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    BD Article: Densifying Suburbia

    In response to a lecture held at the RIBA about the Housing Crisis in the UK and following the practice’s trend of densifying sites whilst sensitively responding to their context, Managing Director, Matt Goodwin, wrote an article on ‘Densifying Suburbia’ that was published in Building Design (BD).

    In the article Matt argues that development densities in these ‘city suburbs’ of 50 dwellings per hectare (dph) that were established in the 20th century when the requirement for housing was much lower and are largely based on the traditional terraced house form is no longer appropriate in London’s contemporary expanding and demanding market.


    “To be economically viable in today’s market conditions, development densities need to be at least 70 dph. In certain circumstances within existing suburban settings, densities of up to 150-200 dph are achievable, while still responding to the established local scale. One- or two-bedroom apartment projects that achieve these densities can work alongside the existing stock to encourage a more diverse demographic to include single people, first-time buyers and key workers as well as families.

    Adding diversity to local housing stock also encourages positive movement in the market, offering “empty nesters” who remain in under-utilised family housing the opportunity to move into more appropriate accommodation while remaining in their local area, freeing up much-needed housing for the next generation of families.

    Densifying suburbia will not be achieved through large-scale development but more likely through a range of interventions which, at the smaller scale, will include the high-density development of infill sites, redundant commercial premises and re-use of existing buildings. At the larger scale, this may involve more complex initiatives which require innovative master-planning and site assembly to transform under-utilised areas within these communities.

    Localised development is by its nature almost entirely site-specific and can often be in conflict with established and more strategic NPPF and LDF (Local Development Framework) policy. While forming an essential part of planning protocol, these policies often take years to prepare and implement. Specific site allocations in particular are a rather blunt instrument that offers little sensitivity to local conditions. In a constantly changing development environment planning policy can be rigid and inflexible, deterring all but the boldest and those with the deepest pockets from pursuing innovative but non-policy-compliant projects, particularly on smaller sites where the opportunity cost of challenging policy potentially outweighs the potential commercial benefit.

    Architecture Initiative is currently working with a local developer on a series of projects within a defined local area of south-west London, parts of which are designated LSIS (Locally Significant Industrial Sites). The site-specific designation makes sense in principle, but the Berlin Wall approach to defining the extent and boundaries of the LSIS is nonsense. Working with the developer we have generated a masterplan that would re-invent an under-developed area into a vibrant mixed-use development, significantly improving the industrial offer alongside a much-needed residential intervention. The initiative requires the LSIS boundaries be redefined and while planning officers provided excellent feedback and support for our tabled proposals during pre-application consultation, the policy team have brought the shutters down on the project on the basis of non-compliance with the local plan.”

    Full Article:

    The full article can be read at :

    Densifying suburbiaBDMay2015