Simon McWhirter picks two lots of housing: one a happy and healthy sustainable development, the other a decrepit and depressing tower block
I’ve chosen BedZed as my wonder because it was the first scheme thatintroduced sustainable housing to the mainstream. In the nineties, a lot of people talked about sustainability but Bill Dunster and BioRegional were the pioneers.
It may be radical in appearance and technique, but I find solace when I'm there.
They also looked beyond the sustainability of the building and tried to build a community, with measures such as allotments to encourage locally grown food.
For my blunder I’ve chosen the Divis estate in Belfast, which I remember from my youth. It really represents any tower block built in the fifties or sixties, whether in Moscow, south London or Glasgow.
After the Second World War, we had a dilapidated building stock and these were rebuilt quickly with no thought of the impact on society. These depressing, faceless blocks have no redeemable features, apart from their views. Environmentally they are poor, and socially, they have become hotbeds of violence. That’s even before you consider their design and aesthetics. Buildings should breed pride and these don’t. Now developers are building tall residential buildings again I hope we’ve learned the lessons of the past.
The Divis flats, located at the bottom of the Falls Road in west Belfast, were built by John Laing between 1968 and 1972. They were inspired by Le Corbusier and housed roughly 2,400 residents, 98% of whom were Catholic, in a complex of 2 interconnected eight-storey deck access blocks and one 20-storey tower, the top of which doubled as an observation post for the British Army.
Bill Dunster and BioRegional’s BedZed was built for the Peabody Trust between 2000 and 2003. It consists of 82 houses, 17 apartments and 1,405m² of work space. It was shortlisted for the Stirling prize in 2003.
Simon McWhirter is homes campaign director of WWF.