zero carbon transport such as cycling it is imperative to make it viable for all age groups, at present it is impossible to safely cycle across the city with young children and as such cycling cannot being fostered as a principle form of urban transport as has happened across cities in the Netherlands for instance.

Increasing opportunities for sustainable transport and in fact doing more to encourage it ultimately results in a reduced need for public car parking in the city. It will not be viable, or even preferable to eliminate it altogether, however it is possible to consider how it might better be integrated into new development across the city to free up the current parking sites for alternative uses such as housing. Many other cities across Europe utilise local planning policies to provide vehicle parking underground, below both existing and new developments. As a result streets are generally less occupied with vehicles, and there are less significantly sized parking developments taking up urban space. In Japan and other far Eastern countries where urban densities are extreme in contrast to here in the UK, below ground car parking is the norm and can be incredible in its ingenuity and scope.

If Brighton & Hove were to implement a local planning guidance which stipulated that all new commercial and residential development had to provide car parking below it’s street level, and of significantly higher numbers of spaces that the bare minimum then it would be possible to redevelop the existing multi-storey and open plan car parks across the city to provide the additional housing which is so needed.

3 - High rise development

Proponents of social housing will expertly argue that the issue of housing density, and in particular the elevation of housing density is inextricably linked to increased levels of social deprivation and decreased quality of life and opportunity for residents. It is also frequently argued that high rise developments offer far less safety for residents in the event of a fire as so recently and tragically exemplified at Grenfell Tower. It has also been successfully argued many times that high density housing is not only possible through high-rise, but it is equally viable through low rise, traditional terraced housing provision.(4)

The proposed high rise development at Preston Barracks by the University of Brighton

The proposed high rise development at Preston Barracks by the University of Brighton

It is therefore not necessarily the best course of action to pursue high density, high rise options when considering the maximisation of residential units on any particular site, or within a particular area of a city. However, the same cannot be said for utilising high-rise as a method of increasing other forms of accommodation such as commercial/office space. Where offices are only occupied for half of any given day they do not suffer the same social issues such as loitering and anti-social behaviour, increased risk of fire through overnight occupation, diversification of ownership through freehold and leasehold conditions resulting in reduced maintenance programmes etc, they also do not have the same requirement for outside space which goes with the provision of decent homes for people.

It must be viable to look at how the provision of commercial/office space in the city could be combined. For instance, rather than allow two 5 storey office blocks to be constructed within a certain radius of each other, a single 10 storey office block could be built thereby enabling the second site to be developed to provide homes. This of course has significant implications for a multitude of considerations; project development finances, ownership/partnerships for developers and firms, overshadowing within the city and rights of light, shared responsibilities for maintenance between firms etc. However, as with all such strategic approaches there are also benefits to be considered; financial risk spread between development partners, reduction in number of building sites has positive impact on the city, increased height of building also increases the opportunities for developing more sustainable buildings with reduced energy needs & enhanced energy production opportunities through Photo-voltaics etc.

This approach would require firms to work together, this perhaps therefore requires a more substantial mind-shift for prospective developers as well as owner-builders which steps away from the currently preferred approach of building/ownership for self alone. This is a mind-set which is not only seen in the commercial sector but equally (perhaps even more) within the housing sector. It requires building development to be considered as a more integral element to the built environment and city community as a whole rather than being a stand alone element. Encouraging the sharing of buildings has to be based on a recognition of the need of the city as a whole, enabling and ensuring that commercial development plays it’s part in the provision of housing supply.

4 - Roof spaces

 We can consider roof spaces as out of reach, as un-available, as non-viable. In the UK and certainly a majority of the developed world utilising roof spaces for residential development is not acceptable. It is perfectly normal to assume that it is open for business however, whether this is advertising, telecommunications, energy generation, plant location, aerial transport hubs etc. In the developing world it is frequently considered normal for roof spaces to become occupied by shacks, to have shanty dwellings layering on top of each other creating a geological vernacular. Even in cities within the USA roof spaces are utilised by those who keep pigeons, this who want to grow food, those who want to socialise. Frequently this access is only available to those who occupy the buildings however as homelessness increases within the developed world these spaces have the potential to become safer spaces for rough sleeping than the streets.

