Bromford estate: flood resilient housing

Flood resilient landscapeWe are all aware of Flood resistant houses, usually one-off designs on high-value sites, which use expensive, high maintenance, elevated or flotation construction & technology.  However providing protection from flooding for mass social housing present more formidable planning, economic and construction challenges.

In 2014 as part of the City Council’s Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust programme, we were asked to examine the feasibility of developing generic solutions for infill housing on clearance sites within floodplain 3A zoning.

excerpt from FRA

The solutions had to work at higher densities in lower value areas, employ little or no expensive technology with no high maintenance costs and still function within the design and spatial parameters of affordable social housing.

In association with Hydroland Ltd, the hydrological consultant on the team, generic proposals for 2.5 storey, two to four-bedroom family homes were modelled to demonstrate an ability to resist flood damage up to a depth of 1 metre using split level sections, ground modelling and attenuation channels.

The house types set within a demonstration layout meeting the requirements of the NPPF exception test including volume compensation, dry access/egress and third party risk were presented to representatives of Birmingham City Council and the Environment Agency during 2017.

Bromford Estate housing proposal

Our client in close collaboration with the EA has now selected two demonstration sites which following detailed design have secured Planning Approval and will begin construction in 2020. We will update our site with feedback as the build progresses over the coming months.

RIBA’s Rethink: 2025 competition – Street Support Hub

Amid calls to ‘stay at home’, in June 2020 our lockdown conversations with anthropologist Justin Pickard fed into a joint entry to RIBA’s Rethink: 2025 competition. The brief asked participants to ‘consider life in 2025 and how the pandemic will have modified the way humans interact with space and one another, and how design can mitigate its worst effects.’

Our entry introduced the Street Support Hub, an infrastructure facility linking private homes (and households) with local government services, green energy, and community support. We see the Support Hub as a relatively simple addition to local neighbourhoods, providing facilities to downscale key activities and interactions, and relocate them closer to the home. This will allow people to further reduce their movement and, with it, routes for community transmission of the virus.

Inspired by the rapid spread of mutual aid networks, growing support for green technologies, and a re-evaluation of the house as a technology of preparedness or infrastructure of care, the Support Hub starts from the assumption that ‘community care is a better relationship to hold to than containment and boundary-protection.’

Care practices have always emerged in time of crisis, and thinking housing as infrastructures of care is materialising resistances, as adaptations, as desires and networks. It is an attention to bodies and spaces, is revisiting rhythms, collectives, redefining proximity, and coding new positive passions, but also re-inventing spaces and finding new trajectories.

A lot has changed in the past six months, so we’ve tweaked the text of our original proposal, and added some reflections and contextualisation, to better respond to recent shifts in policy, the economy, and society.

The Street Support Hub

The Street Support Hub proposes a network of common rooms providing green energy and social support. Managed by local councils, residents, and community volunteers, the Support Hub is a social infrastructure localising the provision of energy and public services, while stretching the boundaries of the private, single-family home.

The Support Hub combines a green energy source, community common room, and e-vehicle charging station. Each element is designed to support user adaptation and future upgrades, maximising opportunities for social learning. The Support Hub’s use value derives from the co-location of these assets at street level, and the strategic deployment of multiple Hubs across a community.

street support hub conceptGreen energy source

Each Street Support Hub provides a green energy source and facilities for decentralised energy storage, enabling the installation to operate as a community-scale power station. Though the chosen energy source will depend on location and available assets, the Street Support Hub infrastructure is compatible with solar battery storage, heat pumps and district heat networks, and CHP fuel cells.

By using smart metering and aggregating supply and demand, the connected community can use stored energy more efficiently, with agile pricing systems allowing peer-to-peer exchange within the Support Hub network.

Leveraging growing government and private investment in renewable energy, the roll-out of Support Hubs would boost domestic manufacturing, create new jobs, and improve community resilience, while contributing to UK decarbonisation targets.

