Flexible Futures, CAN and Office S & M's longlisted entry into the Wates/RIBA 'Housing in the private rental market' competition
The proposal aims to tackle many of the problems with the rental market, including inflexibility of long term renting, the sense of transience associated with not being an owner occupier, the inequitable low quality of rented accommodation and the lack of agency that renters have. In order to tackle the flexibility of this housing, a new typology is proposed.
Each house front, or “shell” can contain units configured in a number of ways, and the common core allows floors and rooms to change ownership without affecting the use of other units. This enables tenants homes to evolve as they grow older or their needs change. By using a “per room” rental contract, the flexibility of the contract can be increased. This enables the mix of housing to directly relate to the changing needs of occupants, and allows tenants to stay in one unit or block, in spite of their changing needs and requirements. For developers, this approach also reduces the risk of supplying unit sizes for which demand falls.
The development contains a number of unit types to suit tenants needs. The majority are dual aspect, one-bedroom flats accessed off a small three-floor core which provides access to civic streets and large, communal gardens.
Larger flats are provided off a similar core layout, meaning that all units can be converted easily into larger or smaller units by renting additional, or fewer rooms. Finally, generous family units are created by combining all three floors of the “shell” to provide terraced housing that retains long-term flexibility.
Within the development everything can be rented off the landlord of the estate, from workspace or street cars, to furniture packages and additional rooms. As part of the tenancy agreement certain aspects of managing the development, such as street sweeping, are done by residents. Based on the number of hours a resident spends on development management, as well as how long they have rented their property for, they receive a rent reduction.
Our approach of using a civic front facade, with a changeable plan behind, maintains a suburban character to the terraced streets, yet flexible and ‘size-blind’ units behind. Changes to the front of the house are controlled through a residents design code, but this allows great flexibility at the rear of the properties.
At the same time, by using simple changes in the form of the civic facades and colour of the pebbledash, every home is different, ensuring that each resident feels they are an individual who is also part of a wider community.
The units are arranged into small suburban blocks of 24 house ‘shells’, with each block containing bin and bike stores, communal gardens, and a local commercial space.
By arranging the units in blocks that equate to roughly 150 individuals sharing a communal garden, these proposals come close to the ideal number of people in a community, otherwise known as Dunbar’s Number.
By developing to three stories across the entire site, the footprint of the development is reduced. The large communal gardens keep the units per hectare to a suburban level. They also provide allotments for the residents to grow their own food for consumption or sale. These communities will have their own social network to distribute unwanted furniture, excess vegetables and arrange events.
The shells are constructed traditionally using cavity blockwork with a pebbledash finish. Simple, but careful window reveals conceal the use of UPVC windows, while long lasting flat roof coverings are masked by detailed gable walls. By using simple, tried and tested construction with careful, robust detailing we can achieve a low cost per square meter. This also ensures that any alterations, maintenance or additions can be procured easily and cheaply.