George Buchanan: Earlier engagement could offer more creative solutions to housing shortage

George Buchanan: Earlier engagement could offer more creative solutions to housing shortage

George Buchanan

To coincide with New Homes Week, George Buchanan discusses the importance of opening up creative dialogue between architects and developers at a much earlier stage.

As a seasoned architect, I’m no stranger to the built environment and the challenges we face in creating new homes. If I could share one lesson it would be not to underestimate the power of early creative dialogue between architects and housing developers. This collaboration, when nurtured from the project’s inception, holds the key to not only enhancing the aesthetic appeal of new homes but also significantly improving their sustainability and energy efficiency.

Traditionally, architects are often brought into the fold once major decisions are made. Developers may be constrained by budgets, cost efficiencies and quick turnarounds which can mean design considerations are pushed into a more secondary role. This approach, while beneficial in the short term, can often lead to missed opportunities for innovation and sustainability.

We recently designed new energy-efficient affordable homes at Allison Street in Govanhill. Working closely with AS Homes (Scotland), Glasgow City Council’s planning team and Southside Housing Association from the outset meant that we could cater our design to the site and enhance the surrounding highly populated community. Promoting sustainable transport options, we worked to the brief to create a unique car-free, cycle-friendly development and repair the urban grain of Glasgow’s southside.

This project demonstrates how by fostering creative dialogue between architects and developers early in the project timeline, we can address existing limitations and unlock numerous benefits for communities.

Close collaboration allows architects to bring their expertise to the table from the outset, influencing key decisions on things like site selection, orientation, and overall design. This proactive involvement enables us to integrate sustainability principles seamlessly into the project’s DNA, rather than retrofitting them afterwards.

At our practice, we’re lucky to work with some fantastic clients who value our input at an early stage. Creative dialogue fosters a culture of innovation and experimentation, encouraging both parties to push the boundaries of conventional design practices. Not only this, we’re able to get a solid understanding of all perspectives and the client’s appetite for pushing the architectural boundaries. From a financial perspective, architectural design can also open up additional funding streams.

Furthermore, early collaboration empowers architects to utilise new technology and data to drive building performance. Early interaction encourages a design approach that considers more than the environmental impact of individual buildings, it considers the wider surroundings. By combining connectivity and urban planning, architects can create vibrant communities that promote social interaction. By integrating green spaces, better public transport and more mixed-use developments, we can mitigate urban sprawl and support our wider ecology.

However, realising the full potential of creative dialogue requires a fundamental shift in mindset and new ways of working. It requires a move away from the traditional, siloed approach that often characterises project delivery and the integration of a more collaborative and integrated model. Just as we’re encouraging developers to be more forthcoming, architects must also be willing to engage with a multitude of stakeholders to gain greater diversity of thought and perspective.

There are real tangible benefits to making time for creative dialogue between architects and housing developers early in a project timeline. Increased collaboration, innovation and a holistic approach to design can help us create homes which truly meet the needs of society, enabling us to tackle the housing crisis and build more new homes faster.

This week is ‘New Homes Week’, a national celebration of house building, and a positive platform to encourage discussion and debate on how we can improve. What is clear, however, is that the need for new homes has never been greater. It will take a myriad of initiatives to help solve this problem but, perhaps, greater creative collaboration between architects and developers earlier in the development process is one way we can help realise our shared goal.

  • George Buchanan is director of George Buchanan Architects

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