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WELL-DESIGNED ARCHITECTURE: A PRIVILEGE OR A PRIORITY? 01 Well-designed architecture Peter Waters North West Cambridge Development eople often question the need for ‘good architecture’, as if it is something excessive or frivolous, something which the rich can afford and everyone else can dream about. But it only takes one look at some of the less favourable examples of architecture in modern history to realise that the impacts of the buildings we live in might be much wider-reaching. Take, for instance, the infamous high- rise block of the 1950s and ‘60s. Once at the forefront of modernist design and supposedly the answer to our nationwide housing shortage after WWII, these towers have received numerous instances of public outcry in the following decades owing to their ugliness and impracticalities, with particular attention paid to the seemingly dehumanizing effect such abodes have on their residents. Even the British royalty have spoken out, with the Prince of Wales writing in his book Harmony, “all too quickly these ‘modern’ and ‘new’ towns lost their look of modernity and turned into hell” (Prince of Wales, et al., 2010, p. 174). The reason for such public dissent was as much to do with their aesthetics (or lack of) to the passers-by as well as the effects they had on the people living inside them. Some of the reported consequences on high-rise residents THE MEANING OF GOOD DESIGN ▶ P include a lower life satisfaction, increased distress and mental health problems, increased suicide rates, more behavioural problems in children, higher crime rates, greater animosity towards neighbours, reduced social interaction, fewer friendships, a lack of community as well as slower development of young children (Gifford, 2007). All of these contributed to a greater sense of unrest within the residents, resulting in the higher vandalism, alcohol addiction and depression rates that grew to be the distinctive character of high-rise estates. Bad architecture comes in many different forms however, as can be seen in the rise of the suburban dormitory following the termination of state-built high-rise developments by Margaret Thatcher. With demand for low cost housing still high and the desire for ‘faux-tradition’ properties soaring in the wake of the high-rise disaster, property developers jumped at the opportunity to meet it, using computer programs to take a single standard house design and replicate it around the estate for maximum efficiency. In truth what they were creating were housing estates without souls, the same problem that tower blocks had faced just a decade earlier. Each building featured the same bland pastiche 18th century exterior - a decision that earnt them the nickname of ‘Noddy Houses’ - due to the lack of in-keeping with any particular time or place, and they’re still being built today. What’s more, rather than making a town square or a community building the centre of attention for their building-schemes, “abstract styles of thinking” (Lehrer, 2011). At the same time, those in more claustrophobic environments were better able to focus on the specific details. As well as being able to affect our thinking abilities, our surroundings can also change the way we interact with other human beings. Architecture that respects and facilitates the need for community can have numerous effects, from reducing the likelihood of experiencing heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression to making us sleep better at night and live longer (Montgomery, 2013). It is even said to have a direct effect on our susceptibility to addiction (Hari, 2015) , something that may explain the abnormally high rates of substance abuse found at certain high-rise estates. According to research done by Charles Montgomery, the spaces and places of our cities also have an interesting effect on our ability to trust and work with each other. He found that people who live in car-dependant neighbourhoods are much less trusting of other people than those who live in walkable neighbourhoods. This is important as his experiments show that “every time we have a trust- building encounter, with friends or even strangers, … it triggers feelings and actions that are more altruistic.” (Montgomery, 2014). Further research has been done in respect to the psychological effects that greenery can have on people living in urban environments. Positive benefits include better health, greater job and greater life satisfaction for office workers, greater attention capacity for children and fewer symptoms shown amongst children with ADHD (Clay, 2001). The study also extends to hospital wards, with patients with a view overlooking trees reportedly having an easier time recovering, needing less pain medication and getting out of hospital faster than those whose rooms overlooked brick walls. Such findings are particularly important for mentally ill patients, who were shown to react up to 65 times more negatively to bad environments than controls; all of those reactions translating directly into symptoms. (Golembiewski, 2014) With the evidence mounting for the importance of good design within architecture, one starts to wonder why there have been no attempts to make an ‘official rulebook’ for what a good building should look like. Surely, one thinks, it would only be a matter of writing down what science tells us would make us the happiest? live. According to him, the function of a house was to provide just three things: “1. A shelter against heat, cold, rain, thieves and the inquisitive. 