Or you could say a specific tool, the Building for Life 12 (BfL12) tool, which we have introduced to our housing design process to great effect at Howarth Litchfield.
At the best of times, designing a house is a complex process which relies on the close collaboration of many stakeholders – the local planning authority, the community, developers, design teams and consultants, to name a few. Each party engages at different stages and with varying levels of involvement.
So how does the Bfl12 tool work and what is it? Well, in the past year, since we fully embraced its use, it has enabled us to build a solid design framework around which ideas and challenges can be structured, explored and discussed with any involved party, because it sets a solid foundation for all design decisions. This is crucial when designing high quality homes and neighbourhoods.
We design many houses at Howarth Litchfield – from bespoke one-off highly sustainable, purposedesigned homes of the future to schemes for the volume house builder – so we were keen to see how it would assist when we used it in the design development of four housing schemes in County Durham. We have gained most success, with a site in Chilton for Dere Street Homes, with over 200 houses. We took on an outline planning approval gained by a regional housing developer, for a typical, mundane, developer-designed site, and transformed it into something more bespoke and fitting to the context, aligning to key drivers of the BfL.
Our proposal was developed closely with Dere Street Homes, to ensure the commercial viability of the project was not impacted by the introduction of the BfL standards. We were able to utilise the large area of public open space and reorganise the layout to create a more varied landscape-led design, creating a series of character areas, whilst maintaining overall housing densities.
Whilst it was not all plain sailing (getting new housing developments through the planning process rarely is), it really helped us to structure and coordinate our conversation with various stakeholders so that each could focus on the design aspects that were important to them.
It has resulted in a better-quality housing scheme specific to the local context that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. But like all new tools, they have a season, only to be replaced by a more refined version of their original selves. BfL12 is no exception.
In June 2020, the latest edition of Building for Life 12 was published under a new name – Building for a Healthy Life. While the original structure remains for the most part, the new edition tackles changes in legislation such as the National Planning Policy Framework 2019 and National Design Guide 2019, and as the name implies, gives more attention to the concept of attaining a healthy life, with several wider social parameters considered.
The tool continues to be a great help to us in organising and structuring our housing design development process as well as compliance with relevant planning documents. Currently we are busy at Howarth Litchfield familiarising ourselves with the updated edition of the BfL tool and reviewing our existing processes to incorporate the changes, which will benefit all future housing design clients.
By Keith Handy – April 2021