This year’s Housing Design Awards, announced last night, have again shunned the executive box and instead celebrated some of the finest examples of high-density urban housebuilding.

The spec developer’s stock in trade of casually scattered standard house types on greenfield sites has never had much of a look-in at the Housing Design Awards. And this year’s award winners seem even more remote from this housebuilders’ standard than ever.

Rather, it is high-density apartment schemes on urban brownfield sites that make up this year’s dominant theme. As awards committee chairman Graham Pye acknowledges, this is a reflection of the government’s current planning policy. “Nevertheless,” he adds, “the assessors felt they were visiting schemes of a higher standard than they had ever seen before.”

These included George Wimpey throwing caution to the wind and handing over design responsibility to fashion designer Wayne Hemingway on a scheme that won the large housebuilder category. As well as Wimpey playing the celebrity card, a few other spec developers displayed their credentials in high-quality, high-density development this year, and Countryside Properties even walked off with the overall award for a scheme that fits the high-density bill precisely.

The other recurrent theme is the creation of sociable communal spaces. In Countryside’s scheme, two apartment blocks are built around a generous atrium, and Wimpey’s houses are interspersed with pocket parks and walkways. As awards manager David Birkbeck puts it: “When you move into a new development, you don’t want to go home and lock yourself in. You want to mingle and create a community. As the government wants more than 100,000 homes built in new communities, these mingling spaces will be crucial ingredients.”

This year’s awards include four special categories covering small, medium and large housebuilders plus affordable housing, an award that is sponsored by the Housing Corporation and named after the late architect Richard Feilden, who championed the highest standards in this field. Another four general awards, as well as the overall winner’s prize, were also granted. The awards were sponsored by the ODPM, the RIBA, the National House Building Council and the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Bennet’s Courtyard, Merton, south London

Bennet’s Courtyard, Merton, south London

Medium-sized housebuilder and overall winner

Bennet’s Courtyard, Merton, south London

This year’s overall winner of the Housing Design Awards is a clear-cut yet sensitive response by a medium-sized housebuilder to a suburban riverside site in south London. At Bennet’s Courtyard, Countryside Properties has developed three blocks containing 52 apartments plus commercial space. In addition, two of the three blocks enclose a secret ingredient that lifts the scheme to a higher plane. Instead of the usual narrow corridors, the two longer blocks are built around elongated atriums.

Each atrium has been conceived by Feilden Clegg BradleyArchitects as a calm, spacious wintergarden intended to act as “the ideal space to meet the neighbours”. The apartments in the two upper storeys are reached along hardwood gangways and entrance platforms wide enough to fit sofas and occasional tables. In addition, apartments have bay windows that project into the atrium, giving them a dual aspect along with extra daylight.

The whole scheme nestles into an appealing riverside landscape of walkways and planters. Here again, the communal garden cleverly conceals a essential but often unattractive facility – a lower level of car parking stretching beneath the whole development.

Confident, unfussy handling is also evident in the plain rectilinear facades and the large floor-to-ceiling windows, which are enlivened by projecting bays in hardwood boarding (strictly from sustainability-assured sources).

architect Feilden Clegg Bradley
developer Countryside Properties
contractor Wates Construction

Richard Feilden Award for Affordable Housing

Oakridge Village, Basingstoke

In redeveloping an unloved 1960s new town housing estate, Sentinel Housing Group replaced maisonettes with houses but managed to double the number of dwellings, some of which are for rent, some for sale and some reserved for key workers. Various sizes and types of dwelling are all built to the same depth, allowing them to be intermixed with ease. A landscaped square is overlooked by a community hall and health centre.

architect HTA Architects
developer Sentinel Housing Group>
contractor Rok Llewelyn


Westfield Student Village, east London

In London’s first self-contained student campus, a total of 995 bed spaces are distributed in six blocks of various sizes and shapes. The buildings also enclose an interlinked series of landscaped communal spaces. Facing Regent’s Canal, the campus attains a spectacular landmark quality.

Two six-storey blocks are clad in vivid aquamarine patinated copper while a long eight-storey slab, with rooms jutting out at acute angles, is equally striking in bronze-coloured oxidised copper.

architect Feilden Clegg Bradley>
developer Queen Mary University of London>
contractor Laing O’Rourke Construction


15 Davies Street, central London

For this prestige six-storey apartment block in the heart of Mayfair, the estate agents’ adjectival puffery of “luxury” and “stunning” are not empty boasts. Above a ground floor of offices and a flashy new restaurant, the large apartments are fronted by a series of bays that are neatly detailed in steel and glass and project from a terracotta facade. The entire building is a refined modern update of the grand London mansion block.

architect Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
developer Capital & City
contractor Mace

Small housebuilder winner

Newbury Mews, north London

Newbury Mews is a classic high-density mews development in layout, although not in style. Just like the lock-up garages they replace, the new houses crouch down behind existing garden walls so as not to infringe the rights of light and views of the Victorian terrace houses on either side. Their only aspect is to the narrow cobbled mews itself, but angled, staggered bay windows and balconies avoid overlooking and claustrophobia.

architect Brooks Murray Architect
developer Lincoln Holdings
contractor Bartons Partnership

Large housebuilder winner

The Staithes, Gateshead
After celebrity fashion designer Wayne Hemingway slammed British spec housing as faceless, Wimpey turned the tables by inviting him to help design its huge 800-home scheme in Gateshead. The result is as oddball as you could hope for and, in terms of community bonding at least, a success. A mixed bag of blocks in contrasting shapes and sizes is bound together by a lively series of pocket parks and walkways, with cars banished to communal parking courts.
architect ID Partnership with Hemingway Design
developer George Wimpey North
contractor Kendall Cross Holdings


Haven Mews, north London
Here is another inspired inner London mews development, which in this case comprises a trio of three-storey terraced houses that fill the end of a mews. The scheme solves the problem of overlooking and lack of space by retaining the old rear wall of the two-storey garage it replaces. The houses have been sunk into ground and set back from the retained wall so as to give the basements narrow but secluded patios at front and back.
architect Buckley Gray Yeoman
developer Joel Properties
contractor JJ Builders


Friendship House, south LondonFriendship House funnels 160 bedsitting rooms for single people into one of London’s most inhospitable leftover sites, between a council housing estate and a high railway viaduct. But by wrapping the accommodation around the perimeter of the site, a remarkably secluded garden oasis has been created at its heart. Landscaped with a pool and fountain, the garden is overlooked by two common rooms and most of the bedsits.
architect MacCormac Jamieson Prichard
developer London Hostels Association
contractor Galliford Try Partnerships