Barking and Dagenham Council and its regeneration company Be First believe that regeneration isn't just about housing stock — importance should also be placed on excellent architecture to create successful places. Matt Ross reports
“Good design creates great places where people want to be,” says Caroline Harper, chief planning director at Barking and Dagenham Council’s regeneration agency Be First. And because of that simple fact, building regeneration projects around strong design principles doesn’t just benefit existing local residents and workers; it also helps to attract new people and businesses to an area, boosting economic activity and returns for investors and developers.
It’s particularly important to get the design right when increasing an area’s density – and the council is half way through a 20-year growth strategy that envisages around 50,000 new homes and 20,000 new jobs. “Everybody deserves to live in a nice home,” says Harper. “Our growth ambitions have to work for people.” But she stresses that good design should not be unaffordable: “My job is to make sure we have a planning framework that encourages growth without unnecessarily stifling it,” she says. “We’re open to innovative design, and to making sure that projects are commercial and deliverable.”
Be First has, for example, commissioned an architect with extensive experience in off-site, modular construction to handle part of the Gascoigne Estate’s redevelopment. Linda Thiel, director of Scandinavian firm White Arkitekter’s London studio, explains that using modular components would cut time and money from the construction process, freeing up cash for “high quality materials in the key areas: the parks, courtyards and ground-floor frontages. It’s about trying to spend the money in the right place.”
The rebuilt Gascoigne Estate will provide up to 2,500 new homes, two schools and a medical centre, plus commercial retail space. Phase one of the eastern block – featuring more than 400 homes and the secondary school – is largely complete; and White has been allocated phase two, comprising 500 new homes and a park that abuts the town centre to the north.
Homes will lie in four blocks, Thiel explains, including two with central courtyards providing communal gardens. Over 60% of homes will be classed as affordable – either ‘affordable rent’ or for shared ownership – “the design is tenureblind, mixing homes in each block”. The focus has been on allowing sunshine into the apartments, she adds: almost all have an open-plan living area, with dual aspect windows on two sides and a balcony, “so you have one big space with lots of light.”
But good design must recognise the everyday challenges of urban life – particularly when redeveloping an estate that has had high levels of crime and deprivation in the past. So ground-floor retail and commercial units provide “lots of eyes on the street,” notes Thiel, with uncluttered view lines minimising potential hiding places. And the courtyards have been designed to incorporate a public path, while protecting the gardens with gates that can be easily removed if they’re deemed unnecessary by future residents.
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