Black House by Simon Condor Architects is built atop a C.19th Warehouse

All of this concept relates to issues of ownership, both of the building itself but equally relating to the air-rights above it. As such legislation within the UK prevents access to the space above a building by anyone other than the owner of the building. It’s unclear as to how these factors are considered in the rest of the world. There have been examples of rooftop development within the UK in recent years, frequently small pavilions for small scale and short term occupation, but also some full residential development. 

Pragmatically the structure of the building might not allow for development, however given our historic building methodologies, particularly our affiliation and affection for substantial masonry buildings there is often more strength in the structure than might be immediately apparent. Opportunities for increasing occupation upon and within a building offer a method for increasing density in all areas of the city. The additional issues revolving around rights to light and wind loadings will undoubtedly affect the viability of rooftop developments both within the city and on it’s fringes however this and other issues should not be seen as a blanket reason not to investigate opportunities to develop above existing structures.

Rather than simply considering land opportunities on the terra firms we need to consider what opportunities there might be above (and below) the general plane of existence that is Ground level. Utilising the roofscape as a new territory within the city diversifies the opportunities available for housing supply within the city, perhaps best suited to small scale intervention to support those suffering disadvantage resulting in homelessness. Elevating the needs of the poor demonstrates that all people deserve housing, not just those who can afford it.

5 - Community Air Trust

So whilst Community Land Trusts are a well established and increasingly popular approach to enabling communities gain long term secure access to housing and other assets no-one to date has explored the idea of enabling community access to the air space above the city or built environment. This might sound utterly ludicrous; surely there could be no genuine or provably beneficial use for the air space above a neighbourhood other than in the provision of the correct gases to keep people breathing and plants growing? However, without exploration how would we ever figure out whether this is possible, viable and/or suitable? It sounds like something from Science Fiction to consider accessible spaces floating in the sky, however history has shown us that sometime it is precisely the inconceivable approach of sci-fi that leads people to develop technologies and approaches that revolutionise how we live.(5)

I would not intend to even begin to explore the potential difficulties or opportunities that such an idea could present, that should be reserved for a more specific study, however the notion that communities could be elevated above the ground should not be thrown away too lightly. To return to the introduction of this paper, considering spatial boundaries, kinetic thresholds and the ‘normative boundaries’ as Stan Allen describes them, is essential to the development and growth of our communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities as we seek to consider the changing environmental factors that we have inflicted upon ourselves.

6 - Densification

 Many parts of the city are chronically under developed, that is the density of development is exceptionally low. Buildings are spaced out in a manner which prevents pragmatic and efficient use of the surrounding land, diminishing the opportunities to infill between buildings and expand existing buildings. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently referred to the UK as an intensely crowded island, however, only 5.9% of the UK is actually built on. Here in Brighton and Hove that figure is considerably higher as we are a city and therefore it would be expected.

Brighton stats.jpg

 As can be seen in the statistics above Brighton and Hove as an urban centre has higher percentages of buildings and (perhaps surprisingly) urban green spaces whilst having a lower percentage of farmland and what might be considered natural designation. When compared with another city, such as Portsmouth, just along the coast which is coastal locked in three directions Brighton and Hove is still not particularly densely developed. Portsmouth is ~40.25km2 in size with a population of 205,400, whilst Brighton & Hove is ~87.5 km2 with a population of 278,000 people. This gives Portsmouth an average density of 5,103 people per sq/km, whilst Brighton & Hove has a much lower average density of 3,177 people per sq/km. As a city we do not utilise and maximise the space available for development, in the case of housing supply this means that we have the opportunity to consider how to infill, expand and densify our city.

Portsmouth stats.jpg

7 - Land reclamation

 As a city we are locked between the South Downs National Park and the Sea, with townships to the East and the West there is nowhere new to extend the city boundary within the conventional methodologies. Elsewhere in the world land reclamation is a common approach to increasing housing and commercial development. Cities such as Boston in the USA, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Kobe in Japan, Hong Kong and Macau in China along with large parts of Bangladesh, Bahrain and Singapore have all reclaimed significant amounts of land from the sea for building on. China has reclaimed 4,600 square miles of land, proportionally to the size of the country this is minor, however the Netherlands has reclaimed 2,700 square miles of land which for such a small and densely populated country is enormous, it equates to 17% of it’s land mass. Couple that with the Netherlands becoming one of the (if not the) most productive farming countries within the European Economic Area and there is no dispute over how valuable land reclamation can be for a nation.

