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The place I currently live, there is a lot of housing and neighbourhood constructions that are taking place. Places like Ashington, Cramlington, Bedlington and the rest of Northumberland has their own housing constructions with similar housing developers. (Persimmon Homes, Gleeson Homes, Barratt Homes just naming few.) As of the moment, UK is facing a housing crisis. Furthermore, according to National Housing Federation, there is an estimated 8.4 million people in England that are living in an insecure, unsuitable and unaffordable homes (BBC News, 2019). The government tackles this problem by building more homes to supply the demand of housing. Currently, the housing constructions in Northumberland is part of 170,000 units being built in England this season (Office of National Statistics, 2019). Despite of these sheer number of units, are these dwellings offer a good quality of life and opportunities for healthy lifestyle of its inhabitants? I will unpack those questions by interviewing one of the homeowners that got developed by Persimmon Homes.

Housing completion data (Source: Office of National Statistics)

Mark Massey a senior partner from IDPartnership discussed the aims and principles of Ralph Erskine’s methods on the constructions of Byker in 1969. The principle was groundbreaking at the time, influential on Swedish democracy and pioneered the approach of community engagement with huge effort to involve the local residents of the proposed new developments. (Minton, 2019)

The principles were 

“to maintain, valued, traditions and characteristics of neighbourhood itself and the relationship with the surrounding areas, the need to rehouse the residents without breaking family ties and other valued associations or patterns of life and lastly, endeavour to exploit the physical character of the site, more especially the slope towards the south, its views and sunny aspect”  (Massey, 2019)

Not only that these principles were applied in Byker but Erskine prepared 11 design checklist which has defined the Byker project. These will be the questions I will be asking to the interviewee to test out Persimmon Homes housing development regarding the homeowner’s own experiences on their newly built home.

Byker Wall (Source: https://www.fsouthern.co.uk/portfolio/byker-wall/)

Does the work fulfill all reasonable everyday needs and some unreasonable ones?

Does it form a step on the way to some better human community in which we could believe?

Does it encourage group contracts? Can it also give privacy?

Can it inspire those who may live there to partake in the task of giving it form?

Does it form a meaningful part of, and beautify the community and landscape in which it stands?

Does it open possibilities for future generations to adapt it to their needs?

Are the technical solutions the best possible?

Does it create satisfying work for those who build?

Can it – as all creative art can – both disturb and give new and unexpected pleasure?

Will the work mature and age with dignity?

Does it give joy? Is it beautiful and full of charm?

Newly built estate (Source: Author)

I was lucky enough to interview a 45 years old registered nurse named ‘Jek’ who lives in a newly built home in Ashington, developed by Persimmon Homes and works at Wansbeck General Hospital. She has a family of four with two kids who are in sixth form in Newcastle. 

“Does the work fulfill all reasonable everyday needs and some unreasonable ones?”

The location of the site are within the walking distance from the hospital. It is very walkable, with only within less than 10 mins walk to work. The availability of the bus stop are every 15 mins which is convenient for her kids for going to school. Pavements are pedestrian friendly, she brisk walk and jog during summer afternoons. Everyone is friendly and approachable. They have a facebook group where they can communicate with other residents but she has her own circle of friends mostly who works in the hospital. All of them she met when she moved in 2 summers ago. The general place is well maintained. Outside of her house during summer or autumn, there are children with their bikes on the street playing and laughing. She finds it very nostalgic, constantly reminding her during her childhood days. However, it is a bit of a trek if she is going to go shopping, so she has to take the car to Asda. She also have issues in the house such as leaks and bit and bobs. She said, it takes a while for them to sort it out. It is very bureaucratic and the process is long. All in all, she is happy of her house.

“Does it form a step on the way to some better human community in which we could believe?”

The sense of community in the area is strong. They meet up with her friends every time they are off schedule from work. They also do plan trips in the Christmas market and other places if they are available with their family. They had a Christmas party the other day at her house with 11 other families (all of them are her neighbours). All of them contributed something, some bought food and drinks. They had party games and exchanging gifts. They also have WhatsApp group where one of the moms runs out of ground pepper, one of them will provide and go to her house and gave her a portion of their ground pepper. Lastly, she said these small gestures they do makes everything special and warm whilst living in this place.

“Does it give joy? Is it beautiful and full of charm?”

The entire place is clean, well maintained and serene but the houses looks roughly the same, the only difference is the number plate used by the front door. 

This interview has shed some light on the life of living of a new built home. The question is still stand, has Persimmon Homes enhanced the quality of life and gave opportunities for healthy lifestyle? Personally, the housing developer has given ‘Jek’ the opportunity to enhance her quality of life and chance of healthy lifestyle by providing pedestrian friendly pavements where she can do her routine exercises. In addition, the location is strategically placed where facilities are within walking distances such as place of work and bus stops. Lastly, the place provided a safe environment where children can play outdoor. -consequentially, evoke her nostalgia of her own childhood. 

However, when ‘Jek’ said, “the houses looks roughly the same, the only difference is the number plate used by the front door.” I think those string of words speaks volume of the lack of character of the place. According to Peter Calthorpe and William Fulton, developers in cities and sub urban areas follows a modernist principles where it promotes specialisation, standardisation and mass production (LeGates and Stout, 2000). It builds up on homogenisation of community, meaning the communities they have built have almost similar physical structure from other places. It loses history of the site and making the place more generic urban space.