Common room

By creating common rooms, Street Support Hubs also provide a new ‘third place’ outside the home. The common room is a multifunctional space, equally suited for use as:

  • a base for voluntary organisations and mutual aid networks to mobilise, plan, or store equipment and provisions
  • a private meeting room for residents seeking support from the local authority and service providers
  • teaching space for groups of children and young people during lockdown
  • temporary workspace for those with limited room in their homes
  • social space designed to support distancing, with adequate ventilation, and facilities for outdoor gatherings

In places where the Support Hub model is widely adopted, frontline workers will be able to travel to multiple Hubs within the network, bringing public services closer to users’ homes.

Charging station

The Street Support Hub infrastructure is completed by connecting green energy and common room facilities to a zero-carbon transport network. Installed on publicly owned highway sites, individual Hubs bolster traffic calming measures, and provide car, bicycle, and scooter charging points for frontline workers, residents, and volunteers.

With disrupted logistics and increased supply chain volatility, secure cabinets and lockers offer access to 24-hour deliveries of food, medicine, and other goods.


Axis Design Architects’ Rob Annable’s Street Support Hub is ‘a turbo-charged village hall’ that provides a parking-space sized street ‘common room’ for decentralised community services. Community-based volunteers and key workers can carry out their work in it but also pause for breaks or use it as a place to clean down. It’s a mini energy centre too, as well as a place for scaling up the boundaries of private homes by making them teaching spaces for smaller groups of children, temporary work from home areas and social space. The judges liked the premise but felt there wasn’t quite enough design to make the shortlist.

The competition judges’ response noted the relative lack of design in our proposal, reflecting the difficulty finding the right fidelity to show the Support Hub’s infrastructural qualities, and the open potential for site-specific adaptations. If we were to develop this proposal further, we could find better ways to show this flexibility, for example, by adding detail and depicting a range of interactions and use cases.

The judges’ analogy with the village hall typology was perceptive and useful. A British institution, the village hall has been ‘the ultimate multifunctional democratic space’, owned and operated by the community. Developing the Street Support Hub, a conscious effort to channel the village hall’s humility and civic values could help us avoid knee-jerk solutionism and accusations of ‘coronagrifting’.

In addition to the village hall, the Support Hub also shares features with the 19th-century Cabmen’s Shelter. Another ‘third place’ operating at street level, this was designed to be no larger than a horse and cart, providing cabdrivers with a stove, kitchen, and shelter from the rain.

Food and cooking facilities were something missing from our initial vision of the Street Support Hub. Though it would be difficult to reconcile shared meals and the continued need for social distancing, community fridges and the storied histories of the canteen suggest ways to help relieve the (gendered) burdens of household labour, while aligning this new community space with an ethic of care.

In the months since our submission, the UK government fast-tracked funding to support cycling and walking, with many city councils in England trialling low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs). Implemented quickly, and with limited consultation, these measures’ reworking of the existing infrastructural settlement proved controversial, catalysing opposition from motorists, local businesses, and other aggrieved parties.

The rapid adoption of LTNs shows the hidden malleability of today’s streetscape, with social resistance a bigger brake on change than hard landscaping or the built environment. To avoid similar opposition, it is important that people don’t feel that Support Hubs have been imposed from above; arriving fully formed, with limited consultation. In this, lessons from work on placemaking, user innovation, and proximal design could help planners negotiate resistance, by, for example, offering local users influence over the structure’s layout and appearance.

In a period of limited or revalued mobility, a sufficiently sensitive implementation of Support Hubs would help people adapt to a re-localisation of social and economic life. Their visible encroachment on former highway space would serve as a reminder of the contingency of the built environment, while their flexibility of use could be used to build support for a broader rebalancing of public space away from the private car.

Final entry:

Coworking concepts

We are currently supporting Witton Lakes Community Association with concept proposals for the refurbishment and re-use of a public baths building, exploring ideas around co-working and community services through project team and stakeholder discussions, precedent study visits, drawings and visualisations.

