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A one-day symposium staged on 17 October 2003. An Architectural Association event co-supported by AD magazine. The day was chaired by Hugo Hinsley of the Architectural Association's Housing and Urbanism Programme and Lucy Bullivant, critic, curator of Home Front and guest editor of the July/Aug 2003 AD issue of the same name.

What opportunities exist for public and affordable housing design as a democratic ideal now that state support has been overtaken by the free market, and what are the challenges to be confronted? Design quality, and the differentiation it offers, is vital to meet demands for greater housing density and large scale production, and also in order to generate urban design frameworks that address evolving social needs and issues of intensification. This symposium identifies some innovative housing design strategies and the public/private alliances currently being forged in the UK and in mainland Europe to help achieve them.

Speakers and themes

Dominic Papa, S333

Architect and founding partner of S333 Architecture + Urbanism, and design tutor in the Housing and Urbanism unit at the AA.

Rather than lamenting the demise of government-directed production in favour of private enterprises, S333's design approach seeks to experiment with new forms of working practice. This entails working alongside developers in order to create new design strategies that can accommodate greater diversity and encourage private enterprise to acknowledge its responsibility to address issues of place making within the public realm. The work crosses the boundaries of architecture, landscape and urbanism, and therefore the projects are conceived more as urban design frameworks than buildings. They aim to intensify areas of the city, resulting in higher forms of organization and combinations. This pushes the design possibilities of the architectural work.

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Rob Wilson

Curator, writer and architect who runs the exhibition programme at the RIBA Architecture Gallery.

Wilson discussed changing ideas about 'the public realm' versus the private, and its impact on housing design, in the context of the increasing tendency to package individual lives as consumable lifestyles. In particular he looked at how this relates to the design of threshold or entrance spaces and how some new developments are being designed to re-establish housing as not just the 'other' to the public realm, but the main building type that actually creates and forms it.

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Franz Sumnitsch, BKK-3

Architect and co-founder with Johann Winter of the Viennese practice BKK-2, renamed BKK-3 in 1999.

Possibilities of collective living: housing is dead! What the future needs is space in which to be alive. A place where you can unfold your best potential. A place to communicate - an ideal nourishing ground where you can develop. A place that supports a social mix, as a platform for communication, for multi-generational living, where people can play and work; a place that works. A discussion of Miss Sargfabrik, the practice's award-winning housing scheme in Vienna, which he describes as 'an architectural organism, a sculpture of space/living/art, tailored to the needs of the people'; the future of dwelling and urban strategies; the planning process, and the notion of participation as an opportunity; new lifestyles, extended living spaces, and spatial design with atmosphere and an intensification of reality.

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Alison Brooks

Architect and director of Alison Brooks Architects, London.

Specific Utopias - the new space of domestic forms/new forms of domestic space. Architect Alison Brooks describes the process of realising Brooklands Avenue, her new housing scheme in Cambridge for Countryside Properties, as 'participating in a process of city building rather than house-building per se'. Her practice is intent on producing a radical new vision for housing and urban design in the UK, and the scheme, which is currently on site, won a Housing Design Award this year. Its three building types within a 400 unit masterplan are considered as test cases for the exploration of individuality within communal building forms, new spatial models for the single family house and site-specific architecture with the potential of non-specific occupation. Brooklands Avenue has been recognized as a examplar in relation to the PPG3 guidelines issued by the government in 2000, and the 'sustainability agenda' for new buildings, and will be the largest modern housing development in Cambridge since 1965.

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Nathan Cornish

Senior Development Manager at Urban Splash housing developers, Manchester.

An overview of Urban Splash's track record revealing how its ventures have helped to put housing back on the agenda in the UK by challenging convention and generating new urban possibilities. A discussion of their commitment to the process of working at the highest levels of design quality, referring to a series of examples of realised schemes such as Walsall Waterfront, New Islington; Royal William Yard, Plymouth, and Langworthy.

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David West

Director of BIG Architecture at Alsop Architects, London, and a planner and urban designer specialising in urban visions and sustainable masterplanning Walsall Waterfront.

BIG Living: a few stories from recent Alsop Architects projects and proposals with BIG residential components, including New Islington (Manchester's Millennium Village at Ancoats to the east of the city centre undertaken with developer Urban Splash, which will have a rich mix of housing types), the Walsall Waterfront, Chatham Maritime and Rochester Riverside. All the projects explore the notion of lifestyle and choice for a new, sustainable and varied community with a waterside parkland environment including new waterways.

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Stephen Proctor

Architect and co-founder of Proctor and Matthews Architects, London.

The move towards higher densities in urban housing and ever changing living patterns and lifestyles are the stimulants for new approaches to domestic design. This agenda requires a reappraisal of historical housing typologies, conventions of internal living space and context. Combined with innovative approaches to the transition from public to private realm thresholds, and moves towards greater adaptability and flexibility, these tactics provide a strong direction for urban domestic design. Using the recent Abode housing design schemes by Proctor and Matthews at Newhall in Harlow, Essex, which break the mould of conventional high density housing, as a case study, Proctor drew on further examples of recent and current work to discuss the practice's approach to the design and implementation of mixed tenure 21st century neighbourhoods.

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David Birkbeck

A business researcher focussing on the planning, design and construction of house building, and Chief Executive of Design for Homes, a not-for-profit organisation based in London that champions the value of design in house building.

Design for Homes commissions research into exactly how design adds value and also monitors what the public want from housing as highlighted in the new Design for Homes study, Perceptions of Privacy in High Density Housing, which is launched during the week of the Home Front symposium. The presentation highlit some of the issues in this study.

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Dickon Robinson

Architect and Development and Planning Director at the Peabody Trust, London's largest and longest established housing trust.

Robinson expanded on his responsibilities for leading expanded new build housing and regeneration programmes, which have repositioned Peabody as a key London regeneration agency. A discussion of the creative role of the Trust in the procurement and development of architect-led social housing schemes, and the challenges to be confronted now that housing is back on the agenda.

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S333: CiBoGa, Schots 1+2, Groningen

FAT at RIBA Architecture Gallery

BKK-3: Miss Sargfabrik, Vienna

ABA: Fold House, London
photo: Dennis Gilbert

ABA: Brooklands Ave, Cambridge

Masterplan for New Islington, Manchester

Masterplan for New Islington, Manchester

Alsop Architects for Urban Splash (developers)

Alsop Architects: New Islington, Manchester

Proctor & Matthews: Newhall, Harlow, Essex

Nile St, London N1; architects: Munkenbeck & Marshall