A Massive Small Proposition: Housing is not a problem to be solved. It is a potential to be realised.
How did housing become so complicated? How did it even become a crisis? Is it self-inflicted? Housing was never the domain of government. People did it. It was not a problem to be solved. We created it. The buck is now passed to the big guys to solve the created problem. Flog them our land. They must deliver, on our terms, but it is not working. We have system failure. Even in booming London, the predominant new housing type is the unfit, unserviced back garden shack.
Housing never was a design problem. Design improves through evolution, not constantly going back to first principles. With structured choices we can design anything well, but we must have the enabling conditions in place – the networks, fields, generators, defaults and catalysts. The lightest touch to make maximum impact. Housing can be reduced to the smallest units of delivery – a single building, a terrace, a block. Many agents can do it if we allow them. The private sector means all of us, not just the big guys. Open up the market to the widest possible opportunities. Make it work equably for the individual, collective and corporate.
People alone will always struggle to deliver housing. We need more effective governance: not to solve the problem, but to release the potential. Housing must be taken out of the hands of the bean counters and the policy wonks. We need, in David Crane’s words, a city of ‘a thousand designers’, or ‘a hundred thousand builders’, and ‘a million small sites’. We need to protect and incentivise smallness. Think Massive Small not Few Big!
LONDON FABRICation: 10 ideas, tools and tactics for the London Mayor.
- The London Open Standards: Firstly, take the government’s Open Standards Principles for IT interoperability and apply to housing. This gives a platform for starting to think differently.
- The London Popular Home: Focus on housing range that would deliver the sweet spot of urbanism, around 50-200 dwelling units per hectare. Include full spectrum of popular, long life, loose fit housing solutions: mews house, terraced house, townhouse and small apartment building.
- The London Levels: Look at housing as five levels of scale of intervention – the Neighbourhood, Street, Block> Lot> Plot (the units of subdivision and delivery), Base Building and Fitout. Learn from Habraken. Neighbourhood is the outcome of the other four levels coupled with social capital and diversity. Imbed levels in all policy, protocols and thinking.
- The London Street Types: Develop a range of street types: the avenue, shopping street, residential street and lane. You only need a good few. Fix the dimensions, produce a full specification for each and provide simple choice matrix to clarify their application.
- The London Tissue Manual: Structure choice and promote scalability by adopting the 15 metre wide lot, of varying depths, as standard unit of delivery.
a. In combination with Streets, develop a typology of London blocks and superblocks. Include mews, garden squares, traffic management zones, etc.
b. Develop typological subdivisions of the lot: 5, 6, 7.5, 10, 15 and 30 metre wide development plots. Only two lots can be combined.. The fine grain provides a framework for diversity, allowing infinite responses.
- London Popular Home Parameter Book: Develop full range of housing typologies, based on Tissue Manual. Typologies should be volumetric, with limits for deviation identified. Make these freely downloadable.
- London Common Building Code: Develop open building standards and simple modular coordination for each typology within the Parameter Book, with range of building heights from say 2-6 stories. Get British Standards Institute approval and formally adopt as common platform for all.
- London Local Development Order: Any housing that uses this process is permitted development. Develop a Fast Track Route through planning if a Parameter Plan is based on the Tissue Manual and using Parameter book typologies. Agree a Choice Matrix. Develop simple rules to allow for alternative responses. Applicants can still follow the conventional routes.
- London Civic Economy Manual: Show how people can build social capital in their neighbourhoods to create stable communities. It is not all about bricks and mortar.
- London Neighbourhood Forum: Develop a platform to monitor and review progress; share issues, solutions and experiences; and, evolve the various ideas, tools and tactics over time.
- Open minds to different ways of doing things, particularly those who have been part of the problem for so long. Create protocols for responsive change not policies that limit. Move from being command-and-controllers to enablers. Change mindsets and behaviours across the organisation.
- Create a Neighbourhood Enabling Agency to work with all authorities. Employ people who know about housing. Reward success in delivery. Incentivise every action at every scale. Build social capital at every level. Create conditions to release the potential of housing.
- Parcel up publicly-owned land using the London Lot principle. Make it the primary unit of delivery. Open this land to wider market choice all on equal terms. Prevent speculation and land banking through structured land deals. Learn from Berlin and the Self-Made City. Focus on the many ‘sixes’, don’t be caught up on the big numbers.
- Practice ‘disintermediation’. Deal directly with end-user. Invite people or groups to tender for plots. Let them come with mortgages, bridging finance, subsidies and schemes. Let them come as groups or as individuals. Let them come with their architects and builders. Reward the best.
- Don’t keep our low density, well-connected interwar suburbs in suspended animation. Produce development orders to allow them to intensify into fully functioning parts of the city. If you don’t, their back yards will fill up anyway. If every lousy suburban house was replaced with three or four townhouses, London would not have a problem. Everyone can do it so it ceases to be a NIMBY issue.
- Start by starting. Learn by experimenting. Don’t waste your time on protracted studies. Don’t ask architects and volume housebuilders what they think. They may be part of the problem.
- Within six months you can have the bones of this in place. Within two years this will be the London Way. Be brave!
This report should be read in conjunction with the London Popular Home Initiative, produced by Urban initiatives Studio
London Fabrication was submitted as a Massive Small Proposition by Kelvin Campbell. Kelvin led the team that produced the Mayor of London’s Housing Design Guide and The London Popular Home Initiative.
The winners of the competition will be announced on the 14th of October 2015