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:

British Homes Awards – Gran Designs

The quality of supported housing for the 55+ market in the UK is a topic we’ve been discussing here at Axis Design a lot over the last few years. This year’s brief for the British Homes Awards gave us the opportunity to explore some of our ideas and show how we believe the industry could turn to existing housing solutions from the holiday home sector combined with improved landscape and infrastructure to meet the aspirations of retiring baby boomers.

Here’s our response to the Lifetime Homes challenge set by the British Homes Awards 2009 (click images for full size):

Eco Lodge Parks 

Asset rich but cash poor; dire pension and savings forecast; inheritance tax worries; probably working until our seventies. The kids could help but they are mortgaged to the hilt and need help with childcare and top up fees.

Today’s reality for the youth of the 60’s, nurtured on the NHS, fashioned on the Mini, honed by world travel, inspired by JFK, rock & roll heavy….   their 21st century living is essentially about affordability and equity release creating third age choices and financial security.

What if we could sell up the family home, spend one third of the proceeds on a third age home, then invest the rest, buy a villa in Goa, or help the family?

In eco-Lodge Parks you can….. and even generate letting income over the next 20 years.

British Homes award entry

British Homes Awards entry

Thanks to Jez Sanders from Red Landscape for collaborating with us on this work. Although we didn’t make the shortlist we’re still very pleased with the concept and hope to get the opportunity to develop it in the future.

(see the full entry for further text)

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2008 Award Winners

Following a busy month of award shortlists, we’re delighted to announce that ecoterrace has won Building magazine’s ‘99% Campaign Award for Refurbishment’.

Sustainability Awards 2008

The project was also a finalist in the CIH Housing Awards and Inside Housing magazine’s Sustainability Awards.

Queens Road was also a finalist in the Inside Housing magazine award, shortlisted under ‘Sustainable smaller social housing project of the year’

Eco-terrace – Stoke on Trent

Architecture Week 2007 is a good time to announce one of our latest commissions to develop an environmentally sound refurbishment proposal for terrace properties in Stoke-on-Trent. Continuing our explorations into solar passive architecture, the design delivers robust, replicable solutions to both the improvement of the fabric, the quality of the living space and the thermal performance.

Here’s a copy of our winning presentation and a fly-by model of the exterior showing the 2 storey spaces proposed as replacements to the standard usually outrigger found on Victorian terrace housing. The submission was completed in collaboration with Staffordshire Housing Association and Brown & Clowes for Renew North Staffordshire and Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council.

Euroclad competition

Here’s our entry to the Euroclad drawing competition, which asked entrants to ‘sketch a fresh look for Brighton’s West Pier’.

Chambers for a Brighton Memory Palace


Concept: “The first pier at Brighton was known as The Chain Pier, and there was a silhouettist working on it throughout most of it’s history. The slhouettists moved to the West Pier when it opened in 1866, and continued more or less continuously until shortly before it’s closure in the 1970’s.”1

The profile of a sea front pier is a well understood, easily recognisable form that stirs recollections. The history of the silhouette cutters on West Pier is captured within the full scale profile and becomes a surface to incite and then receive the memories of the people of Brighton.

Repeated, rotated and woven together to form a field of chambers housing exhibitions, events and installations; the grid becomes a set of co-ordinates that control the curating of time and topics.

Construction: The spaces are created by intersecting, perforated metal clad walls with an opening in each side connecting to the adjacent chamber. Exposed spaces drain towards the edges and covered areas shed rainwater into the cavity between the walls. Colour controlled lighting in the cavity seeps through the perforations and assists themed curation of exhibitions by directing visitors across the grid. Lightweight tent structures stretch over the volumes that trace a wandering path across the grid providing alternative environments for different events/objects.

Curate: The grid of silhouettes conveys the passing of time in one direction and cultural topic in the other. The profiles heading away from the beach out onto the sea carry the topic through the intersecting date lines parallel with the shore. We begin at the shore in 18652 and travel towards the horizon to the present day, crossing decades as we move from chamber to chamber. As time passes the structure continues to grow into the sea and new topics are added along the beach. Non-linear journeys through history are suggested within the volumes traced across the grid by the silhouettes of the original pier buildings.

The co-ordinates provide public meeting places with a nostalgic subtext.

“Should we meet at 1964/Mods or 1975/Pier ?”

With apologies to Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon for the Chambers for a Memory Palace rip off. The drawing is also available as a PDF.

1. from ‘The Silhouette Tradition of Brighton Pier’ by Edo Barn.
2. the year the West Pier was constructed

Stoke Road, Bletchley

Stoke Road, Bletchley, Milton Keynes 2004 — present

presentation_layoutAxis Design Collective won an invited competition for the development of 94 canal side apartments, townhouses and bungalows in the Bletchley area of Milton Keynes. The development was derived from a very detailed set of development design codes that stipulated building heights, frontage treatments and materials to be used.

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