Whether you believe that cities are the cause or potential solution to our climate woes (or indeed both), it is clear that they are a fundamental component in the drive for sustainability. In many ways, organisations like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have done more to confront the challenge of climate change than the United Nations, with many international cities leading the way in mitigation and adaptation efforts to reduce their vulnerability. As a Bloomberg headline recently declared “Cities from London to Portland slash emissions as UN climate envoys bicker”.
Such large urban settlements – and the people that live in them – have a lot to loose from climate change, but their existence and development is not only unstoppable, but also essential. In the PassivHaus – Prince’s House debate, James Hulme and Justin Bere argued there are two fundamental reasons for this importance of urbanism: firstly, because of the significantly greater efficiencies that can be derived from higher density development, both in energy and land usage, and secondly, because of the enormous human value of living in communities.
With many thousands of new homes needing to be built across the UK to accommodate an ever increasing population, both Hulme and Bere agreed that it is essential to develop new typologies of sustainable housing, in an urban and easily replicable form. The intention of the Prince’s House was to do just that, with the design being that of a terraced house, albeit initially built as a pair.
The benefits of such models increase significantly at higher densities, particularly when built to PassivHaus standards, with communal MVHR or grey water recycling systems becoming much more efficient (and cost effective) in terraced housing or large apartment buildings.
The singular ‘eco-home’ by contrast – as exemplified by many of the other detached prototypes built alongside the Prince’s House at the BRE innovation park – may address certain energy standards or challenge particular modes of construction, but without questioning the suburban development model they embody can they truly be described as sustainable?
There are a number of notable new schemes that are rethinking urban typologies, with the recently completed Triangle development in Swindon, designed by Glenn Howells Architects and built by Kevin McCloud’s development company Hab Oakus, being held up as a prime example of new terraced housing. While not reaching PassivHaus standards the development exemplifies the second of the points, with on-site allotments and shared communal landscape at the centre of the scheme designed to help foster a strong local community.
Both Hulme and Bere ultimately saw the development of a new generation of replicable urban housing as challenge to the wider architectural profession. As Bere explained “a lot of architects, particularly those that don’t work within the house building mainstream, struggle with the idea of not creating something one-off. Whereas we know that what we need to do is create models that are very very replicable, if we are going to have a hope in hell of turning things around.”
© Thomas Stoney Bryans