2. A receptacle for light and sun. 3. A certain number of cells appropriated to cooking, work, and personal life.” (Corbusier, 2007). What Le Corbusier was left with was a paradox however, as he didn’t count on the department of aesthetics remaining so stubbornly prevalent in the design process. The reality is that although certain materials might be better suited to certain functions, science alone cannot tell us how our buildings should look. Le Corbusier found himself continually having to make aesthetic choices, and that often meant choosing something that looked the most functional even though it might not have actually been the most functional in reality. This is no more evident in the flat roof of his Villa Savoye, which he chose over a pitched roof since it would be ‘cheaper to construct’ and ‘easy to maintain’, when in reality it was a disaster because it did a terrible job of keeping the rainwater out. It is clear from this that the world, and all of a sudden people started questioning the way they were doing things and how they should proceed into the future. One idea that came to the forefront was modernism, an architectural movement that promised us happiness through its radical efficiency and gleeful lack of ornamentation. Le Corbusier, the architect and father of modernism, fancied his buildings the epitome of simplicity and practicality; buildings that were stripped away of all frills and thrills and were governed only by the core functions that a person needed to t’s horror-stories like these that have sparked new interest in the fields of neuroscience and environmental the developers place the main focus on the central road running through it, assuring the promise of mobility whilst failing to address the real needs of the people having to live there. And in the words of Gordon Brace on the Channel 4 programme The Perfect Home, “And then we’re surprised that n the 1920s they had a very different idea of happiness. World War I had changed the outlook of psychology. The complexity of our surroundings means that scientific papers that can identify the exact sources of our joy or discomfort are still relatively hard to come by, but one fact that remains consistent between the studies is that all of them point to a greater necessity for attention to detail in the buildings and spaces we design. One 2009 study for instance carried out by the University of British Columbia, found that subjects who took a variety of cognitive tests against a red background performed much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail than their peers taking tests against a blue background. On the other hand, those with a blue background performed much better at tasks requiring some imagination, in some cases coming up with more than twice as many solutions as those in the red condition. The reason, according to the scientists, is that “people automatically associate red with danger, which makes them more alert and aware” whereas with the colour blue “we think about expansive horizons … sandy beaches and lazy summer days. This sort of mental relaxation makes it easier for us [to] daydream and think in terms of tangential associations” (Lehrer, 2011). Thus, something as simple as the wall colour can seemingly have the capacity to double our imaginative power. Another experiment of a similar type was carried out at the Carlson School of Management, where it was found that subjects taking tests in rooms with lofty ceilings were better able to zoom out and engage in more Peter Waters Peter Waters UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES ARCHITECTURE AS A SCIENCE By the 1960s more than 470,000 tower blocks had been built in the UK, mostly by engineers (Prince of Wales, et al., 2010) Villa Savoye: A dream of scientific purity but ultimately fantasyMass-produced suburban housing 03 Well-designed architecture02 Well-designed architecture I I To look at architecture as a science would be to misdiagnose the pur- pose of the disciplinepeople retire into their own boxes, take no notice of their neighbours, don’t form a community, don’t go and vote, don’t feel part of anything else, because we’ve forced them into a situation where all they can do is go home and look at the telly” (Brace 2006). ▶ the relationship modernist architects had with their work was much more idealistic than they claimed it to be. In the words of the philosopher Alain de Botton: “The Villa Savoye might have looked like a practically minded machine, but it was in reality an artistically motivated folly” (Botton, 2006, p. 65). Essentially there was no real basis for the modernists’ claims of their buildings being ‘purely scientific’. Instead through the use of design and visual cues, they were looking to create a fantasy way of life that appealed to their contemporary vision for the future, one that ultimately missed the mark. In the end what this shows us is that to look at architecture as a science would be to misdiagnose the purpose of the discipline. What we now understand is that architecture, like art, has a much larger role than we previously thought. Buildings and spaces have the power to move us in profound and unexpected ways; an ability that stems from their capacity to connect with us on an emotional level. Their shape and design is supposed to bring out the best in us, to reinforce the values we cherish and that in ourselves we want to strengthen. Le Corbusier missed this fundamental connection, and in the search for greater ‘efficiency’ overlooked the things that are most important to us. On a most basic level, what Le Corbusier missed is that we are unlikely to respect a structure that does no more than keep us dry and warm. Alain de Botton, in the book The Architecture of Happiness, writes, “The buildings we admire are ultimately those which, in a variety of ways, extol values we think worthwhile – which refer, that is, whether through their materials, shapes or colours, to such legendarily positive qualities as friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength and