It is no secret that housing estates within the UK don’t have the best reputation. We generally tend to envisage dilapidated housing, poverty and anti-social behaviour, and it seems that Prime Minister, David Cameron shares these sentiments.
In the wake of comments made by the PM, who has pledged to invest £140m in demolishing and regenerating ‘sink estates’, architect Alex Ely of Mae Architects implies that bulldozing these estates is prejudicial and unnecessary. As reported in the Independent, the PM went even further and claimed that post-war housing estates are dark, brutal and a haven for crime. These comments have since been branded as idiotic.
Ely’s London-based studio has a better idea and has been working alongside a regeneration company to renovate the Hillington Square estate in Norfolk as part of a £30m project. The first phase of work on these five-storey blocks built between 1967 and 1971 was completed last year and now the second is underway.
In Ely’s view, the designs of older estates, while outdated, are not so flawed that demolition is the only answer. Many can be remodelled and reworked to give them a modern approach while simultaneously retraining their existing values, saving money and keeping communities together.
Hillington Square has suffered from social problems; however, Ely and his team are attempting to rejuvenate these areas and adapt them in a way that gives the residents more privacy, security and ultimately improves the way in which they behave and interact with one another.
Working alongside the government’s Behavioural Insights Team, the design team made changes such as demolishing the elevated walkways between the blocks in favour of installing direct access to each home through stairwells and lifts. This helps residents to feel safer and gives them a greater sense of personal ownership. Using modern practices such as tensile structures, such as those designed by http://fabricarchitecture.com/, updating interiors and layouts, adding more windows and entrance porches have all gone some way to improving the lives of the residents.
This project has proven just how effectively a remodel can improve an existing building. It has also given some insight into how the same concept could be used in other estates, thus prolonging the lifespan of existing buildings and easily overcoming problems with their original design.