Will Normcore Work for Building Design?

Eighty Twenty is fortnightly roundtable event hosted by Partisan, where we invite business leaders and key stakeholders connected with the built environment to share ideas over breakfast.

The main focus of our latest event was whether new developments should drive revolutionary design concepts, or be more about functional, familiar living spaces.

Is normal the new radical? In fashion trends, normcore surfaced about a decade ago, capturing an attitude of liberation through not standing out. Could this attitude translate to building design for the 21st century?

The Economic Realities of Architecture

How do you reconcile meeting the demand for more and more housing with the economic realities of financial pressure and constraint?

One problem might be the concept that all new buildings must somehow be pioneering or revolutionary if they are to be of sufficient quality.

If there is a greater streamlining of supply chains, and a generally cohesive approach to construction, then these efficiencies, drawing on technological advances, could deliver cost-effective quality at volume.

However, for quality and volume not to be seen as mutually exclusive, there also needs to be a recognition that context is crucial.

For example, Manchester is a city of brick. It contains plenty of historical buildings, and a broad range of architectural styles dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Brick is durable. Brick lasts, therefore it might make sense to design new brick buildings.

Should the future for building design in the city be radical simplicity, and what are the factors in bringing costs down and efficiencies up?

Speed and the Supply Chain

The new normal often comes from a growing familiarity with what was once a pioneering concept.

This is true of the kind of modular housing Urban Splash has brought to Manchester.

What it offers is accelerated production, creating savings through speed.

As a concept though, it requires a degree of volume at fabrication stage to be truly cost-effective.

Which brings us to the issue of productivity.

Looking for a New Workforce

High volume, quality construction requires the skilled workforce to carry it out.

The Construction Products Association, CPA, has highlighted that there is an ageing workforce in the construction sector.

In the year to March 2017, those aged 50 and over were the second largest group in the workforce, at 32.5%.

Modular construction is a production line dependent on precision and skill. Is there a new workforce ready to apply these qualities?

Normcore Opportunities for Developers

Another issue for urban-based development is that it is an increasingly crowded arena. Commercially viable sites in Manchester City Centre are in short supply, which means developers must look further afield.

Semi-rural areas might provide such opportunities, as might the needs of the retiring demographic.

Could the bungalow, for example, be adaptable to modular stacking, creating something that has adaptability for developments that are more urban in nature?

Not everyone wants to live in something that is defined by its radical architecture, which again raises the issue of whether the new normal should be, well, more normal.

Neighbourhoods for Families

How is putting the customer at the heart of the proposition going to alter how we develop the built environment?

Think of changing demographics, with the private rented sector (PRS) becoming a norm in itself, as compared to home ownership.

If the perception is shifting so that renting becomes a choice, this must also inform the kinds of housing developments of the near-future, where people feel more inter-connected and grounded.

The concept of the neighbourhood is ready for a comeback. Again, this is the notion of a certain type of normality reasserting itself.

Architects, designers and developers could be spearheading this rather than following it, if they can come up with sustainable, practical and cost-effective strategies that will bring homes people want to rent, ensuring high levels of occupancy.

The incentive should be there for PRS developers to invest in long-term quality aimed at offering the best possible customer service.

Being Ordinary is Revolutionary

The American architect and educator, Denise Scott Brown, once said:

“With everyone striving to be revolutionary, you will be most revolutionary if you try to be ordinary.”

Maybe today’s developers must try to be ordinary to bring about the kind of changes in the built environment that will make it fit for the future.

Our Guests This Time

Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast event included:

Jeffrey Bell, Jeffrey Bell Architects
Edward Dry, G C Capital
Jake Knotman, Assets We Build
John McHugh, CBRE
Tom McWilliams, Catalyst Capital
Jerome Rolth, Carrington Group
Rob Sumner, Sigma Capital Group

“Great to join EightyTwenty this morning, discussing real estate, the built environment, placemaking and property management.”
John McHugh

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