intelligence” (Botton, 2006, p. 98). Perhaps then, deciding to clad his buildings in swathes of dull reinforced concrete for its economic efficiency wasn’t Le Corbusier’s best decision. He also made some serious errors in the way our modern cities should be lain out around us. He forgot about the human desire for open space and for incidental discovery, instead placing the parkland between towering apartment blocks and forcing residents to drive across motorways like robots whenever they wanted to travel between one facility and another. It is no surprise then that such environments, going against every fibre of our human nature make us aggravated and more likely to express our feelings of discontent in illicit ways. This fact was reaffirmed in the riots of 2011, when as many as three- quarters of those convicted were found to have come from Corbusier- inspired high-rise estates (Cameron, 2016). Peter Waters Peter Waters THE DANGER OF 'SUBJECTIVITY' 05 Well-designed architecture04 Well-designed architecture fter the modernist movement, the credibility of the profession of architecture plunged and an era of turmoil and confusion set in. Much of the reason for this uncertainty revolved around the public no longer being able to criticise architecture in a way they were once able to. Most people would say they dislike the aesthetic of Le Corbusier’s La Tourette Monastery, but such accusations seem badly founded when confronted with the statement that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The problem with this statement is that it shuts down discussion and allows developers to get away with building whatever they want, even though inwardly we know it to be wrong. What makes the idea of beauty being subjective even more crazy is that no one actually believes it, there is very much a majority consensus for what is and isn’t beautiful out there, and yet the notion of subjectivity still manages to grind We need to rephrase the question so that we are no longer talking about buildings in terms of their aesthetic value, but in terms of the virtues and ideologies they promote to those living around them. This type of thinking isn’t new either, with the idea of buildings ‘having things to say’ first appearing in The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin in 1851. By doing so, we can open up the debate to more reasoned argument and logic, allowing us to defend or attack a building being discussed by what it talks to us about. What does the building do to embody the qualities of friendliness, kindness, subtlety, strength and intelligence? It becomes a debate of the values we all conversations on the topic to a halt. want to live by, rather than just the way we want things to look. The idea might have been put into words by John Ruskin, but in truth we have been building in this way for centuries as cathedrals like the Notre Dame in Paris and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence will tell us. To say it was the presence of God that makes these buildings so uplifting would be beautiful but disingenuous. The architects knew what they were doing; directing light, shaping space, creating buildings so grand, so ephemeral yet so delicate and beautiful that even in our inner minds our thoughts start to slow and we start to think of greater things. Ancient theologians would talk about architecture as a means of bringing us closer to God and reinforcing our resolve to be good. Property developers nowadays talk about private drive-way space, your own back-garden and a short 45-minute commute to the city. In the end it is the most vulnerable in our society that will end up suffering the worst under this mentality, as they are the ones likely to be taken advantage of in the increasingly more difficult search for affordable housing. In a video by The School of Life, they even attributed rising house prices to a lack of design standards, as a nationwide fear of ugly housing scarring the landscape has made people reluctant to let new developments come to fruition (The School of Life, 2015). It is important therefore that we create structures that add rather than take away from the land they are built upon; otherwise not only would the development have been pointless, but we will never be able to solve this country’s housing shortage. In reality this isn’t just a matter of successful housing, it’s a matter of successful lives. “We depend on our surroundings obliquely to embody the moods and ideas we respect and then to remind us of them. We look to our buildings to hold us, like a kind of psychological mould, to a helpful vision of ourselves” (Botton, 2006, p. 107). The case against such ‘buildings without a soul’ are growing every day, with most recently David Cameron announcing a £140m fund to transform so-called British ‘sink estates’, knocking down the worst of them and replacing them with high- quality homes. In an article for the Sunday Times he said that some estates were “actually entrenching poverty in Britain”, isolating communities, increasing anti-social behaviour and creating places where nobody wants to live or work (Cameron, 2016). A The customisable Loggia flatpack house by 8A Architects Left: Notre Dame, Right: Sainte Marie de La Tourette It is important that we create structures that add rather than take away from the land they are built upon POSITIVE CHANGE ther countries have been leading the way in terms of their standards for social housing for years now. Like almost every country in Europe, the Netherlands was also impacted by the modernist movement in the ‘60s. But rather than lose faith in modern architecture and apartment-style housing, they innovated, creating a public framework for low-cost, high- quality, high-density housing that people actually wanted to live in. They are even trying to bring costs of