February 9th, 2010
“no better than back to back terraces”
One of my bugbears as a layman taking an interest in housing is the number of modern conversions that take a former office building, usually rectangular, and convert it into flats in the cheapest possible way by putting a corridor along the centre of each floor and apartments off each side like hotel rooms. Access is via lift and stairs at either end and results in what the Americans call double loaded corridors. The flats are then by design single aspect and sometimes North facing. Inevitably the others are South facing and suffer solar gain to the same extent that the former almost never see the sun. I found the following article on the Internet recently whilst looking for Parker Morris links.
The current Part L of the Building Regulations focuses more on heat loss through windows than light levels into a house. Regulations allow us to get away with deep plan single aspect apartments, in my mind no better than back to back terraces, or windowless bathrooms, kitchens and corridors, despite the fact that everyone knows these spaces would be better with natural light and ventilation. House builders generally do the minimum required of them by the regulations, which is not necessarily what makes for good housing. Sustainability is more than just environmental performance.
The idea of rooms lit only from one side with no through ventilation and intended not as an overnight stay as with a hotel room, nor as temporary student accommodation as in halls of residence, but as a family dwelling is to me entirely unsatisfactory. They make a frequent appearance in the projects of the social housing company A2Dominion with Woods House being but one example and I feel unsettled that it should be the most vulnerable in society that have poor standards of design imposed upon them for it is those with least assets who have no other choice. Note the concrete columns at the perimeter of the plan which further compromise the design. It may be nice to live in Pimlico but not at any price.
Not suprisingly there are developers who balk at the idea of providing dual aspect flats. Here’s this from the AJ
Dale Sinclair, director at Dyer, questioned the report’s prejudiced criticism of single-aspect flats: ‘Dual-aspect units require additional stairs, lifts and external walls or an increase in deck access. With developers unable to offset risk, will this also increase costs?’
UPDATE: I was in Glasgow this week (w/e 11th June 2011) and went to see where Dale Sinclair lives. It can’t be his only house. It is a small single aspect house built into the side of the hill on which stands Park Terrace and Park Circus. I am left wondering whether the experience of doing up and living in (or at least occasionally staying in) a former mews house has informed the views expressed above about single aspect flats.
UPDATE: Please see my page on back-to-backs taken from the Housing Act 1909.
I found this today (5/7/2010) an article from Building Magazine by David Birkbeck that gives hope for the elimination of single aspect flats, and mentions Alice Coleman in passing. See also Design Disadvantagement
How you manage movement to and from apartments is tearing the industry apart at the moment. A proposal in the London Housing Design Guide threatens to outlaw single-aspect flats, the default setting for apartment blocks built in the past decade. The guide also recommends a maximum number of homes per floor that can share the same access.
Mapping existing housing standards from CABE
From Sean Macintosh:-
Rooms can be either naturally ventilated or mechanically ventilated (by fan or other system). Under current regs toilets are required to have a fan even if they also have a window. A dual aspect flat can benefit from cross ventilation and this means that you can have a much deeper plan. There is nothing preventing single aspect flats ventilating effectively as long as there is sufficient window area (ideally both low and high level) and that this is proportional to the floor area and occupancy. Nowadays we measure this through computer analysis.