Netherlands Land Reclamation map

Netherlands Land Reclamation map

Brighton Marina represents the only place where in Brighton we have dared to reach out into the seascape. Given the exposure that the Brighton & Hove coastline has towards the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean any development has the potential to be seen as in the direct firing line of the prevailing winds and storms. Depending on how any development were conceived it is entirely possible that developing out at sea could generate an enhanced resort location along the Brighton seafront by breaking the influx of heavy swells further out to sea thereby calming the waters closer to the historic coastline.

Development along the seafront would require consent and buy in from the Crown Estate who own approximately half of the UK’s foreshore and tidal riverbeds along with almost the entirety of the seabed out to a distance of 12 nautical miles from the foreshore. This presents a significant planning hurdle which would have to  be presented and formulated in conjunction with the Local Authority and National Government as it would form a precedent for development elsewhere in the country as well.

Development out at sea has implications for energy production as well. The Rampion wind farm off the coast is a massive feat of engineering but is limited to just that. It’s provision of significant electricity for the nation should not be diminished but the opportunity to develop at sea needs to be considered for whatever manifold opportunities might be possible.

Conclusions

Developing a housing strategy for Brighton & Hove cannot be solely confined to the conventional approaches, as a city we face extreme needs within a social context of change and an environment of increasing threat from climate change. Whilst it would be unreasonable to assume in any setting that such diverse options as set out above could be delivered purely by a community led approach, incorporating thinking such as this into an overall strategy for housing supply would enable the Community Led sector to approach the challenges with wider eyes than conventional developers could ever conceive of. As a city we need to be prepared to push the boat out and take some risks for the benefit of our communities, families and the next generation of residents.

For professionals this means stepping out of the comfort of our normal operating conditions, rethinking why we do what we do even. The challenge this presents to the profession is as significant as that for the built environment; if we remain within the current legislative and professional conditions which are well established (but regularly attacked) then we simply entrench ourselves. Architects, designers and creatives are naturally inclined and professionally trained to think around situations in a different way, to approach the field without fear of how the boundaries might be re-adjusted, blurred or manipulated to create the kind of society and conditions which we need for the future.

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Footnotes

 1 - Allen, Stan. Practice, Architecture, Technique and Representation. Routledge, 2009

2,3 - ibid

4 - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2015/feb/18/should-london-embrace-the-vision-of-create-streets

5 - Technology - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-inventions-inspired-by-science-fiction-128080674/ Society - http://www.thestargarden.co.uk/Why-society-needs-science-fiction.html

6- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41901294

7 - http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-reclaimed-land.html

(ANTI)SOCIAL HOUSING : PEOPLE OR PROFIT? by Ian Bailey

***Originally posted 14/11/2014***

The UK economy is inextricably linked to the housing market, this is played out with the ever inflating house prices of the nation somehow saying that our economy is growing thereby promoting confidence in the global markets for the benefits of national investment, funding, employment etc etc. I recognise that such global forces are important and here to stay, however I am very uncomfortable with the fact that house prices are becoming exponentially higher than can be considered affordable, that is, beyond the reasonable reach of the general population. The average monthly private rent in the UK (excluding London) is now £728, and £1,466 in London, it said. Despite the falls in areas such as Scotland, the south-east and east Midlands, overall rents have risen by 8.2% across the country in the last year, said HomeLet, part of the Barbon Insurance Group. Even excluding London from the figure brings rental inflation to an annual 4.6%. (LINK)

The above referenced article states that house prices around the South East are rising so fast that they are outstripping London’s. The majority of people who live and work outside of the capital are therefore in direct and untenable competition for housing stock with three main groups :

1 – London workers (who tend to earn a capital weighted wage) looking for a commutable home

2 – Students – Houses in Multiple Occupancy are a fast rising housing category (and business venture) which reduces the availability of family sized homes

3 – Oversees investors looking for financial returns from the UK housing market rather than a home to live in

The capitalist and conservative mantra “competition is good for business” hangs heavy here. FOR BUSINESS. When did people’s ability to afford decent housing become an issue of business? Housing is a commodity just like everything else these days, therefore why should we – the general public, the citizens of this country – consider ourselves to have any kind of right to affordable housing? We are expected to compete, just like the businesses (private landlords included) who own, rent or build our houses. Let’s have a look at the 5 reasons why capitalism is good for business (according to Forbes anyway) and analyse what this actually means for the housing market and the provision of affordable and decent quality homes.

