A house is not a home\

By modelling the current and future shape of communities, Hawkins\Brown creates neighbourhoods that foster a sense of place and home, writes David Bickle.

We all agree that ‘There's no place like home’. Why then do so many architects talk about creating housing or residential schemes and very few refer to them as homes?

A house is an empty vessel and only comes alive with people. A home is where we throw down roots, investing money as well as time, energy and emotion. Homes register the patterns of life. If we are lucky our children are born in them and luckier still we end our days in them. Homes offer us security, a place where we can socialise, celebrate, argue, do homework, cook, care and create. They are the focus of friendships and many homes make a neighbourhood.

Working across the scales from district to doorknob is what we enjoy most, folding the learning from intimate detail into strategic masterplans and frameworks and back again. We are fortunate that we often follow through our designs, building them out ready for occupation, a satisfying closing of the loop.

At a ‘micro’ level, we continually research how to improve the homes that help make a community. Contemporary homes need to maximise adaptability to maintain their appeal and compete in a tough market. We seem to have lost some of the adaptability and utility that older homes had built in - the loft space, the under stairs cupboard, a space for a shed. This inherent adaptability has been eradicated from newer homes in the drive for more efficient plans, buildability and lower costs. But something has been lost in the process.

The commodification of homes has changed the language we use with words like 'affordable' 'market' 'luxury' 'mass' used as prefixes to 'housing'. This is further exacerbated by codes, planning requirements, legislation, guidance and developmental parameters making it a product not a place. For Hawkins\Brown all ‘housing’ is social. Homes and neighbourhoods have people at their heart and are invested with meaning and soul.

So what is a sustainable neighbourhood? Is it a development defined by CHPs, photovoltaic arrays or ground source heat pumps, or is it a place that is desirable, popular and safe and where people feel at home? At Hawkins\Brown we also imagine how the spaces between our buildings might be used - what will give them character, purpose and meaning? All too often non-residential uses are given generic space, and as a result become boarded up until the right use is found.. We like to work a little harder and try to find the right use for the right space - imagining how it will bring activity and life to the public realm. To bring a degree of pragmatism we’ve successfully used research and sampling techniques to determine what’s missing from a neighbourhood.

This research begins by examining existing successful communities, to understand their ‘DNA’ - cultural, economic, social and leisure infrastructure, and ‘map’ those findings on the area to be developed.

We used this method to develop ideas for the regeneration of Deptford Wharves in south-east London where a mix of housing tenures and employment-generating uses were required.

Working with Savilles research, we modeled the accessibility; potential demography and tenure mix of comparable sites, whilst considering the sort of people who might live there now and in the future.

This empirical ‘modeling’ of communities allows us to understand how a new development can relate to its surroundings in a much more complex, and locally sustainable, way. It is only when you understand these fundamental issues that you can begin to imagine how a new community might activate and bring life to a neighbourhood.

‘There’s no place like a community’.

At Hawkins\Brown we also imagine how the spaces between our buildings might be used - what will give them character, purpose and meaning?

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