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Squaring the circle

Zero Energy Development units on parking lots, London, United Kingdom

The spirited British architect Bill Dunster is applying the knowledge he has acquired over decades of working on sustainable projects: He has a clever response to the housing shortage in Greater London that is affordable, sensible, environmentally friendly, attractive, and flexible. His concept might seem utopian. But only at first glance.

The shortage of housing is a permanent condition in London and a common element of many cosmopolitan cities. But in recent years the situation has become particularly acute. Even people with well-paying jobs can hardly afford a place to live, whether buying or renting. The main cause of this housing stress is population growth, in combination with insufficient construction volume. From 1997 to 2016, the city grew by 1.7 million inhabitants, but in the same period, only 370,000 new apartments were built. The figures for the whole of England hardly look any better: Since 2005 the population has grown by 4.2 million people, but only 1.2 million new housing units have been built.

Speculation aggravates the situation. In the City of London, the central district, 21,000 apartments are currently vacant because they are being used solely as an investment, particularly for international buyers sequestering funds into residential properties. Their monetary calculations are understandable: In the record year of 2015, prices for residential properties in London rose by ten percent, and they are expected to climb by another 15 percent by 2021.

The housing shortage now affects the whole region. “In southeast England, up to five million people live in substandard conditions,” says Bill Dunster. “Nowadays, the average student sleeps on the sofa, 35-year-olds still live with their parents because they can’t afford to move out, and some families are converting their garage to house their grandparents. It’s been like Hong Kong here for a long time – but our government officials keep sweeping the problem under the carpet.”

Bill Dunster always speaks with passion and commitment. Whether it’s regarding climate change around the world or political change the United Kingdom, the architect born in 1960 in South London states his opinions frankly and unmistakably. But his sharpness of mind contrasts pleasantly with the gentleness of his words: Bill is a totally calm discussion partner who listens very carefully. He is one of those decisive types of professionals who seek constructive solutions and bring lofty ideas down to the plane of reality through meticulous effort and solid teamwork.

One of those big ideas is the project that won Bill Dunster and his office ZEDfactory the LafargeHolcim Awards Bronze in Europe. It promises to make an important contribution to alleviating the housing shortage. The idea seems so obvious that you might not think it’s revolutionary at first glance. But that’s the case with many well-thought-out projects – in the end, they seem utterly natural. Put simply, Bill Dunster proposes to install residential structures above outdoor parking lots. The cars remain below as before, and floating above them are compact residential units, which the architect calls ZEDPods. At second glance, you begin to see just how big this idea really is – because Bill Dunster has succeeded in, as it were, squaring the circle.

Read the full article: “Squaring the circle” in Fifth LafargeHolcim Awards – Sustainable Construction 2017/2018

Last Updated: December 13, 2018
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Location
London, United Kingdom
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