Reporting from the Front: Saving the City

27 May 2016

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners at the Venice Biennale 2016

One in four people across the world are homeless, or live in slums or other substandard housing. The housing crisis, not only in the UK, but in Europe and around the world, is threatening to destroy the mix and viability of our cities. Decent housing should be seen as a human right, like food and healthcare, and as an essential element of the compact city.

By 2050 two thirds of the global population will live in cities. Compact cities, which re-use urban land, build around public transport and mix uses, are the only sustainable form of urban development that can meet the demands of the growing city.

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners have been invited to the 15th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia curated by Alejandro Aravena. The installation, called ‘Saving the City’, exhibits thirty years of factory built housing designed by the practice and highlights the need for a revolution in housing supply, with well-designed, factory-produced, fast-build, high-performance, affordable homes.

The ZipUp House, designed for a 1969 competition for the ‘House of Today’ was the first of the practice’s schemes for prefabricated housing. Made from insulated panels used for refrigerated trucks and supported on steel jacks, the house was designed to be assembled, extended and adapted far quicker and cheaper than a conventional building. The eight-inch thick panels are self-supporting and highly insulated – one 3kw heater would generate sufficient warmth for the standard unit.

Industrialised Housing System responded to the client’s brief to produce 100,000 studio units at a fifth of the cost of conventional homes and, combined with the practice’s interest in affordable housing, was the driving force behind this design for modular prefabricated housing. The 43 metre square units were to be fitted out in the factory, craned into place and plugged into a core, in configurations ranging from a low-rise to a 25-storey apartment block.

Y:Cube and PLACE/Ladywell are two current schemes which provide move on accommodation for those in emergency housing in London. Short construction times, high quality. Both use precision cutting with standard materials to create high quality volumetric units which are fully fitted out in the factory and craned into place on site. The speed of construction and sustainable design make them an economic proposition for both the client and the user.

Tree House uses a timber structure that can be assembled in low tech factories from locally-sourced timber, and can typically be stacked over ten storeys. Each 75 square metre unit has a highly flexible internal layout, and access to private or communal garden spaces on the roof of the unit below. The ground floor is given over to open space and cafes, to encourage interaction and community building.

Richard Rogers, Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners said “The growth of urban populations and the rising threat of climate change makes building compact sustainable cities all the more important for the future of civilisation. We need to reinvent our cities, investing in transport and public spaces, and finding new ways to adapt and retrofit old neighbourhoods. Ideas like Tree House will help to build the cities of the future, but the fight to save our cities is a battle that everyone should join.”

Ivan Harbour, Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners said “Housing affordability is fundamental to a broad and cosmopolitan society.

Our focus has been on developing an approach that delivers more space, more quality, more performance and more flexibility for less cost, less time and less fuss.

We believe that if our research and the examples we have pioneered can help precipitate a shift in traditional attitudes to construction, such that society’s housing needs are met, then we will have helped save our cities.”

The 15th International Architecture Exhibition, titled REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, is directed by Alejandro Aravena and organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta. The Biennale is open to the public from 28 May until November 27 2016 at the Giardini and the Arsenale, Venice.

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners are thankful for the generous support from AECOM, Buro Happold and Regianni Illuminazione to make this exhibition.