Making Higher Densities Work

Densities shape places
Densities shape places
Project date
  • Consultation
Greater London
Associated team members
Associated documents

At a packed seminar at the Building Centre on March 26th, as part of their Sustainable London series, a group of speakers suggested ways of making the policy of building housing at higher densities work. Chairman Andrew Scoones warned we are building close to what used to be considered the maximum density, and higher densities bring risks.

Kicking the event off, which also celebrated URBED's 30th anniversary, Nicholas Falk argued that London needed to learn from new housing in the suburbs of Dutch and German cities. These created landscapes for families at densities that were truly sustainable. He called for a charter to cover the crucial six C's of connectivity, conservation, character, choice and community, and collaboration to ensure that higher density schemes live up to expectations. This should help us to speed up the rate of development, which is far below Dutch levels.Professor Sir Peter Hall pointed out the after 50 units to the hectare the benefits rarely outweigh the costs. The constraints in the suburbs are considerable, and in West London include extensive Conservation Areas. He suggested that the best locations for intensification were around transport nodes in suburban locations. His map of the proposed Orbirail system suggested a number of opportunities.Where schemes have been successful in London, as in the exciting schemes June Barnes showed Abbots Wharf, Limehouse and Tanner Street, Barking, their success has been due to a focus on well designed and quality buildings alongside careful allocation and management policies with the housing association playing the lead role. The East Thames Group has published a Housing Density Toolkit, which they are using to reach agreement on new schemes, which sets out principles for all the aspects that matter most. When schemes are in town centres densities can be higher as Neil Deely showed from Metropolitan Workshop's work in Dublin.Finally David Rudlin pointed out that we had come a long way since Building the 21st Century Home was published in 1999, and that we can have too much of a good thing. In some cities we are going too far in building high rise blocks that end up with unattractive public spaces and poky flats. This is due to double loaded corridors and requirements to space buildings apart, and is a product of developers and local authorities not knowing when to stop. He announced that URBED (Urbanism, Environment and Design) had just won a commission to apply Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood principles to a key development in Radcliffe, North of Manchester, working for Countryside Properties.

Project blog