The housing market is a business playground at the expense of the public

The housing market is a business playground at the expense of the public

Competition leads to innovation

“Competition leads to innovation. If you’re the only player in your field, it can be difficult to improve. And if you’re working in a crowded market, you won’t succeed by doing what everyone else does. Healthy competition encourages change which will distinguish your company from others.”

I am struggling to see areas where innovation is taking place in the housing market. Whilst we regularly see architects and designers coming up with exciting homes for wealthy clients or compact and modular concepts for social housing how often do they come to market? The only idea that I can think of that has actually made it to the market place in the last decade is the utilisation of shipping containers for housing, (LINK) and that’s nothing new given that people have been utilising them for housing for decades all over the world. One of the biggest reasons why innovative ideas don’t make it to the market is because of the associated requirements that go along with the material product itself, namely insurance and finance. New products are risky, this means that both lenders and insurers are reluctant to lend on them, if people can’t access security to acquire an innovative home then they can’t have an innovative home. Competition is squashed enabling the businesses to control the market. The notion of the market controlling itself is a lie.

Container City in London is a mixed development of work spaces and homes

Container City in London is a mixed development of work spaces and homes

Compete for customers

“As one of several companies offering a similar product, you are forced to compete for customers. Improving your customer service will garner loyal followers.”

In both the rental and purchase sector estate agents are considered to be one of the most loathed professions within our western society. (LINK) After interacting with many different agents within the housing market over many years I am yet to find an agent that offers good customer service from a genuine care for their customers. A combination of arrogance, greed and intentional confusion creates a smokescreen that enables agents to hold onto their market without having to be better than their competitors.

ESTATE1A.jpg

Competition shakes off complacency

“Competition shakes off complacency. If your company is consistently trying to innovate and better itself, your employees will be encouraged to push themselves.”

We’ve already addressed the idea of innovation in the housing market and noted that the lack of products (both tangible and financial etc) however the issue of complacency is one that reaches further into the ideas surrounding new products and their ‘need’. An industry that does not bring new products to market demonstrates it’s underlying sense that there is no need for innovation. Clearly this ‘sense’ demonstrates a complacency within the industry, one that is reducing options for people and one that does not seek to encourage it’s employees to ‘push themselves’.

If the market is stale and has no determination to push into new ground then it will either atrophy or it will embed itself. Presently we witness a housing industry which has embedded itself in our economy, political arena, society and culture with a root that goes down very deep. Estate agents, landlords, property managers, housing officers all the way up to politicians are not pushing the industry forward, they are actively seeking to maintain a system that presents strong figures on a balance sheet rather than one that seeks to serve it’s citizens with divers, affordable, accessible and innovative housing solutions.

Targeting your core audience

“Competition forces you to focus on your core audience. If you are targeting a specific geographic location or demographic, market challengers in that setting will encourage you to pay attention to your target group. In doing so, you will be able to better provide for your customers.”

In recent years there has been a strong push towards provided people with the means to purchase property. This has come through several means; government backed schemes to provide affordable housing (homes priced at 80% of ‘market value’ – market value is an issue that I will address in due course), key worker loan schemes,  social housing schemes are a few of them. The purchase of property is seen in this country to be a badge of success, something that defines an individual or family as being somehow successful. There is still an unwritten and unspoken stigma attached to renting a home. Part of this stems from the fact that there is a sense of stability associated with owning your own home, especially where there is little security for those in the private rental market to ensure long term tenancies where required or requested.

The core audience for the housing market is therefore those who do not own a home, the targeting of this demographic demonstrates that housing (as an industry) is being driven by economics rather than the needs of people and their constraints.  There is no no driver for the industry to better provide for it’s customers as the are no market challengers, there is no alternative to the current system of mortgage or rent.

There is a stranglehold on the new build market which restricts choice

There is a stranglehold on the new build market which restricts choice

Competitor analysis

”Seeing what your competitors do well can teach you about your business. Their practices will provide you with valuable insight into the state of the market, and help show you what works – and what doesn’t.”