designer buildings further down through the IbbN flatpack housing initiative in Nijmegen. Buildings under this scheme come in 30 different configurations designed by 20 different Dutch architects, have a fixed assembly schedule and cost as little as €115,000 to construct (Wainwright, 2013). All of this represents a country that is caring for its most vulnerable, and isn’t letting the quality or affordability of their housing be a reason for them to fall behind. Positive change is slowly making its way to the UK too however, with one developer in particular, Countryside Properties plc., leading the movement. Countryside takes a different approach from most other developers, choosing to work with the UK’s leading architects such as Alison Brooks Architects and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in order to create sustainable, high quality homes whilst still promising to make 30% of their properties affordable. The real difference is in how it works with the local council however, using the lessons learnt from Le Corbusier’s failures to create comprehensive urban master-plans, including winding green pathways and public squares, new local shops and schools and fully-integrated public transport systems by the time the first residents start moving in. The first major housing project O ▶ Peter Waters Peter Waters 07 Well-designed architecture06 Well-designed architecture Accordia Living, Cambridgeunder this model was the Accordia development in Cambridge, winner of the RIBA Sterling award in 2008. It was the first time that a house builder had been able to prove that high-quality, high-volume houses could be built whilst still improving their own bottom line and from there has inspired a wave of similar new developments around Cambridgeshire and the UK. There were two things that really set Accordia apart; its respect and interplay with its surroundings and the strong sense of community the development helped to create. The majority of the buildings share the same traditional ‘Cambridge Gault’-style yellow bricks, while the apartments are constructed from copper and green oak. This respect for the local materials helps the community feel a part of the greater Cambridge area whilst the unique design of their homes binds them together as their own distinguished group. What is most ingenious however is the ‘living in a garden’ theme that runs throughout the site, replacing private gardens with roof terraces and balconies, and weaving in a patchwork of public gardens and green spaces for the residents to meet and interact with each other. The idea seems to have worked, with residents on the whole being “outgoing and social, not territorial people” and one person saying “We know more people here than we did after 25 years living in the suburbs in London. People talk to each other and everybody you pass will say something” (Fulcher, 2013). It is undoubtable that without the strong support and framework the Cambridge City Council had already set up, much of what Countryside produced with the Accordia development wouldn’t have been achievable. Realising that the city needed to grow if it was to remain a global hub of innovation and research, the council identified several key areas that were optimal for growth, outlining a development brief for each and encouraging house-builders to buy up the land. There are now a total of nine proposed sites being developed by five different property developers (four by Countryside), all having to undergo Cambridge’s strict local planning guidelines. This ensures that the buildings are sustainable, that they enhance the character of the city and its landscape, that they respond to their natural and historic context, that they provide a mix of accommodation, retail, community and leisure facilities, that they are safe and socially inclusive spaces, that they provide public space and sports facilities, that they don’t detract from listed buildings and ancient monuments and much, much more (Cambridge City Council, 2006). "We know more people living here than we did after 25 years living in the suburbs" Only if the council is ambitious in their aspirations can they get results that match them ▶ concentration, our mental health. The evidence is there and yet our most vulnerable are still suffering. We need to demand more from our councils and house-builders, and where communities are stifled and stagnant do whatever we can to regenerate them. It’s time we changed the perspective that well-designed architecture is just an off-chance, a lucky accident, or something that only the rich can have. That’s simply not true. Well-designed architecture should be there for all of us - not only because it's financially viable, but because it's vital to our communities and well-being too. Peter Waters08 Well-designed architecture Dollis Valley Regeneration by Countryside What this shows is that only if the council is ambitious in their aspirations can they get results that match them. Much of the problems associated with late 20th and even early 21st century housing can be attributed to property developers who decided to place profit-making over the well-being of their hundreds-of- thousands of customers. The success that the Cambridge City Council and Countryside Properties have achieved, however, highlights a future where customer and developer could one day benefit equally. GOOD DESIGN AS A RIGHT Dollis Valley Estate (Current) Brook Valley Gardens (Proposed) Abode by Countryside, Cambridge Peter Waters09 Well-designed architecture e know that the design of our buildings can affect our communities, our W BIBLIOGRAPHY Botton, A. D., 2006. The Architecture of Happiness. London: Penguin Group. Brace, G., 2006. The Perfect Home [Interview] (1 May 2006). Cambridge City Council, 2006. Cambridge Local Plan. [Online] Available at: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/sites/default/files/docs/ Local%20Plan%202006.pdf [Accessed 10 04 2016]. Cameron, D., 2016. Estate regeneration. