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New Knowledge: Floating Exchange Rates

Boater restocking coal.

How can design improve the way we live in cities? Design Think Tanks (DTTs) at the LSA put forward proposals to help meet the targets set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. New Knowledge proposes ‘Floating Exchange Rates’, drawing on the positive aspects of London’s boat-dwelling community to develop an affordable, sustainable co-living model for the capital’s waterside sites.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
Aerial view showing relationship between housing and public space.
Diagrams comparing the programme to a conventional housing scheme and showing the relationship between the programme’s guiding principles.


London’s house prices have led to a rapid rise in the number of young people living in boats.While there are upsides to this way of life, it can be resource-heavy and labour-intensive. The city’s rivers and canals are becoming increasingly congested and polluted.We are simply running out of space.We need to find new ways of living that are compact and affordable, reduce consumption and waste production, and promote a more harmonious relationship between residents and the natural world.


Drawing used to describe the day of a resident within her dwelling.
Drawing used to describe the day of a resident within her dwelling.
Boat history.


Londoners, especially young people, are increasingly accepting co-living as an affordable alternative to traditional private dwellings.This proposal sets out a land-based, co-living model, which celebrates and amplifies the positive aspects of life on the river – the culture of sharing, community, self-sufficiency and self-build – while minimising resources and making a positive contribution to the natural environment.

The project draws on an analysis of boat-dwellers’ existence to determine which facilities and activities can happily be shared and how much private space residents need. The basic unit type is a one-bedroom 2.6m x 2.6m triplex – based on the width of a Dutch barge – which can be arranged in various configurations around a shared kitchen, a dining area, a shower room and a large garden terrace. Residents have just 20.8m2 of private space – less than half of the 49m2 required by building regulations.

A trellis-like timber framework at roof level can be used as growing space and defines an area for self- build extensions. Semi-private sheltered courtyards provide space for allotments, playgrounds and open green space. The wider site is planned with an emphasis on rewilding, improving biodiversity and creating an environment that provides rich habitats for wildlife and prioritises cycling, walking and childrens’ play.

This think tank accepts the need for small private dwellings but calls for policy to change to acknowledge the fact that generous shared facilities and accessible green spaces are essential for this model of co-living to work.


Diagram showing facilities that can be shared by existing and new residents.


The proposal has been tested by drawing up a design for Lea Bridge Depot, a riverside site which was the subject of a pre-application scheme submitted by Savills in 2015, and by making comparisons between the two schemes.While the Savills proposal offers 449 homes, giving a density of 79 dwellings per hectare, the reduced dwelling size of the co-housing model provides 516 homes at a density of 90 dwellings per hectare.The Savills scheme is up to six storeys high; the co-housing scheme never exceeds four.The use of lightweight, compact buildings gives an overall massing of around half the gross external area of the Savills scheme and a more harmonious relationship between buildings and landscape.


Masterplan proposal.


Design Think Tanks are collaborative projects between students and leading architectural practices at the London School of Architecture. The UN Sustainable Development Goals address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. They are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

Leaders: Peter Swallow (Grimshaw Architects) and Akari Takebayashi (Heatherwick Studio). Students: Carrick Blore, Nancy Jackson, Linda Malaeb, Charles McLaughlin, Sasha Nakitende, Xavier Smales and Lucy Steeden.