As we’ve already discussed the housing market is restricted to only a few traditional products and services, it is maintained by companies, firms, agents who have little drive to deliver innovation or offer alternatives and is underpinned by a financial and insurance sector reluctant to enable change or development. With that somewhat damning conclusion already compiled it is difficult to see how any of these actants in the field might compare themselves to their competitors to gain any valuable insight. The practices observed would likely only serve to galvanise the existing system and further hold onto the industry.

So, doom and gloom, what can be done? A pessimist will say that’s it, there is nothing anyone can do. A cynic will claim that surely something could be done, but it won’t happen because there is too much investment in the existing system to see any real change. A sceptic will think that this is yet another conspiracy theory that seeks to make us think that we don’t have the control we think we should in our democracy. An optimist will look at all the innovative schemes being presented by designers, architects, free-thinkers, activists and writers who have presented ideas and concepts – some of which have become reality for a while – and see them as signs of hope. A pragmatist might analyse some of these options and argue how they might fit into the existing system somehow, somehow shoe-horning finance, policy andconstruction issues into the shiny-black shoe of the status quo. I’m sure there are many more positions I could set out, where do I sit though? I sit somewhere between the pessimist and the pragmatist. As an Architect I choose to innovate and design, I expect and welcome change and I hope for good results. As an introvert thinker I despair that we live in a country with such heavily engrained systems that changing anything as fundamental and primary as housing is a mountain too high. I do however have a tendency to be git. That is, I have a tendency to be a little like a dog with a bone, once I’ve started working on something I don’t like to let it go. I want to find a way to begin changing the way we design, finance, build and live in our housing, I want to challenge the market.

So I started out looking at the inextricable rise in the cost of housing in the South East of the UK, by looking at the fundamental ideas behind our capitalist approach to the housing market it’s clear that there are several findings that come out of that.

1 – The housing industry requires a fundamental overhaul; from it’s under-pinning finance, means of delivery, practical outcomes and methods of maintenance. Unless alternative options become widely available and well supported by the financial and insurance sector the existing system will continue to increase in it’s rigidity and top down approach to access.

2 – The housing market is the main driver for our economy being in ‘growth’. Our entire economy is being lauded on the activity of a sector that is tightly controlled, uncompetitive, un-innovative and forcing people into insecure housing situations and in some cases poverty. When set against the financial backdrop of the constantly rising price of energy, fuel, food, transport and the stagnation in the rise in wages amongst the majority of the population the economic picture becomes less rosy and more rose-tinted.

3 – The existing housing market is designed to maximise profits, not prioritise people. As a result the systems in place seek to inflate prices wherever possible and restrict any such instabilities such as competition or innovation which tend to cause prices of conventional options to fall to maintain their position in the market. Clearly this is not so much a free market as a carefully controlled market, and one which through it’s methodology and practices demonstrates that when it comes to housing in the UK people are not the priority, profit is.

So what comes next? Let me tell you what I am working on in my home city of Brighton. It’s probably better if I cover it in more detail in another post however the headlines are:

  • City-wide Community Land Trust that ‘looks after’ Local Authority land in perpetuity for community benefit. This is arranged through peppercorn leaseholds, gifting or sale at ‘best consideration’ utilising quality of life and offsetting other costs as value rather than just money.
  • Land trust acts as interface between communities and the Local Authority to enable appropriate and beneficial development of that land for said communities rather than the usual profit led approach to development.
  • Land costs are eliminated from housing development equation enabling genuinely affordable homes to be built with mutual finance options available
  • Any housing is protected from the open market through the Land Trust ensuring that the homes remain affordable with prices (both purchase or rental options) pegged to local wages rather than perceived market value / estate agent’s whims.
  • Utilisation of local contractors and provision of on the job training / apprenticeships to benefit local people,  the local economy and the local employment market.
  • Lower housing costs results in greater expendable income which again ultimately benefits the local economy ensuring higher quality of life for more than just those who live in the CLT developments.

