Design Think Tanks – Adaptive Typologies
London’s population is growing rapidly, and thousands of new homes need to be built to accommodate this growth. However, the common approach of mass-produced ‘one-size-fits-all’ flats in identikit developments ignores the complex needs of the culturally and socially diverse mix of people who call the city home.
Adaptive Typologies are posing the question: how can we build at the necessary densities to house the population, while making these places inclusive, sustainable and conducive to a sense of community?
Our investigation began with a study of how density is being addressed currently. We visited three dense housing developments in London and interviewed residents about their experiences of living there. One of the most pertinent points that arose was that despite living among many people, residents rarely knew their neighbours. We came to refer to this condition as The Density Paradox.
Through analysing the residents’ journeys around these precedent buildings, we found that all three had compromised circulation spaces to optimise and maximise unit arrangements. The journey from the street to the flat tended to consist of vacuous lobbies, lifts and narrow corridors with no natural light or indication of the life behind anonymous closed doors. Circulation spaces were treated as purely transitory spaces for passing through swiftly, rather than spaces to enjoy or display signs of ownership. If there was any other common space, this was poorly considered and separated from the places residents naturally pass through.
A site in London on the Old Kent Road was chosen as the testing ground for our hypothesis. An Area Action Plan currently in development is proposed to radically transform the district from a low-rise, low-density largely industrial zone into a dense urban area, with thousands of new homes proposed over the next twenty years.
Barratt Homes have optimistically noted that ‘the extension will provide a significant increase to the area’s historically low property values’, which is great news for the developers and landowners, but less so for existing residents benefiting from relatively low rental values.
A demographic study of the local area revealed the rich diversity of cultures, backgrounds and ages of residents, such as groups of up to 11 undocumented migrants living in one flat. The typical offer of standardised apartments found in many new developments is inadequate to serve the complex needs of residents that don’t fit the criteria of the developer’s target market.
Our response has been to develop five distinct typologies that explore different approaches to achieving density.
A 19-storey tower at the north-west corner of the site achieves density through a tight floor plan coupled with height. A void cuts down the building through the common areas allowing the sharing of space vertically through the building as well as horizontally.
To the north, a block of live/work units achieves density through narrow unit plans. A portion of double-height space helps to bring light deep into the plan while giving it a sense of generosity.
The block to the west achieves density through eight-bedroom units that can allow living spaces and bathrooms to be fewer but larger, responding to the need for shareable spaces for groups of migrants, students and young professionals.
Achieving density by incorporating a deep plan, the block to the east takes an intimate approach to the sharing of common space, with front doors arranged in clusters of three on either side of a landing.
The largest block facing onto the Old Kent Road reimagines the mansion block typology, with an extra deep plan made possible by light wells that pull light into its depth. Common spaces ooze around the units, allowing a more direct connection to them and an invitation to inhabit the space outside one’s front door.
The five typologies form separate blocks on the site, creating smaller sub-communities within the overall community of the scheme. This gives dense buildings a more comprehensible human scale. The blocks are arranged around a central courtyard which is where all of these smaller communities come together alongside industrial and workspace uses on the ground floor.
The proposal achieves a density of 1,910 people per hectare, well above the target set out in the Area Action Plan of 1,000 people per hectare. In addition to being able to provide much-needed homes for a growing population, the scheme delivers a mix of unit sizes ranging from studio flats to eight-bedroom co-living flats, a variety of outdoor amenity spaces at every level from ground floor to roof and not a single internal corridor without natural light or ventilation.
Adaptive typologies is led by Angie Jim Osman from Allies and Morrison and Rafael Marks from Penoyre & Prasad. Students: Seyi Adewole, Cristina Gaidos, Alice Hardy, Pierre Longhini, Tim Rodber, Nelli Wahlsten.