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/estate- regeneration-article-by-david-cameron [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Clay, R., 2001. Green is good for you. [Online] Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood.aspx [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Corbusier, L., 2007. Toward An Architecture. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute. Dollis Valley Resident Consultation, 2016. The Regeneration of Dollis Valley. [Online] Available at: http://www.dollisvalley.co.uk/our-proposal/ [Accessed 08 04 2016]. Fulcher, M., 2013. The Architect's Journal. [Online] Available at: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/discordant- murmurs-trouble-accordias-idyll/8644173.fullarticle [Accessed 10 04 2016]. Gifford, R., 2007. The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings. [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233490985_ The_Consequences_of_Living_in_High-Rise_Buildings [Accessed 22 03 2016]. Golembiewski, J., 2014. Building a better world. [Online] Available at: http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world- can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541 [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Hari, J., 2015. Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong. [Online] Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_ everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong/ transcript?language=en#t-867720 [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Lehrer, J., 2011. The Psychology of Architecture. [Online] Available at: http://www.wired.com/2011/04/the-psychology-of- architecture/ [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Montgomery, C., 2013. The secrets of the world's happiest cities. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/01/ secrets-worlds-happiest-cities-commute-property-prices [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Montgomery, C., 2014. The Happy City Experiment. [Online] Available at: http://tedxvancouver.com/talks/the-happy-city- experiment/ [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Moore, R., 2015. The quiet revolution in British housing. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/ aug/16/quiet-revolution-in-british-housing-architecture [Accessed 11 04 2016]. Prince of Wales, C., Juniper, T. & Skelly, I., 2010. Harmony. London: Blue Door. RIBA, 2008. Accordia, Cambridge (2008). [Online] Available at: https://www.architecture.com/StirlingPrize/ RIBAStirlingPrizeWinners/Accordia,Cambridge(2008).aspx [Accessed 08 04 2016]. The School of Life, 2015. One Reason Homes Cost So Much. [Online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcbjWGj3jBk [Accessed 07 04 2016]. Wainwright, O., 2013. Flatpack homes offer Dutch first-time buyers chance to get on housing ladder. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture- design-blog/2013/may/07/flatpack-houses-nijmegen-netherlands [Accessed 08 04 2016]. Peter Waters Peter Waters10 11Well-designed architecture Well-designed architecture Peter Waters12 communities and well-being too. Peter Waters08 Well-designed architecture Dollis Valley Regeneration by Countryside What this shows is that only if the council is ambitious in their aspirations can they get results that match them. Much of the problems associated with late 20th and even early 21st century housing can be attributed to property developers who decided to place profit-making over the well-being of their hundreds-of- thousands of customers. The success that the Cambridge City Council and Countryside Properties have achieved, however, highlights a future where customer and developer could one day benefit equally. GOOD DESIGN AS A RIGHT Dollis Valley Estate (Current) Brook Valley Gardens (Proposed) Abode by Countryside, Cambridge Peter Waters09 Well-designed architecture e know that the design of our buildings can affect our communities, our W BIBLIOGRAPHY Botton, A. D., 2006. The Architecture of Happiness. London: Penguin Group. Brace, G., 2006. The Perfect Home [Interview] (1 May 2006). Cambridge City Council, 2006. Cambridge Local Plan. [Online] Available at: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/sites/default/files/docs/ Local%20Plan%202006.pdf [Accessed 10 04 2016]. Cameron, D., 2016. Estate regeneration. [Online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/estate- regeneration-article-by-david-cameron [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Clay, R., 2001. Green is good for you. [Online] Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr01/greengood.aspx [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Corbusier, L., 2007. Toward An Architecture. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute. Dollis Valley Resident Consultation, 2016. The Regeneration of Dollis Valley. [Online] Available at: http://www.dollisvalley.co.uk/our-proposal/ [Accessed 08 04 2016]. Fulcher, M., 2013. The Architect's Journal. [Online] Available at: http://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/home/discordant- murmurs-trouble-accordias-idyll/8644173.fullarticle [Accessed 10 04 2016]. Gifford, R., 2007. The Consequences of Living in High-Rise Buildings. [Online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233490985_ The_Consequences_of_Living_in_High-Rise_Buildings [Accessed 22 03 2016]. Golembiewski, J., 2014. Building a better world. [Online] Available at: http://theconversation.com/building-a-better-world- can-architecture-shape-behaviour-21541 [Accessed 06 04 2016]. Hari, J., 2015. Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong. [Online] Available at: ht