These are only headlines, there is A LOT of detail to still work out but if you have any questions please ask them on twitter : @bahclt or email them to info@bhclt.org.uk

HUMAN NATURE : MACHINE ECOLOGY by Ian Bailey

***Originally written back in 2012 or so***

“We live in a machine culture; in our daily lives, we are more and more surrounded by and interfaced with machines. We are no longer, like our ancestors, simply supplied by machines; we live in and through them. From our workplaces to our errands about town to our leisure time at home, human experience is to an unprecedented extent the experience of being interfaced with the machine, of imbibing its logic, of being surrounded by it and seeking it out.”  Phoebe Sengers

Cars, household appliance, healthcare, telecommunications, long distance travel, surveillance, farming, entertainment, gardening, construction, demolition, security, access, sport, lighting, play, leisure, industry, business, banking, trade, death & funerals, music, war, food, time, heating, cooling, writing, disabilities, pregnancy & birth, shopping, education, religion etc…

All of these things that form our cultures, societies and our present human ecology exist with, because of and through machines. Some of these aspects of our lives have gradually developed from human/nature interaction, whilst others have been facilitated through the development of machines and technology, throughout human history as a direct response to the perception of human need or growth. We, as a species, are defined as ‘higher’ than other animals through our ability to make tools and equipment that facilitates our engagement with a subject. This higher intelligence has enabled us to gradually redraw our ecology, taking us from nature reliant to being machine reliant; fundamentally changing our systems of survival, growth, trade, national boundaries, war and peace, etc.

“Technology is a force of Nature. It is the force of the human presence in the world.” Paul Shepheard

This shift in our ecology is clearly visible – it is not just in the urban centers that demonstrate a tangible machine reliance, a trip to the local farm will reveal a huge array of machination that enables the production of vast amounts of raw food product and land cultivation. The city could be considered the epicenter of our machine ecology; it’s bias toward efficiency, growth and commerce has meant that the systems of city occupation are entrenched within the use of machines. From traveling around a city to accessing your home, to entering and exiting a shop or office or even communicating with friends and colleagues – all these systems are utterly reliant upon machines to ensure they operate correctly and maintain the city’s ecology of control and conformity. As a race we broadly appear to thrive upon conformity, schedules and systems of control, therefore it is no surprise that machines with their binary position would have become such a favorite creation.

Cities are the focal point of developed society, they are the location of choice for higher education, technology, commerce and politics and as a result are the most densely populated sectors of human inhabitation. They demonstrate some of the greatest disparity between the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled, such disparity would not seem to be becoming of a ‘machine’ like state, yet cities operate like a machine; made up of many systems, networks and smaller machines in sync to maintain an equilibrium enabling them to continue to grow and develop. Today’s Architects of the city have the task of knitting their buildings and their interventions with the built environment into a machine ecology, one that operates a a multitude of levels within our society and culture, our political systems and economic framework. These levels are all touched and influenced by the increasing technological advance of the machine ecology itself, as our machine serfs gradually become more and more capable of complex functions they will take on new roles within our homes, cities & built environment.

“Am I a man or machine? There is no ambiguity in the traditional relationship between man and machine: the worker is always, in a way, a stranger to the machine he operates, and alienated by it. But at least he retains the precious state of alienated man. The new technologies, with their machines, new images and interactive screen, do not alienate me. Rather, they form an integrated circuit with me.”  J. Baudrillard, “Xerox and Infinity”

Le Corbusier’s statement regarding the house as a ‘machine for living’  is much quoted and as such has begun to become synonymous – rightly or wrongly – as a nexus point between buildings and machines. The machine is a tool, it is an intervention between man and his ecology and as such Architecture through buildings fundamentally changes the ecological landscape, not just from a ‘nature’ or even visible perspective but from a social and cultural standing. The way we build and the way we live changes changes our ecology and at present this is through most unnatural technology. Today’s buildings are smart, they incorporate a machine nature that enables them to self manage, self sustain and in some instances request change from their human occupants. This building intelligence is is another step away from nature, despite the fact that we are more and more aware of the necessity of understanding and maintaining the natural world for our own existence. The human condition is a duality; a recognition of our reliance upon nature whilst making every effort to create a new nature.

It is this determination to succeed above all others, to compete, to win, that has driven us to create, design, build and utilise an ever increasing genus of machines. From earliest known human history we have seen tools created to take control over the natural world around us, from tools came basic systems and structures and following those the culminations of tools and systems which formed machines in their earliest guise. Even today we are still creating new machines to help us take control of the natural environment, to maintain authority and exercise our continued adjustment of the systems of nature, the systems of the evolved ecology that was once nature and is now machine. Architects can therefore be seen as one particular profession at the forefront of humanity, pushing boundaries of control, approaching new levels of understanding, interaction and application of the natural world as well as machines. As a role player in society, culture and the survival of the race as a whole, the architect must understand and apply these boundaries, levels and interactive situations and recognise how to apply them in our built environment which in itself represents a pinnacle in the whole mountain range of human achievement above and beyond all other life upon the Earth.

