Blog: 2 February 2017Can Industrial Estates offer us a solution to the housing crisis?

Neha Abayawardana

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Neha Abayawardana

Architectural Associate

Reading office

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The current housing crisis in the UK has serious consequences for us all and when combined with our desire to succeed at work and more and more of us can find it difficult to strike a good work/life balance.  Add to this the nationwide trend for increasing commuter distances and we are already starting to see a reduction in our national productivity.

As an architect, I work on a range of commercial developments, everything from office refurbs, where the brief is all about understanding what people want from their work place to be happy and productive; to industrial mega sheds, where it is all about understanding productivity and delivery.  But why do we pigeon hole development types so much? It was only in the 20th century that city development began to put a clear separation between residential and industrial uses, and for good reason, given the ‘dirty’ nature of much industrial activity back then. This separation provided better living conditions and improved flexibility for workers.

Today industrial uses encompass everything from heavy manufacturing to 3-D printing, logistics to food preparation. There are many more compatible neighbours for residential occupation, but it seems to me that our cities and urban areas have not kept up with these changes. In fact, in the face of a housing crisis, housing delivery has all too frequently come at the expense of industrial premises in the last few years. In London alone, the Mayor’s average recommended level of industrial land release (40ha per annum) has been more than doubled in recent years (88ha per annum in 2015).

Industrial landowners throughout the country are looking for regeneration options for their sites, especially those that are nearing the end of their viable life. With little or no urban design considerations at present, could careful design weave residential and community development across such a site to not only enhance the work environment but also maximize its potential to provide a viable residential solution? As the type of jobs, industries and technology continue to change in coming years, these sites may well become even more compatible with wider, mixed-use development.

In tandem, building technologies are improving from sound separation to ventilation techniques as well as logistical access requirements, hours of operation and the overall design requirements of workplaces. Many of our industrial locations rely on strong transport infrastructure and a proximity to their market. As such these sustainable locations can provide a great opportunity for mixing residential and commercial in a much more concentrated level, and at a proximity to local markets and resources that are crucial to the success of businesses.

Using innovative architecture and improved technology I believe we can redevelop a site, including residential accommodation, without losing industrial space or jobs required to sustain that community. I firmly believe we can create neighbourhoods, towns and cities that work in harmony with commercial elements, to the benefit of all and over coming weeks I am hoping to publish some of our thoughts on the way the built form can be used to deliver both land uses in an efficient and effective/desirable way. Watch this space!

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