Listen to the customer. They know as much as many of the people working in the industry. After all, they live in the homes..’ Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway.
‘Usually it’s just a housing estate. This is a housing community. It has a different feel.’ Non-resident.
The arts and culture have a major part to play in helping galvanise community engagement and participation in planning… Arts Council England wants to ensure that the arts and other cultural facilities are planned into the fabric of such communities from the start.
We believe that public participation in the architectural processes and the design of new communities is key and that artists, architects and designers can contribute to making new places a success.
Good design cannot fully address fundamental social problems, but there is evidence that it can help create a sense of community and enhance feelings of happiness and well being.
‘…so let’s plan new-build with variation, greenery, ecology and community in mind – but let’s do it far better and with more vision that this.’
The Independent Monday Review, April 2001 ‘For Wimpey, working with the duo has been something of a culture shock. “Construction is more complicated than dressmaking, and the real challenge is they’re not from the industry” says Ian Laight, development director with George Wimpey City. “They’ve no architectural background; they’ve got no knowledge of the business.
Alot of the things they aspire to are publicly subsidised schemes they’ve seen abroad. We can’t do that. They don’t understand things like section 106 agreements, environmental impact assessments and CDM regulations – and in some ways they’re not interested.”
‘But Laight says their naivety has been refreshing and inspirational. “I was sceptical when I first met them. They’re fashion designers; I thought they were just going to be interested in surface finishes and colours. But they very genuinely want to improve volume housing in this country.
“… They’ve encouraged me to start thinking creatively again.”
‘When Wimpey Met Wayne’ by Marcus Fairs
Building magazine, August 2002
Verbatim descriptions of people’s dream home
A place that has not robbed the earth
A little bit of architectural flair and magic
When I close the door, I escape from urban life
Masses of unobtrusive storage
Latest modern fixtures and futuristic technologies
Low maintenance – that’s the key
Flexibility of interior construction
Tidy, efficient, adaptable spaces
A design that enhances the quality of our lives
A Frank Lloyd Wright falling wateresque house
Conclusions from Stage 1 focus groups
The groups were not wholly positive about Staiths
South Bank’s ‘offer’ at design stage:
• ‘People can be stimulated to dream about architectural innovation. They want their houses to exist in harmony with nature and the elements’
• ‘Volume housing is a known disappointment, but safe. It lacks space and individuality. This puts any kind of design options for the purchaser at a premium. Clever design (usually of the interior) is acknowledged with gratitude’
• Staiths South Bank tells us that people resist enforced communities, even though they are wistful about strongly bonded communities. Shared resources such as gardens and barbeques sound big warning bells
Site design: encouraging community living
• With Gateshead Council support, the scheme became the largest new-build Homezone, an experimental scheme supported by a £400,000 grant from the Department fo r Transport
• Pioneered over the last 20 years in Europe, Homezones aim to promote a more balanced relationship between pedestrians and vehicles. Rather than prioritising cars, they encourage environments where the spaces between the houses are safe for children to play and for adults to meet their neighbours
• Each phase of the project has its own play strategy, extended to both children and adults by incorporating unusual equipment within the streetscape as well as benches using reclaimed timber where residents can meet
• The streets gradually become narrower towards the centre of the estate and the pavements wider
• Most houses have private gardens backing on to south facing communal pocket parks with permanent barbecues for residents to use
• Each household has one allocated parking bay, although rarely located immediately outside their home
• All houses are within 400 metres of a bus stop and have cycle sheds
• There are proposals to provide further retail/mixed use units in future sections of the development 13
Who would have thought that a phrase Wayne concocted for a newspaper article in 2000, ‘the Wimpeyfication and Barrattification of Britain’,1 could lead to Staiths South Bank? Staiths South Bank is winning awards left, right and centre – from Large Housing Development of the Year at The Housing Design Awards to Best Housing-led Regeneration at The Building Awards – and is becoming regularly visited and known internationally as a beacon of modern community-friendly housing.
Staiths South Bank resulted in Wayne becoming the Chairman of Building For Life,2 and Hemingway Design3 is now often described as the champion of affordable housing. But we didn’t set out to win awards, to be spokespersons or to create a housing design business.
We simply responded to a brave George Wimpey who challenged us to make our ideas a reality. Our response was underlined by our belief that there simply weren’t any affordable mass housing schemes that people could get excited about and we wanted to see if we could change that.
During the creative process we asked questions like:
if supermarkets could excite us how come new housing, surely the most important thing we will ever consume, could be so unexciting? Why do we buy new cars and clothes, yet the majority of us will only consider secondhand when buying a home?
At Staiths South Bank we believe that we have created a human place that has joy and the ability to engage in community. The emphasis has been on a welllandscaped development. Residents can choose to be sociable with theirneighbours or to have privacy when they want it. We have taken risks with the car parking layout, with the refuse strategy and with the communal garden extensions. By and large things are working. We also have a (second) home at Staiths South Bank and we intend to remain part of Staiths South Bank community.
Residents often describe Staiths South Bank as a happy and sociable place to live; the residents are proud of their homes. We can ask for no more than this. The last five years have been the hardest, but the most fulfilling of our 25 years in the design industry and we continue to work with George Wimpey on future developments nationally.4We have learned a lot too, so in the coming years we will carry on mouthing off and trying to contribute to improvements in the house building industry. We hope this will eventually result in the process of buying and living in a new home being a joyous, uplifting experience where the consumer is spoilt for choice. The journey is just beginning.
tHe BUILdIng FoR LIFe QUestIons
envIRonMent & CoMMUnIty 1. does the development provide (or is it close to) community facilities, such as a school, parks, play areas, shops, pubs or cafés? 2. Is there an accommodation mix that reflects the needs and aspirations of the local community? 3. Is there a tenure mix that reflects the needs of the local community? 4. does the development have easy access to public transport? 5. does the development have any features that reduce its environmental impact? CHaRaCteR 6. Is the design specific to the scheme? 7. does the scheme exploit existing buildings, landscape or topography? 8. does the scheme feel like a place with distinctive character? 9. do the buildings and layout make it easy to find your way around? 10. Are streets defined by a well-structured building layout?
stReets, paRkIng & pedestRIanIsatIon
does the building layout take priority over the streets and car parking, so that the highways do not dominate?
Is the car parking well integrated and situated so it supports the street scene? are the streets pedestrian, cycle and vehicle friendly? does the scheme integrate with existing streets, paths and surrounding development?
are public spaces and pedestrian routes overlooked and do they feel safe?
desIgn & ConstRUCtIon
Is public space well designed and does it have suitable management arrangements in place?
do the buildings exhibit architectural quality?
do internal spaces and layout allow for adaptation, conversion or extension?
Has the scheme made use of advances in construction or technology that enhance its performance, quality and attractiveness?
do buildings or spaces outperform statutory minima, such as building regulations?