So what is the next boundary or level of architecture? What interaction with the natural world will we consider next to be necessary for the growth and increased comfort & ease of living? The built environment is presently being proliferated with buildings that look to draw energy from nature, others that utilise sustainable or recycled materials whilst all new buildings have to maintain a high level of energy usage performance. Our unbridled interdependence with machines in this present age will undoubtedly form the springboard of the next phase of our ecological evolution. Our machines are becoming more capable of complex functions, they can communicate with each other already, many share common languages of binary and programming code enabling them to write and re-write complex analysis of each other’s systems. With Scientists often perporting to be on the cusp of achieving functional Artificial Intelligence and Hollywood creating terrifying visions of what the effects of AI would have upon humanity there is a chasm of mixed emotions, fears and potential delights that could be wrought upon us.

Artificial (Architecture) Intelligence? Architecture’s Artificial Intelligence? (The play on words alone could again form a whole other paper or discussion.) Where does the Architect stand amidst the scene of impending beauty or chaos? In the movie trilogy of The Matrix the position of the architect is depicted as a program (with all it’s expected sense of having been programmed), written by the Machines to create the world of The Matrix as a system to control humanity and utilise them as a source of power, “fate it would seem, is not without a sense of Irony.” If present day Architects do not work to integrate our machine ecology into our architecture at a more embryonic level then we will be left with structures inhabited by machines rather than structural machines that we inhabit. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the notion of creating AI, however the notion that we should create a race of AI machines is perhaps one that would send a shiver of concern up and down the spines of many.

The Human race likes to be in control, it is the reason that we have subjugated nature thus far, the reason we have developed a genus of machines to work for us, the reason architects produce inert buildings. The notion of ‘Living Architecture‘ as proposed by Dr Rachel Armstrong using Protocells to produce active architecture that grows and evolves around us is highly theoretical and equally hard to sell. An active building might well act outside of our control, in a way that is not beneficial. Just because it utilises a ‘natural‘ process does not mean that it will be good and healthy.  The process of working with Protocells might well produce interesting, varied and surprising results but it is could be considered a lazy method of sidestepping the development of architecture, materials and technology to a synthetic and second biogenesis with the (perhaps vain) hope that the (as active but non-living ‘blobs’) will revolutionise the human occupation of nature.

“The ‘Protocell’ is a dynamic oil in water droplet system. These simple chemical agents behave in a way that can only be described as ‘living’. They are able to move in their environment, sense it, modify it and undergo complex behaviours some of which have architectural properties.

Protocells are programmable. They are situated in the laws of physics and act according to the chemistry of oils. The behaviour of the protocells can be influenced by the presence of inorganic chemistry, either within the protocell or in the environment, in this way the chemical information in the oil interacts both with its immediate environment as well as other protocells.

Since it is possible to design the metabolism of a protocell, it should be possible for this system to capture carbon dioxide from solution in its environment and turn it into a carbonate, a solid form of the greenhouse gas. Through a series of experiments scientists are taking the first steps towards making coatings for buildings that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The protocell system produces a solid material which could also be used as an architectural material; ‘Biolime’ so called because of it’s similar to the naturally occurring substance limestone, which is made from the skeletons of tiny marine organisms. This mimics the activity of coral reefs which are living organisms capable of converting the carbon Dioxide in water to ‘grow’ their structure.

If the built environment was coated with Biolime then architecture would be able to directly remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” Rachel Armstrong

Protocell architecture is fundamentally based on the assumption that self assembly is better than controlled design because it is bottom up, unpredictable, anarchic and ultimately evolutionary. Systems which operate through self organisation often tend to fail; the survival of the strongest relies upon the destruction of the weakest, the growth of one organism requires the degradation of another. The regular references to Darwinism and evolutionary theory as a metaphor in the Protocell manifesto only serve to demonstrate the evident chasms between these basic forms of cells and their chemical reactions and the development of a tangible and applicable architectural facility. This lack of present tangibility does not mean it should be ignored, there is definite potential in exploring the use of Protocells that could well hold the key for providing truly sustainable cities for the future, but I do not believe that they in themselves will prove to be much more than an interesting experiment in directing chemical reactions and harnessing the results.

