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Home Improvements

Samuel, F and Coucill, L (2013) Home Improvements. In: The Knowledge Exchange, An Interactive Conference, The Creative Exchange, 26 September 2013 - 27 September 2013, Lancaster University.

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Abstract

The Home Improvements project, begun in October 2012) is one of a suite of Knowledge Exchange in the Creative Economy projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Its aim fundamentally is to improve the quality of the volume house builder (VHB) developments that increasingly dominate the British landscape. Multiple and diverse reports underline the need for urgent action in this area. Knowledge Exchange between architectural practice, architectural academia and the housing industry is the chosen methodology for effecting this change. Our first target is SME architectural practice, currently under threat due to its inability to compete with large interdisciplinary global conglomerate practices (Building Futures, 2011). We suggest that the best way to develop the research capacity of architectural practice is through fruitful knowledge exchange with academia. The RIBA Research Information Network has shown that the information least likely to be used by practitioners is that produced by academia, despite the rigorous nature of its production. Architectural academia has much to gain from the application of its research in real world situations, not least in terms of impact. The last vital ingredient in this triangle of exchange is industry, represented here by Taylor Wimpey. The profit margins of Volume House Builders have suffered greatly since the credit crunch, which leads to speculation over increasing tensions between quality and market demand (Foley, 2011; Kelly, 2013). There is a need to improve the outputs of the VHB process whilst at the same time minimising risk. Whilst we aim to put the creative capabilities of architectural practice at the service of the VHBs, SME practices clearly have much to gain in terms of business efficiency and industry know how. This then was our thesis when we began the project in October 2012. The date of completion is October 2013. The project has been led by Flora Samuel Head at the University of Sheffield School of Architecture supported by Co-Is Fiona McLachlan from the University of Edinburgh and Steven Spier from Kingston University. It receives support from Anne Dye Director of research at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Vital industry input has been provided by Nick Rogers, design director of Taylor Wimpey, David Birkbeck, Chair of Design for Homes and Jonathan Rickard of Radian a registered social landlord. Jonathan Dovey, PI on the Bristol based AHRC funded REACT KE hub provided a vital source of knowledge on how to work within University guidelines without stifling the creativity so vital to the whole process. In it there are two work packages, both ongoing, the first the Embedded Projects and the second the Review of Research in Architectural Practice. The Embedded Projects are, in essence, a form of Participatory Action Research – we work with architectural practices to develop research while at the same time learning about the potential and limitations of practice based research. This knowledge has then been fed into the development of the Review of Research in Architectural Practice.

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