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.

Triangle Development by Hab Oakus © Hab Oakus

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

About Thomas Stoney Bryans
Thomas Stoney Bryans received his M.A. in Architectural Design with First-class honours from the University of Edinburgh in 2006, and his M.Arch from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University in 2010. He has worked for numerous practices worldwide including UN Studio in Amsterdam, Simon Conder Associates in London, and Heneghan Peng Architects in Dublin. His main research interests include large-scale questions of sustainability such as energy, transportation, food, and water, and how these issues are affected by and impact upon the way we live, and the buildings and cities we live in.

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  1. Justin Bere

    October 3, 2011

    I like the Hab Oakus streetscape with its attractive houses and delicately coloured facades. I feel sure the houses will be very popular and hopefully the project will also nail the myth that brick is an essential element of an English street. This project shows how successful render can be. The historian Alec Clifton-Taylor praised the colourful painted walls of post-war British villages. Render and external insulation is also going to be an important tool in improving the energy efficiency of our terrible housing stock and Hab Housing shows how good this can look in the right hands.

  2. Manju Dave

    December 30, 2011

    Render is an option we have and as Bere rightly puts it “delicately coloured facades” and ” myth that brick is essential”. Just as spaces are shared by communities could we not consider sharing technologies and services within communities. Its a great project, the elevations however are still very traditional, we still thinking traditional individual houses. We need to redefine community and responsibility within our spaces. Planners, Designers, Developers and Housing Association have a major role to play to make this difference.

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