This was my entry for a 2013 competition, hosted by the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) in conjunction with a large UK developer, calling for fresh, innovative proposals for a new kind of suburban living situation. One, whereby dwellings and neighbourhoods were no longer configured with the private owner (or even social tenant) in mind but instead, developed specifically for the private rental market. A form of tenure that has, within a British cultural context, been somewhat maligned in respect of long-term occupancy. The brief asked that designers try to improve upon the negative aspects of this tenure - particularly the wanting sense of permanence and security - by accommodating the changing needs of residents within the scope of their proposals.
I felt that one of the main issues contributing to the sense of impermanence felt across many privately rented dwellings, was the degraded state of “autonomy” possessed by tenants (relative to that of home owners). Something, I thought could only be improved upon so much through the design of the dwelling. I decided, therefore, that if I wanted to give residents the same sense of place and permanence as private owners, the vehicle for this should be shifted from the materiality of the dwelling and onto the social capacity of the community - another “structure”, capable of providing a similar, if not even greater, sense of belonging and security. However, as I understood well from my own prior research (particularly into the ill-fated demise of many modernist housing schemes), a “community” was not something that could be established or maintained at any scale. And so I decided to focus my response around the formation of small, well structured community layouts, capable of fostering social cohesion. As a consequence of this, I decided that the changing needs of tenants should be accommodated within a single, flexible dwelling unit and not across a range of different house types - for the numbers required to facilitate this, would far exceeded what I saw as a “healthy” community size.
My design response included, principally, a single repeatable community typology comprised of 10 semi-detached dwellings, oriented around a large collective green space. This arrangement came from my desire to negate any formal boundary divisions that would otherwise “slice up” the dynamic potential of a large shared space (for both collective and private use). Dwellings were composed, at a base level, of a single “core” unit, which could be expanded up to four times in four different locations, using just one additive module (enabling a range of domestic configurations from 70m² to 125m²). These dwellings were set within a prominent external steel frame, which not only served to manage their expansion but also outline their overall potential at any given time - ensuring residents always understood the dynamic nature of their community. Incidentally, the frame also became a key aesthetic component of my proposal, becoming a consistent feature within a site of transient dwelling compositions. Finally, it was anticipated that any reservations a developer might have over the logistical or technical conditions of these flexible dwelling types could be reassured by the quality and economy of mass producing these two modules offsite.