The notion that Protocells form a ‘living (self organising) architecture’ is in itself somewhat flawed; the cells are programmed, they are designed to perform a particular task with the hope of particular results. They’re ‘own‘ path through the soup in which they’re placed in or their reactionary chemical construct is not so much of a living response, more of a simple counteraction – every action has an equal and opposite reaction – a classic law of mechanics as demonstrated by Newton. Protocells are perhaps more machinic than natural, they are designed and created by mankind trying to emulate a natural and truly alive system with the thought that if you just create the ideal conditions something non-living but active will happen. “To make an organism demands the right substances in the right proportions and in the right arrangement. We do not think that anything more is needed.” George Wright, 1954. In 58 years with all our incredible advances in technology and science we are still unable to create anything living and Protocells are therefore not really a development at all. It is possible that growing architecture in this way could have a very long timeframe, not only initially whilst it is researched, developed and mobilised but also in it’s effectiveness in giving back to the nature that it is trying so hard to replicate.

Our present toolbox houses vast amounts of technology that we understand, that is controllable and that is tested and beneficial. It would however appear that what we lack is the foresight to integrate so much of it into our day to day buildings. We see one off museums or stadiums, university buildings and schools that showcase one element of this technology at our disposal; a green roof, a rainwater collection and recycling system, photo-voltaic and other light activated technologies etc. The careful, considered and controlled combination of these technologies already in existence could be brought together to form machinic component architecture that forms (a) benevolent machine(s) as well as a building. When buildings are designed to give back more than they take out then they become carbon negative, they begin to rebuild nature even whilst they occupy it.

Architects must stop producing static inert buildings and begin compiling sustainable structures with benevolent purpose aside of shelter, influence and aesthetics. It has only been in the last 50-100 years that in our ‘developed’ architecture we have begun to use our walls and roofs as a blanket as well as the building shell. Walls, floors, ceilings do not just have to form structure within which we place our machines for use, a floor that incorporates piezo-electric technology also acts as an energy generator, a wall formed of concrete with a reinforced metal mesh within it can also act as a RF/MW shield, cladding systems that collect rainwater and filter it for use, or mitigate against unwanted sound, or harness solar energy, or all of the above at once! The possibilities for engaging architecture as a machine component is enormous, through this technological approach architecture can become the confluence between nature and machine – the nexus, the catalyst for a new practice.

As a machine reliant race we should look towards the next jump in our machinic development. As architects we hold a critical position in our societies, balancing both the ever increasing urbanity of our culture and the need to protect, partner with and even improve our natural environment. We have always used machines to assist our needs and aspirations, yet architecture is only just beginning to recognise the value of looking at it’s product in the same way as an engineer or designer might look at a machine. We create buildings and fill them with machines to live with, when what we should be doing is creating machines that we can live in. I consider Biomimicratic architecture to be the next stage of the evolution of our machinic culture, embracing the technology that we have already developed and incorporating it into machines for living and working in will ensure that our 21st century cities are not static and inert but active agents in the replenishment and prioritisation of our natural environment.

Bibliography

Architectural Design, Ed. Neil Spiller & Rachel Armstrong – Protocell Architecture, March/April 2011

Armstrong, Rachel – Living Architecture : How sythetic Biology can remake our cities and reshape our lives.

Baudrillard, Jean – The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena, trans. James Benedict. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1993

Le Corbusier – Towards a new Architecture

Dunne, Anthony – Herzian Tales, The MIT Press, 2005.

Sengers, Pheobe – Practices for Machine Culture: A Case Study of Integrating Cultural Theory and Artificial Intelligence : http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~phoebe/work/papers/surfaces99/sengers.practices-machine-culture.html

Shepheard, Paul – Artificial Love : A story of Machines and Architecture, MIT Press, 2003

Sea urchin spine structure inspires idea for concrete : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17027941

Doing Architectural education differently by Ian Bailey

***Originally posted 15/03/2013***

After all my ranting and raving for my DRS I ended up writing a more ‘balanced’ paper according to my tutor, seeing as getting marks was the aim of the exercise i figured I’d better tone it down! Because I went to quite a lot of effort to format it nicely I’m loading it up as a series of images of the pages, sorry if that’s annoying but I simply don’t have the time nor patience to re-format again!

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