Terraced homes: Architects' twist on Welsh tradition

A look at the winning design for terraced homes for the 21st Century

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Undulating rows of terrace houses are synonymous with the industrial heritage of the south Wales valleys.

While rooted in the nation's history, the buildings are clearly here to stay for many decades to come.

To address this reality, and the challenges looming for the rest of the 21st Century, the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW), invited architects to submit designs for a competition.

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It's plain that part of the strategy is going to have to involve adapting our current housing stock to meet the needs of the mid-21st Century”

End Quote Andrew Sutton Royal Society of Architects in Wales

At present terraced housing constitutes around 40% of homes in Wales, and it is a figure which is set to remain around the 28% mark by 2050.

Architects were asked to submit plans for either a new-build or extensive renovation of existing properties; although new-builds must fit within the footprint of a current typical terraced house.

A shortlist of 12 from 100 entries was exhibited at the society's annual conference in Cardiff on Thursday.

Hatcher Prichard Architects with Ramboll (consulting engineers) were named as the competition winners.

The contest was backed by the Welsh government and Cadw, as well as housing associations RCT Homes and Grŵp Gwalia Cyf, who are both prepared to use the designs of the successful entrant in future building and renovations.

Andrew Sutton, RSAW president said: "New housing is being built to conform with Britain's commitment to reduce our carbon footprint by 80% by 2050."

Carbon footprint

"But at current rates of building, we'd have to construct a new town the size of Canterbury every year for the next 37 years, just to fulfill the obligations on climate change we've already signed-up to."

"So it's plain that part of the strategy is going to have to involve adapting our current housing stock to meet the needs of the mid-21st Century; not only in terms of energy efficiency, but also practical space, technology and affordability."

one-world design Using modern 'smart home technology' in this proposal by London-based architects one-world design within an existing terrace

Wales not only has the greatest ratio of terraced housing in Britain, it also has the oldest. In the south Wales valleys a tenth of housing predates the opening of both the Severn Tunnel and Cardiff RFC in 1875, with a third built before the end of World War I.

While much of Britain's terraced housing was built during this period, to accommodate the growing workforce in industrial areas, social and geographic features have meant that Wales has retained more of this kind of stock.

"In Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester etc, much of these houses have long since been pulled down for several reasons, some good, some bad," said Mr Sutton.

Design for rear extension Design for a rear extension, with a modern twist

"On the downside Wales hasn't seen the sort of gentrification there's been in many English cities, meaning that land isn't as valuable, and there isn't the same incentive to redevelop."

"But at the same time the geography of the valleys' terrace housing clinging to the hillside meant that Wales never had the same density of back-to-back slums as there were in some English cities, and so they've remained desirable places to live with strong community spirit."

"Indeed, if you were starting with a blank sheet and looking at ways to build on the steep slopes of south Wales, even today you probably couldn't come up with an idea better suited than the terraced house."

One of the boldest submissions came from Dan Benham on behalf of architects Loyn & Co.

Loyn 'Community spirit' is at the heart of the Loyn design Photo: Phil France

"Our design retains the iconic external architecture of Welsh housing, but we've gutted the inside and started again," said Mr Benham.

"Central is the theme of community spirit, with sliding doors at front and back which can open to create a continuous space from street to garden. There's also light wells to illuminate traditionally gloomy areas, and retractable walls so that the interior can be configured in any number of ways."

"Whereas the cheapest new-build will cost at least £120,000, we believe our design is achievable for as little as £68,000, dependent on the price of the land."

At the other end of the scale was Shaun Prichard's competition-winning vision of a terraced conversion which could be delivered for "just tens of thousands".

"What we've focused on is doing as little as possible to achieve the desired effect on energy-consumption and practicality," he said.

"Living space is dispersed to the lightest areas around the edges of the house, with those areas which don't require so much light moved into the darker centre. The original chimney system is used to provide a mechanical ventilation system which keeps the house warm in winter and cool in summer."

"There's a dormer loft conversion to the rear adding space and insulation, and a small extension at the rear with a living moss roof which keeps in heat and puts oxygen back into the atmosphere."

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