Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Importance of Quality Space to Place

Today I was privileged to be part of a line-up put together by Mike Roberts of HAB (Happiness, Architecture, Beauty) Housing for a session in the Green Building Council's tent at EcoBuild in London's Excel exhibition centre in Docklands. The subject under discussion was the importance of place to residential development and my personal take was on the importance of space to place.

Place matters to me and I think that it matters to all of us and that's why I called my company "Placematters". For me one of the key determinants of place is space and by space I do not limit the word to open space. It covers the spaces we live in and how well they are designed, the spaces we pass through to get to where we live – the lobbies and stair wells, the entrance spaces to buildings, the spaces between buildings, the spaces on top of buildings, the private spaces associated with our houses and apartments, and the shared spaces in the heart of housing developments, whether they be public or like the private (residents only) Victorian squares in central and inner west London.

And for me all of those spaces need to be actively and well managed by a landlord if my flat or house is being rented, one that is committed to the community that they are housing, not managed as an afterthought or, even worse, managed by benign neglect. And managed in partnership with the tenants - not against their wishes. The whole feel of the space needs to be one that I am comfortable with in all its living elements.

In this context one of the purposes of my presentation was to highlight the work of a new organisation in the UK housing field - UK Regeneration, a company that is pioneering a new approach to the provision of high quality housing for rent.

My vehicle for doing so was an improvisation, sharing a story with my audience about a future visit to the first of UKR's new developments in the Sandfields area of Nottingham, a city in the English East Midlands.Here it is:

"So come with me to visit a very special place, one that’s very dear to my heart as its been designed to be my kind of place, a place that I would be happy to rent if I lived and worked in this city.

It’s a place that I wish had existed when I first came to work in London after I had graduated and had to suffer, for too many years, the vagaries of private renting, always putting up with something that was not quite right, something poorly maintained, something too expensive for what it was worth, and sharing a space that was never designed for sharing and so poorly equipped I had to furnish the furnished space myself, …and that in the days before Ikea!; I had to depend on “Trendy Styles” secondhand furniture shop on Kingsland High Road. Sustainable it was not! And cheap it was not…being full of copycat Terence Conran designs.

But enough of the nightmares of private renting thirty years ago…..come with me into the heart of England to a new place - housing with space that’s my kind of place and imagine me as a young recent graduate (yes I know it’s hard looking at me now) with a decent job, fed up with the indignities of student living, and wanting somewhere decent to live and hang out.
Let me first park the car (a hybrid I hope you note) and we can get out and take a shufftie at the place.

The Lenton Area of Nottingham

That’s it over there on the other side of Lenton Boulevard, at the cross roads. Looks interesting don’t you think, modern design with clues in the brickwork about the traditional architectural vernacular of the area, and clearly committed to sustainability if those rooftop panels are anything to go by.

You know for me any residential development that’s going to capture my heart, to be my kind of place, has to be a space that I want to spend time in, has to look good, to look well designed, to have design features that interest and intrigue, with buildings that frame spaces for private contemplation, that offer spaces to meet and greet, to encounter strangers, to party and celebrate, for kids to play and people to catch up on the local gossip.

It’ may sound strange but I want to feel proud of the place where I live, not in a show-off way, but in a way that says this is a sensible place to be for my circumstances and a place that just right for my lifestyle at this time of my life. A place that gives me both privacy and a shared life with mates and family.

In short, I like my living space to be a mix of the private and the public, to be contemplative and to be animated, to be quiet in part and to be active outside, to provide opportunities for encounters, with neighbours and people passing by and through.

But before we look at the shared public space let’s pop in here to this two person flat to see what’s on offer.  Because this place is designed for private renting, for the younger sharing market, it’s got two bedrooms, each with its own bath/shower/toilet space and space in the bedroom for a sofa and table for private entertaining. That alleviates any problems with sharing with someone whose personal hygiene habits might be, well…. uncivilised. 

And here is the shared living space which is fully wired for the “Generation Now” lifestyle providing opportunities to share and stream music and video to every room, always-on high capacity broadband. 

And just look at the kitchen – a bit upmarket from Wickes but with enough design features to look like a Sunday supplement advert; I can almost taste the Jamie Oliver 120 minute meals that will be created here.

This is no accident of design; the developers UKR, who are also the landlords and managers, are in it for the long haul, and have really learned about and understand the lifestyles of their target tenant group and their requirements in terms of the design of their personal, intimate and shared apartment space, and what they need by way of associated external space and associated facilities.

I also want convenience in my place so that I do not have to schlepp all the way in to the Victoria Centre in the middle of town for my provisions or to the large Tesco out by the University. I like my place of life to help meet my needs – for convenience foods when I run out of tea, Pringles or Sauvignon, or toothpaste and mouthwash, for medicines to deal with my lifestyle (hangovers, moi?); so look here, around the central space, are a convenience store, a dry cleaners, a chemists, a doctors surgery and a great little independent caff – where Cuban Coffee meets the Bacon Bap with great “me-duck” service" in the fine traditions of the local Goose Fair.

If you want to know more about this most innovative and ground breaking of UK housing developers contact Jackie Sadek on jackie.sadek@ukregeneration.org.uk