Collaboration with a cost consultant and considering possible phasing and fundraising is also a critical part of our role for the client and our work will form the backbone of future funding applications to revitalise the street and building.

Flood Resilient Social Housing Study

Birmingham City Council were concerned about the number of housing clearance sites which lay within the floodplain of local rivers and asked us to propose generic housetypes which could be resistant to flooding using low cost, robust and maintainable technologies within the cost/construction parameters of social housing.

The result was a range of 2 to 5 bedroom terraced and semi-detached types designed with carefully developed external and internal levels to resist flooding to depth of up to 1.2m without significant damage to the fabric.

Extensive hydrological modeling was undertaken in collaboration with Hydroland Consultancy and two demonstration project sites are due to commence construction in 2020.

Cedar Cobb – home extension

Paul and Tracey wanted to provide extra bedrooms by extending their dated bungalow. They wanted a more contemporary feel with an improved front entrance and much better views of their garden, its Lebanese Cedar tree and the surrounding countryside.

They got all of that plus a balcony, full en-suite, ramped covered entrance, built-in storage and a window seat for the cat.

The client reaction says it all; ‘The house is a triumph! Your vision translated into a building.’

Bluebell Cottage – Lyndney

After much searching David & Colin found the ideal corner site in the Forest of Dean, the only obstacle to their dreams of an eco-friendly, contemporary house was the sixties house already occupying the site.

With extensions front and rear, and a roof over, it vanished within the apparently new 4 bed house which now occupies the site. The house features an array of low energy tech, a passive solar orangerie and a dog grooming room for Belle after those muddy walks in the woods.

BIM in Birmingham 2020

Rob will be presenting at this year’s BIM in Birmingham event and sharing past research into digital tools, self-build and home user guides. The talk will describe how BIM, online tools, 3D printing, video and IoT (Internet of Things) products were combined in the award-winning home4self project to explore how the design and construction process should shape future user guides and maintenance information in our homes. This research was undertaken with funding provided by the Technology Strategy Board in collaboration with Slider Studio.

SHAP Performance Standard research

SHAP (Sustainable Housing Action Partnership) needed expert advice to assist in the development of a housing design performance standard document.

This short piece of research resulted in a matrix of recommended measures demonstrating how the existing history of best practice guidance, policy documents and regulations can be called upon to provide a simple strategy for stepped improvement.

In addition to the matrix of recommendations and links, a diagram was created to both explain the proposal and provide a tool for future critical analysis of schemes. Envisioned as the first step in possible future recommendations, it is hoped that future interest around the West Midlands will allow testing, development and adoption.

Ryall Meadow – family home

A family of five needed an exceptional piece of architecture on an exciting site. On their behalf, we recently secured a planning approval under paragraph 79 of the NPPF (previously para 55) citing exceptional architectural quality for an impressive riverside site in the Malvern Hills.

Interpreting the family’s hopes for their future home, working with the Malvern Hills District Council and MADE design review panel feedback we developed several evolutions and tested each with extensive digital modelling and drawing.

The final proposal was a synthesis of responding to the topography and river edge, distant views across the landscape and energy consumption and generation management.

BIM software and parametric modelling were utilised to test energy performance and overheating risks, resulting in an integration of technology and decoration using bespoke screens to manage the desire for a predominantly glazed living space – mediating between privacy needs and solar gain control.

Witton Lakes Ecohub

Witton Lakes Community Association wished to create a new future for the Park Keeper’s cottage by the reservoir, provided to them via an asset transfer from Birmingham City Council.

We assisted from the beginning of the concept, collaborating with them in meetings and funding applications to raise money to realise their goal.

The project creates a new community hall extension to the existing building and envisages a base for hosting events and displays around the subject of fuel and energy-saving, landscape and ecology.

Sustainable construction and detailing will be central to the design of the scheme and we have collaborated with Price & Myers structural engineers to create a glulam timber frame structure visible throughout the interior.