Open Sky events

On Tuesday I visited the Sky Believe in Better building in Osterley in the morning and the Creekside Centre in Deptford in the evening…how different! There was a common theme, education. At Sky a sustainable building for visitors definitely feels “better”, offering a place where children can try out producing TV programmes and consider a career in media.  Creekside Centre also offers educational experiences, in sites next to the river, where by dressing in waterproofs children can be mudlarks and tread in the squelchy creek ooze to discover what being in the river at low tide feels like. They get close to nature…but are in the city.

Both buildings aim to also offer sustainable aspects of construction. At Sky, timber frames are a healthy option, whilst in Creekside the green roof and untreated soils on the site can offer a spot for the wildlife and seeds blown into this area to colonise.

At Sky we discussed all the aspects of client involvement in a building project: sustainable procurement; considerate constructor scheme; energy efficiency; enhanced biodiversity; BREEAM standards to aspire to; and reuse of materials. The timber frame offers time savings in construction and being lighter than a concrete structure, there are savings in the slab material needed. The timber finish is able to be used without needing painting or treatment..a light sanding if it marks is sufficient. The site also only used recycled aggregates.

Creekside are just embarking on a possible expansion and thinking about the sustainable options.

An interesting day!


Design – what is good design?

I have always thought the idea of sub splitting site plots into several small ones with different designers addressing the overall guidance is interesting as a way to create diversity of design responses.

‘Local distinctiveness’ of say a village is another story: in maybe  eight centuries of buildings how can something constructed in the 21st century reflect them all? I think we have to stick to our century: look how popular Span homes became, and they are really 20th century style. Our Civic Trust Award research indicated their resilient popularity was very much linked to two factors:

  1. landscaping was not the first aspect to be sacrificed as costs rose, it was a USP and therefore the last aspect to be cut back to meet cost constraints.
  2. the maintenance regime on Span estates, i.e. how they are governed and managed by the residents adds a lot of certainty and value.

Almost no current major housebuider thinks along these lines. This commitment by a developer to quality of landscaping and general estate maintenance over a long time period cannot be legislated for. In London managed places such as the Cator Estate in Blackheath and the Dulwich Estate in Dulwich Village ensure these are oases of higher value than their surroundings.

How do you think LPAs can best encourage design diversity and local distinctiveness?

LPAs have hardly any urban designers on their staff, and the jobs assigned to the urban design teams that do exist are usually around public space design, necessary but not influential in major housing areas.

Almost none can capture “good” design effectively using the appeal system: a tool entirely unsuited to getting a good design outcome. Good design needs both discussion – tension even – and a clear leadership prepared to make consistent design decisions, and only the very best management continuity can deliver the outcome of a good attractive viable scheme. Often the early phase submitted and built in a major scheme is very good.  Senior LPA officers and councillors are concerned to ensure a strong LPA design input is available.

As the resource needed for overseeing the subsequent phases is often not available, designs often start well and go downhill under a barrage of mediocre decisions, compromises and funding constraints. Housebuiders sell on land, taking the land value uplifts in the process, and higher densities creep in, so early plans for landscaping, proper transport, water management and even respect for the topography are often lost. I have some horror stories on this aspect.

So what about using Design Guides? The guide can be useful but many are so similar and vague: perhaps all copied each other in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, and all rehash the original work, and many look suspiciously like the original Essex Design Guide!!  Add to this samey superficiality the house-builder “gob-on”, a ‘delightful term! It refers to dressing boxes of a totally standard design with some claddings to imitate “local styles”. to give homes with the correct county moniker – the Hampshire, the Cheshire or the Rutland, and voila, you have a recipe for where we now stand in terms of design: the unqualified leading the unconcerned.

land value capture: an economic analysis

Does society get back the investment we make in infrastructure? An Australian economist thinks not, here is his view from a summary of one of Shann’s publications, where he asks about how a different attitude could help provide affordable housing..

The Turnbull Effect

“Year by year, exclusive forms of ownership concentrate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. Year by year, the public debt load rises and private citizens suffer the consequences, including massive cuts in state subsidies for affordable housing. It is inefficient, it is unjust, and it has to change.

Shann Turnbull has designed a way to end this process. His suggestion is a Co-operative Land Bank (CLB)  that creates a way to reward private investment for commercial or industrial purposes in an area in the medium term, whilst diverting ownership, wealth, and responsibility into the hands of local residents over the long term.

He proposes that the ownership of the urban land base be separated from the ownership of buildings on the land. The land belongs to the CLB. Its shares are distributed to residents according to the area occupied by their dwelling (for example one share per x square metres). Ownership in a dwelling or commercial or industrial building takes the form of a transferable lease from the CLB. The leases on dwellings are perpetual, but those for commercial or industrial buildings are time-limited so such investors retain ownership only until they recover the value of their investment. Voting privileges in CLB deliberations are reserved to those who hold community shares.

Consequently, residents acquire equity in the entire site. Profits and rents are channeled to the CLB, which also captures the rise in land values due to public investment in infrastructure. It becomes self-financing. Incentive for entrepreneurship is preserved, and the machinery that enriches the few and marginalises the many is dislocated.

Turnbull’s work helps form the basis of the discussion of alternative tenure and its linkage to transition found in The Resilience Imperative: Co-operative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy, by Michael Lewis and Pat Conaty (New Society Publishers, 2012).


This article is part of the i4 special series, Housing We Can Afford. It is produced in partnership with the BC-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA) and with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

About Core Connections

Elizabeth Wrigley set up Core Connections Ltd as a consultancy to assist clients plan and design interesting and meaningful places.

“As an urban designer, who also trained as an ecologist, I have used this combined perspective to lead a masterplan process that started with considering the design of landscape. The landscape design is too often added on as a sort of decoration to the site and is only considered at the end of a design process. Also landscape is often the first item cut when saving money on a scheme. Sustainability considerations are, however, changing this as water, sun, wind and soil are increasingly seen as potential resources to design with.

I find this emphasis on looking at the potential to integrate a more natural landscape into towns to be inspiring. People who care about nature and are interested in managing natural environments will join together to create such places. Regular exercise is an important requirement for health, and parks provide locations for healthy exercise and for contact with nature”.

Communities can use planning experts to help them visualize the environment they want, as well as to work with the developers so the reality of funding and making places work can be fully explored.

For more information on some aspects of the work undertaken by Core Connections contact Elizabeth Wrigley on 0208 694 6226.