Designing for living: our human-centred approach

Designing for living: our human-centred approach

Build-to-rent (BTR) is an increasingly popular solution for housing developers and their funders. Rapidly growing in popularity, the advantages of having a purpose-built home and a reputable, dedicated landlord outweigh the higher-than-average rent for tenants.

Staying competitive is all about maintaining your appeal to the residents over the long-term.

On one hand, this is about technical quality. On the other, it means attending to the factors that turn housing into sustainable homes: the human-centred considerations that allow developers to boost their reputations positively.

While this is true for all rental housing, it is particularly acute in BTR, which currently attracts specific groups of people – usually a younger demographic of adults who have yet to have children or, less frequently, retired people.

Unlike traditional settlements that cohere into distinct communities naturally and in balance over time, BTR developments release a large number of homes at once, requiring them to develop equally instantaneous communities.

With care and contextually sensitive design, this can be a roaring success. However, there is clearly a risk that the residents fail to gel, leading to social isolation and, in the worst-case scenario, anti-social behaviour.

BTR success is not just about place-making and appropriate human-centred design, but it is one of its chief pillars.

For example, targeting particular demographic niches certainly helps to facilitate community-building, but the resulting lack of diversity can eventually be restricting as society and the wider economy evolves.

It is best to concentrate resources on the issues that avoid short-termism, focusing the design on setting the scene for flexible, inclusive, safe, vibrant, appropriate, outward-facing living.

Making it work

What does this look like on the ground? If the offices sector is all about blurring the boundaries between the regimented workplace and the wider world to fit millennial lifestyles, so their  homes’ relationship to the public realm should change.

Without any loss of security, the buffer between public and private can now blossom in ways that accommodate this new expectation by mixing uses. Instead of a sharp boundary, a graduated transition opens the door to a more diverse, dynamic, vibrant living environment.

Depending on the design, the ground floor can become a semi-public zone that stays busy throughout the day, allowing paths to cross, exchanges to happen, loneliness to abate, and community to develop faster.

Learning from other models of living

Panther House on Gray’s Inn Road (above and main image) is not a BTR scheme but has many human-centred qualities that successful Build To Rent schemes should consider in its offering to inhabitants. We’ve worked with Argo Investments/Stone Developments and Cano Lasso to deliver a truly complementary mixed-use commercial project . The street-level retail with flats above will connect to the interior via a covered courtyard, leading to new work spaces at the rear. Connected to its context via a sensitive selection of materials, the whole expresses its credentials as a new destination with a striking vertical garden façade.

At Thames Quarter in Reading, the solution incorporates a tech hub, cinema, dining rooms, and a separate resident’s lounge overlooking the Thames – a well-equipped way to work at home without it actually taking over your kitchen table.

At Chesterfield House in Wembley, the twin tower design comprising 239 homes is animated by associated retail space, a new public square, and a community facility.

Blending strategies

Ultimately, the design of BTR needs to appeal to prospective inhabitants. They have to want to be there. Sometimes this is about expressing the area’s social, historical, and cultural context. At other times, the building itself becomes the attraction. The best solutions, though, are hybrids, blending the best of both strategies for optimal long-term value.

If you like our mixed-use approach to BTR, come and find us at MIPIM – we’d love to share ideas.

Gareth is attending MIPIM 2020. Fancy booking in a biere with him? Arrange a rendezvous…

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