We Must Deliver Energy-Efficient Homes in Lively Neighbourhoods; as Wales Addresses the Need for Sustainable Development Fit for Future Generations, the Design Commission's Cindy Harris Says Wales Needs a Blueprint for Housing Design
HOUSING is rarely far from the headlines. In October, Cardiff council published its local development plan preferred strategy for public consultation on growth and employment as well as the need for new homes.
Good design quality for such plans, here and elsewhere in Wales, is vital.
While there is much discussion about housing numbers and easing perceived restrictions on development, there is insufficient consideration of the design quality, layout and amenity needs for new homes, or for the challenges and opportunities of an ever-changing environment.
The homes we build today must meet the needs of current and future generations, responding to efficient land use and the challenges of a changing climate. It's not simply a matter of space standards, lifetime occupation or "style". We must deliver good homes, in lively neighbourhoods with good amenities, gardens and green spaces.
The Design Commission for Wales puts sustainability at the heart of good design and this includes consideration of amenity, security, adaptability, energy efficiency and space standards. Much has been made of a return to the "garden city" movement and this is a welcome approach in many ways, providing as it does the best of town and country, greener neighbourhoods, well managed public and private spaces and good quality homes.
It is worth remembering though that this was a "movement", and along with it came the commitment to mixed tenures and social equity, the 21st century version of which must be in place if we are to achieve similar quality to that of Letchworth or Rhiwbina.
Nostalgia alone must be avoided, rural and urban environments must be enhanced, with a focus on capturing the benefits of housing types. A recent Royal Society of Architects in Wales-backed competition attempted to do just this - inviting a reinvention of the terraced house in a manner fit for future lifestyle demands.
This challenges designers and house builders to achieve modern development which facilitates an intricate network of social relationships and community support, whilst performing to the highest environmental and amenity standards.
Terraces are inherently energy efficient, due to their compact form. While they may not always be able to take advantage of good solar access, as is the case in valley areas which run north/south, rear wings can be used to form south facing gardens and courtyards and offer some south facing roof-space.
Passive solar design maximises heat efficiency by optimising orientation, while working within the constraints of site and context. Most houses will have a frontage where the living rooms and main bedroom are located. If this is arranged to face due south, south-east, or south-west and has a reasonable amount of glazed windows, then solar heat will be stored in the fabric of the building during the day and will be released in the evenings when temperatures drop and additional space heating may be required.
Passive solar design is consistent with the "fabric first" approach to carbon reduction set out in Welsh Government planning guidance, and this design approach has been estimated to save up to 50% of space heating costs. Fuel poverty is at an all time high and underlines the importance of greater energy efficiency in existing stock, as well as integrating efficient low carbon measures for new developments.
The adoption of minimum space standards internally is important as this can have significant impacts on health, educational attainment and family relationships. Purchasers of new homes in this country will typically enjoy less space than in other western European countries, even those with a similar population density to the UK. …