Architects have ‘crucial’ role to play in volume housebuilding

Susan Wilson

AN architect for a major Scottish housebuilder has emphasised the “transformational” effect good design can have on large-scale housing developments.

Susan Wilson, architectural manager with Mactaggart & Mickel Homes, highlighted the importance of striking a balance between the practical realities of large volume housebuilding and improving the functional aesthetics of the home.

Susan said there are many examples of “bland” housebuilding in Scotland, with little variety or sense of place. She believes a good architect can transform these developments through careful consideration of the configuration of the houses and their relationship to each other.

She told Project Scotland, “As architects we are constantly trying to improve the functional aesthetic aspects of the home, but as a housebuilder we operate in a team who are carefully balancing multiple priorities.

“It’s our role as an architect to recognise and identify good design and then we need to be able to communicate and persuade others of the benefits and value of any design decision, so that decision can then be weighed up against the very evident and transparent cost.”

Susan said even a seemingly small design decision can greatly benefit an entire site. She gave an example of a recent project where the architectural team fought to have two chimneys placed on a house, which differentiated it from others on the site and improved the overall sense of place.

Admitting that there were a number of challenges involved, Susan said, “Whether it’s the design of a home or a place, your design doesn’t always have to cost more but it almost always takes more time and consideration. Ensuring that sufficient time is allowed within the process to allow the designs to develop and the right decision to be discussed and agreed is a challenge.

“Another challenge would be our effectiveness in communicating the value of design, so putting a value on a single tree or a couple of chimneys, a nicer facing brick or a gable window that faces onto a view is not easy.”

Susan said it is incumbent on housebuilders to engage more effectively with stakeholders in the design community, particularly colleges and universities, to illustrate the importance of the architect’s role in large volume housebuilding.

“The housing market is highly competitive so it does require all housebuilders to carefully focus on the final cost of the homes they’re building, but being in a highly competitive market we also need to differentiate from the competition.”

Susan added, “I think we need architects to have the skills, knowledge and vision to create and recognise what constitutes good design, but architects in the housebuilding industry need to develop their knowledge across a broader range of disciplines.

“They need to have a very strong awareness of the commercial realities within which we are operating and they need to be willing to compromise and work within the team. Only through doing this can we become an influencer from within and help to improve the output and reputation of the industry.”