Despite all of that, we should find a silver lining of all the nuances of the physical embodiment of a space. But most importantly, we should identify and understand the social intricacies of what is happening inside of a home. It is the social connection, complimenting/conflicting personalities, human to human interactions that plays a huge part of what makes a place more liveable and achieving a sense of personal satisfaction.  


References:

BBC News. (2019). Housing crisis ‘affects 8.4 million’ in England. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49787913 [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (2000). The city reader. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge, pp.331-336.

Massey, M. (2019) Place Making in the Garden Village Tradition, TCP8090 Principles and Practice of Urban Design, Newcastle University, delivered 29 Dec 2019.

Minton, A. (2019). Byker Wall: Newcastle’s noble failure of an estate – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 41. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/21/byker-wall-newcastles-noble-failure-of-an-estate-a-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings-day-41 [Accessed 30 Dec. 2019].

Office of National Statitics. (2019). House building: new build dwellings, England: April to June 2019. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/835887/House_Building_Release_June_2019.pdf [Accessed 29 Dec. 2019].

2 responses to “The life of a person who lives in a ‘copy and paste’ housing developer’s principle”

  1. Thanks Van, for your take on the homogenisation of modern housing developments in Newcastle. I in particularly agreed what you said towards the end when you noted that it’s the social connections and daily interactions that might actually contribute to a more successful and liveable community, rather than the aesthetic of the houses themselves.
    Modern software systems and applications such as Revit and AutoCAD I believe definitely contribute to the ‘copy and paste’ mentality to get housing estates built quickly and to comply with the Government’s aim to reduce the cost of construction by 30% (in 2019).[1] Within Revit, for example, families are created for different elements such as windows and doors. In my personal experience in practice, I know certain design decisions were made based on standardised elements as these. I fear this leads to laziness and lack of originality.
    Alongside these easily copied elements, there is also the issue of ‘cut and paste’ specifications.[2] These are becoming a bad habit and I believe are a sign of idleness; this can quite easily lead to buildings which underperform and to more extremes, be rendered unsafe to occupy. Using tools like NBS specification templates can help tremendously. Practices should be more rigid about their specifications which are issued, especially in light of recent tragedies in this post-Grenfell period.[3]
    I think a positive impact in recent times, however, is how modern design principles make sure to incorporate a key feature of making housing developments look different by providing varied housing types.[4] Mark Massey from IDPartnership actually mentioned some of these in a recent lecture he gave at Newcastle University when discussing the housing concept and principles his firm utilized when developing the proposal for Staiths South Bank scheme. Some of which were to provide communality, landscape and play, pedestrian primacy, connectivity, innovative and varied housing types and a contemporary appearance.[5]
    These principles address both the need to provide housing that aren’t the ‘copy-and-paste’ or ‘quick-and-cheap’ schemes but that also deals with the social issues of providing social spaces which welcome community gatherings and the feeling of belonging to the place they call home.

    References:
    [1] David Fitzpatrick, “No Place for Cut and Paste Specification,” MBS – Modern Building Services, February 7, 2019, https://modbs.co.uk/news/fullstory.php/aid/18447/No_place_for_cut_and_paste_specification.html. [Accessed: 12th January 2020]
    [2] Fitzpatrick. [Accessed: 12th January 2020]
    [3] Fitzpatrick. [Accessed: 12th January 2020]
    [4] Mark Massey, “Place Making in the Garden Village Tradition” (Newcastle University, November 14, 2019).
    [5] Massey.

  2. The life of a person who lives in a ‘copy and paste’ housing developer’s principle
    Posted on 31st December, 2019 by Van Abner Consul

    I enjoyed this study because the automatic assumption that new build housing estates offer little tactile design quality (a subjective fact that is all too easy to dwell upon) is highlighted as not the be all and end all of the resident’s daily lives. I was also intrigued by the N.E England focus. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe (1) which gives new built residential developments stark benefits in comparison to other market offerings. The financial security, warranty and promise that the any repairs will be carried out promptly, as part of a snagging contract, is unique. The added security of this is undeniably appealing (2). Home ownership for most is considered as a weightily financial burden, the security of your own home, the assurance of protecting your family and being in control of your living arraignments, the fundamental appeal to justify the risk. In the last decade a significant drop from 72% to 63% in 2017 (3) in home ownership, points to the affordability of housing becoming further reduced. The questions posed in university design circles seldom touch on this and stray to heavily towards conversations at the extreme periphery of the point. It is refreshing to see a study that points to the ease of living in a new build development and the benefits like public transport, pedestrian provision and communities which establish quickly. It is too easy to condemn the present. It’s easy to forget how much better it is compered to the past.

    i) Nicol. Simon, Mike Roys, David Ormandy1 and Veronique Ezratty, The cost of poor housing in the European Union https://www.bre.co.uk/filelibrary/Briefing%20papers/92993_BRE_Poor-Housing_in_-Europe.pdf BRE Trust Briefing Paper 2018 (acc.Dec 2019 pp.50)
    ii) Roys M, Nicol S and Garrett H (2016) The Full Cost of Poor Housing. IHS BRE Press, Bracknell
    iii) Renters would get longer tenancies under government plans. BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44671094 1 July 2018 (acc.Jan 2020)

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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