Since Wayne wrote that infamous article in The Independent in 2000 and coined the phrase “The Wimpeyfication and Barrattification of Britain” HemingwayDesign has had an unbelievably stimulating seven years. We have helped George Wimpey deliver what is widely accepted as one of Europe’s most liveable developments, The Staiths South Bank in Gateshead, have just launched the first of the Thames Gateway mixed use schemes, The Bridge in Dartford, have worked on schemes in Manchester and with councils from Skelmersdale to Whitehaven.
As questioning newcomers to the housing industry and with one of the team having a with a big gob, we have lots to shout about. So here goes for starters…
We hardly come across any women in decision making positions. Seems a bit daft when its generally women who care more about homes and home environments. It may be a shared purchase but women generally make the decisions on how a family lives in its home, on the furniture, on the outside spaces, on the décor. Come on housebuilders employ more women @ managerial level and come on women join the housing industry, come on women be planners, which brings us on to…
Why can’t planning be seen by society as having the importance to society as it does? And why cant the industry respect the planning process suppose its chicken and egg we need more creative people wanting to make their mark in planning in many European cities residents can name their city planner, here we can name the architect, but the power should lie with planning and it’s the planner who should have the final power.
Planners please understand that this is a team effort. Its not a game of chess against the developer. PLEASE designers and developers engage with the council as part of the delivery team. Engaging with the council refuse team, the highways, education and even the legal department can have enormous benefits. And planning departments IT IS ALLOWED to engage with developers and design teams. When they offer you a M&S chocolate raisin in a meeting you don’t have to consult the rule book before you accept! Wherever possible give us a chance to discuss things with members, why do we have to be at arms length from some councilors? Anything that shares views desires aspirations at an early stage and reduces delays results in more money for the developer to spend on “extras”. Far too often we are seeing unnecessary delays result in developers exceeding their budgeted interest payments and then “squeezing” design quality. Far too often these delays are the result of intransient, often timid, often lazy and sometimes dull council employees.
There’s too much box ticking going on. Ticking the density box in PPG3 largely resulted in poorly designed, but highly profitable “cramming”, yes we can emulate our European neighbors who “do” density in a livable way but you don’t do it by ticking boxes. We have a new box ticking exercise in The Code for Sustainable homes, what’s the bet that by box ticking we end up with energy efficient homes but boring ones at that, that the public realm gets neglected (and costed out because of the cost of ticking The Code for Sustainable Homes boxes) and that in many cases we repeat the mistakes of the 60’s and 70’s and have to pull estates down after 25 years, negating any environmental benefits of efficient homes?
The only way to ensure that good design doesn’t get totally “value engineered” out. Is for the design team to remain with the project right through the project until the last resident is ensconced in their new home. We realise that this is not easy (especially if the architect or designer is not being paid!) but take your eyes off the job at your peril. Too many schemes have been disowned by the architect, we say that a bad scheme reflects as much on the designers as the housebuilder, work out a way through it. Many housebuilders try to ostracise the design team after they have completed the initial design, shame on you, great things are delivered by cohesive teams at least that’s how its happened in all the products we have been involved in over the last 25 years. We find it difficult to keep teams together in the housing industry.
There is always something to learn, so visit site every week or two. Housebuilders like to get on and build and then get off site, every house that’s built, every bit of landscape, almost very plant, every piece of play equipment can be analysed by creative minds to make the next one better, coming from outside the industry this is what we are used to with all our other products.
There’s always something to do that can add to a developments livability. The architecture, the interiors, the landscape are important, but there are many other things that the design team can get involved in that can enhance peoples lives; bike pools for residents, car clubs, communal WI FI networks, entrepreneurial initiatives, it doesn’t stop and neither should we. “Placemaking” is not a finite process, places evolve & design teams can play a long term role in the evolution.
Talk to residents, the pioneers of a new development are the best source of design information, what comes out of detailed research can be pretty illuminating. Residents are closer to the issues than anyone.
There’s a whole new market out there. Regularly research shows that only around 30 per cent of homebuyers would consider buying a new build from a mass housebuilder, we have proved with the Staiths South Bank development in Gateshead that buyers from the remaining 70 per cent can open a new market. It’s often the case that housebuilders don’t understand this more demanding group of consumers, its up to designers to explain and prove their market. It is sometimes possible to prove that good design results in higher land values and increased sales revenues. Go out and do the maths and prove it either way, all parties have to know the broad financial results to learn.
This new market has tastes that allow architects and designers to be creative. But housebuilders a naturally fearful of open plan, upstairs living, and eaves without lofts, but as with all innovation with housebuilders, be happy with “one day at a time sweet Jesus” and be satisfied with small steps forward.
Architects and Designers should help housebuilders with their marketing. If you have come up with a concept then help the marketing and PR departments spread the word in the “language” of the consumers you have had in mind, most housebuilders don’t have marketing and PR departments that are that forward thinking, some don’t have these departments.
Re appropriate marketing budgets! Large housing schemes can have 7 figure advertising budgets, through great design, homes that the public cant resist and cost effective PR show housebuilders they don’t need to do their cheesy ads of “Mr & Mrs Perfect sipping champagne on a balcony” and persuade them to spend the money on design.
Landscaping, Green Spaces, Gardens are obviously popular. They also cost, but there is an increasing body of evidence that can be used to help housebuilders understand that investment in the public realm can produce land value benefits in future phases, see here http://www.cabe.org.uk/data/pdfs/DoesMoneyGrowonTrees.pdf
Listen to customers many know as much as any of us working in the industry. They live in their homes, we live in our offices.
Question everything,”group deals” aren’t the be all and end all. We know that “golf day perks” are still rampant but by getting out and finding and visiting new suppliers the palette of materials, the maturity of the landscaping can all be massively upgraded at little or no extra cost to the housebuilder. We have spent days doing this on the Staiths South Bank but the benefits have paid us back handsomely in terms of job satisfaction and importantly customer satisfaction.
Treat it as a two way flow of information. In our five years working with George Wimpey we have learned loads from them we may criticise the mass housebuilders but they do know how to build houses cost effectively and to make all important profit.
Unless the housebuilders costing team is present at all design team meetings, unless the sales team are party to everything from day one expect a rough ride. Make sure that detailed notes and actions are taken and circulated from all meetings.
Management Companies can make or break developments. There are some really crap management companies out there, check on the cleaning, gardening, repairs and maintenance regime. There’s a history of poor maintenance dragging housing schemes down…again listen to residents and help them set up their own management arrangements.
There is help out there Gateshead and Dartford councils have been our partner, our sounding block , our ally in all our work. We constantly ask for help and advice from CABE, CABE Space www.cabe.org.uk from Building For Life www.buildingforlife.org.uk There are great websites like www.designforhomes.org.uk and there are schemes not a million miles away.
Ryan Air, Easyjet et al allow us all to travel for £50 or so to great housing schemes in Malmo, Kronsberg, Stockholm, Leidsche Rijn, Almere, Hammerby, Freiburg and many more. If you can learn from inspirational practice and bring it to a UK housing industry that needs to serve people better then an increase in your carbon footprint is surely worthwhile.
Above all remember that PLC housebuilders have a duty to deliver increasing profits and shareholder value. All the great design in the world can’t interfere in the long-term with this, but it doesn’t mean that the design team have to roll over and watch their good intentions get.