Hawkwood Rd. car park is the last major open-air public car park in Boscombe. It is a prime piece of real estate, and presents one of the last opportunities Boscombe has to actually forge its own destiny and pull itself out of the deep morass of deprivation it’s been in since the day the first house was built there.
The redevelopment of this site is a part of the plans for the revamp of Boscombe High Street. We love the overall plan to revamp the area, but we believe the way the redevelopment of the car park within those plans is being suggested is repeating the same mistakes that have been made in Boscombe for the last 200 years.
That looks like approximately 30 individual plots all tied together. There’s no easy way to guess the height of those proposed buildings, but they’re likely going to be at most 4 storeys.
The history of housing in the UK is a repetitive loop of subdivision to meet demand
It’s a simple truth. Subdividing properties has been a national past-time for the last 50 years, because demand astronomically outweighs supply. Building new homes is essential and we’re doing it, but one area we seem to be failing in is future-proofing. We’re so busy rushing to solve the problems of the past, that we’re forgetting to proactively solve the problems of the future at the same time.
These new developments are being provisioned as “family housing”, and that’s a great concept, but we can’t be naive in thinking that just because we want families to live in them means they will. We can certainly provision the new housing for families, but in 5, 10, 20 years they will inevitably become flats and eventually HMOs. It doesn’t matter if the Council says no, it will go to appeal and the owner will always win because they can quote the national housing crisis as their reasoning.
The way to avoid this repetitive loop is to build housing that can’t easily be subdivided. That means flats, and if we’re going to build flats, we should design them in a way that attracts the next generation of ambitious, hard-working, innovative and creative minds so that the BCP economy can stabilise and grow.
Both the current and next generation of home buyers have grown up watching shows like Grand Designs their entire lives. They like contemporary design, so if we want them here, let’s build homes that attract them.
Now, we’re not saying this is exactly what they should look like. We’re not really designers, but we had a go. The model shown in the pictures above is to scale for the Hawkwood Rd car park.
The buildings are 7 storeys high, with 6 levels of residential. The ground floor areas could be used for all kinds of different things, so we can take advantage of the trending concept of multi-use spaces. We divided them up into 5 flats per floor, so that’s 30 flats per block. With 6 blocks, that’s 180 flats.
Each flat is approximately 105m2, which isn’t so much a flat as a condominium. For context, there are 3-bedroom flats on the market in Boscombe that are 67m2.
Utilising roof space
There is a scandalous failure with blocks of flats in this country to not utilise the roof space properly. It’s a cost saving mechanism. If residents aren’t allowed to use the roof, the structural support for it doesn’t need to be so robust, so it costs less. Our concept design throws this out the window and says no, the roof should be communal leisure and recreational space.
Furthermore, the way we build buildings in this country is archaic. We don’t future-proof them for the eventuality of population growth. If we’re going to build a 7 storey block of flats, it’s foundations and structural design need to be done in such a way as to allow us to easily and cheaply add another 7 storeys in 50 years.
Where’s the parking?
The parking is underground, where it should be. Is developing downwards more expensive than upwards? Yes. Are we blessed with an abundant amount of cheap land that we can rezone for vital parking? No. Let’s not waste a golden opportunity to retain all of that parking while also gaining the housing just to save a few pounds.
Is the suggested underground parking just for residents of this plot? No, because that’s antiquated thinking. We should designate a relevant portion for the amount of residents on the site, and the rest should be public parking. Our model shows 2 underground levels of parking, but we could do 3 or 4 so as to provide parking for all of the neighbouring streets as well.
Let’s be clear on one thing. Once we build upwards on a site, the cost of retroactively building down is astronomical. If we don’t build down and utilise underground space properly first, we’ve lost it forever. Boscombe doesn’t have the luxury of space, so let’s not waste it.
What’s that turbine in the roof?
The turbine in the roof is a renewable energy wind turbine. When we thought about the design of these conceptual flats we looked at how buildings are designed in this country, and we realised if we’re going to future-proof it we’re doing it the wrong way round.
Don’t build homes and add renewable energy sources. Build renewable energy sources and add homes.
If we took away all of the flats from our conceptual building we would end up with the following model.
If you can’t quite make it out from the model, it’s an array of tubes that capture wind that hits the sides of the building and feeds it all into a central chamber with a wind turbine at the top.
We don’t know whether it’s feasible, or whether it would generate enough energy to justify the potential cost. The point is that retrofitting buildings with renewable energy sources is the best we can do with structures that already exist. However, if the proposed plot is completely empty (like Hawkwood Rd. car park) and we’re starting from scratch, let’s think about energy generation first. A building designed to generate renewable energy first and foremost will always produce more than one that has been retrofitted later.
In the UK we have had and continue to have an undeniable obsession with property and its value. We tell ourselves it’s because we’re an island and so there’s limited space. In reality, we don’t have a problem with limited space, it’s the way that we utilise that space that causes us so many headaches.
The BCP can buck that trend and be a pioneering community that turns around and says “Not any more”. We can design and construct buildings that are focused on renewable energy first and foremost. We can utilise plots of land to their utmost potential by going down first, before we go up.
We can design and construct landmark contemporary buildings that add to our heritage by marking this time in history as saying “This is when we took affirmative action to solve the problems that we caused.”
And it can all begin at Hawkwood Rd. car park.