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Matteo De Bellis
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Croydon: Refurbished Architecture for a Sleeping City
The project seeks to address the issue of 'Permitted Developments Rights'. This is a form of planning deregulation that is increasingly having an impact on the UK built environment, for the worse. Following a deep understanding of the phenomenon – informed by field research and direct interviews with councillors, planners and architects – the proposal tries to address the problem of the conversion from offices to dwelling-houses. In the words of Ben Clifford of The Bartlett School of Planning, 'the problem is not in the idea of converting an office building into residential, the problem is how to govern it.'
Many architecture firms and journals directly opposed and expressed their dissent towards a loosening of the control over these transformations, making this deregulation one of the most current and controversial political moves in the built environment. Taking the process out of the control of a proper planning system, PD Rights produced the effect of quickly providing new homes but often of very poor quality: very tiny apartments, often badly built and with no amenities.
Within the Wild West of London's real estate management, the project involves redefining this planning law to push the developers towards a 'positive deregulation' that would allow them to be more sheriffs than cowboys. Taking central Croydon as a case study for its peculiar concentration of vacant modern buildings, the project aims to show, as an example, an alternative future for one of these buildings: Zodiac House, which has been recently granted approval for PD conversion.
The counterproposal shows how a few more requirements within PD law could produce a huge shift in the quality of the spaces produced, by simulating how these changes would affect the new proposal.
The new law invites the developers to work in consideration of three important considerations: the quality of life of the residents, the importance of emphasising the quality of materials and spaces of the building and the impact that the development will have on the surrounding community.
The first requirement for the developer is to abide by national housing space standards: building slightly bigger apartments or shared flats with communal spaces instead of tiny single bed apartments.
The new requirements for the transformation include a great emphasis on three concepts that are only subtly expressed by the relation with the PD different laws: the importance of valorisation of the existing building through maintenance, improvement and repair. Carefully emphasising the materials and spaces with small gestures could make a great difference in the quality of the proposal.
Another important aspect is the relation between the ground floor of the building and the surrounding environment. The ground floor wouldn’t be allowed to be transformed into flats unless a consistent amount of space is dedicated to a good quality communal space: this would not only enhance the value of the building but also provide a service for the residents and the community (compensating the Community Infrastructure Levy and fees not paid).
Instead of opposing the present situation, the proposal consists of improving the way this deregulation works, in the optimistic view that PD rights could no longer be seen as a problem but as an opportunity to facilitate the system and allow good things to happen.
School of Architecture
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- B.Arch Architecture Science, Polytechnic University of Milan, 2016