A few weeks ago, we all enjoyed getting stuck into the latest Policy Exchange report – Building More, Building Beautiful – on taking a design-first approach to homebuilding.
The report clearly laid out how the ugliness of many new-build homes is fuelling Nimbyism and misinforming the public’s understanding of development, build quality and cost more generally.
Ordinary people value beauty, and bringing back aesthetic beauty as the foundational aspect of both the design and planning processes will ensure the public remains sympathetic to the right type of development, whether it’s on their doorstep or at the other end of the country. In the words of the report’s co-author, the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, beauty is “the object of a universal interest: the interest that we have in beauty, and in the pleasure that beauty brings”.
The report demonstrates unequivocally that good design, respectful of local vernacular, is the most powerful weapon against Nimbys. It is also essential for preserving the individuality and character of neighbourhoods. David Goodhart, now head of demography at Policy Exchange, wrote that the Brexit vote was driven by the divide between ’somewheres’ and ’anywheres’. Too often, new developments feel as though they could be anywhere and not somewhere, which is what drives local opposition.
Regardless of the type – modernist or traditional – architecture must respect both the type of housing and infrastructure in the immediate surroundings and the sentiments of the local community. Conscientious design must therefore be at the forefront of the development process rather than just an afterthought.
This should not slow down the rate of development; as the report recommends, developments that meet local design standards and conceptions of beauty should, in theory, be accelerated. Crafting and delivering beautiful homes does not have to be a sluggish affair.
Ultimately, we as an industry need to approach design in the same way we do finances. This is not just to win back trust in communities but also because it makes economic sense. Back in 2010, the Design Council argued that poorly designed housing costs society up to £1.5bn a year by eroding social wellbeing and incurring huge maintenance costs.
Our most recent finished project, West Village, is a collection of nine mews homes in the heart of Notting Hill, which we worked tirelessly over to ensure they lived up to the surrounding beauty of the area. With glass balcony terraces on the upper floors and walled gardens, the homes offer much more than a standard block of apartments and echo many of the design considerations laid out in the Policy Exchange report. They make residents feel they belong in a vibrant community and instil a sense of pride in the entire neighbourhood.
In resi development, beauty is the missing link. By reclaiming beauty, and emulating it through the buildings we design, we can turn heads while winning over hearts. Successful schemes are those that are sympathetic to the surrounding environment and the community they are part of.