Following an intense 2.5 days at the Portsmouth Phoenix competition Russell Gould and Sophie Saarinen are reflecting on the key ideas and topics explored at the event.
The purpose of the Portsmouth Phoenix event was to investigate housing solutions in Portsmouth, focusing on two city-centre residential tower blocks, Horatia and Leamington House.
Following the Grenfell tragedy, cladding was removed for testing which subsequently revealed that both buildings did not meet the criteria for resistance to disproportionate collapse and would need to be demolished.
Such a rapid design workshop cannot produce resolved solutions but provide a great catalyst for opening up debate. Key themes that repeated across the teams were around retrofit, integrating successful green and open spaces within a city, appropriate density and retaining the existing community, challenges that play out in cities across the UK.
The residents Russell and Sophie spoke to as part of the process highlighted their enjoyment of the community room each existing tower had integrated within the buildings. It had been key to create opportunities to meet and socialise which had helped establish a sense of community.
Those who had been rehoused following the evacuation of the towers had lost touch due to displacement and it became important to all the teams to try retain as many of the residents on site as possible whether that was through phasing the demolition and replacement of housing or by retaining as many residences as possible.
All teams weighed up merits of retaining or demolishing the existing housing on the site that surrounded the towers. The embodied carbon of the existing buildings pushed the desire to adapt and reuse elements of the existing houses, but it had to be balanced against the need to increase density and create more energy efficient homes. It was also pertinent to consider the lifespan the buildings were designed for and whether, at 50 to 60 years old, they were in need of replacement as they would require such extensive repairs over the coming years.
The Portsmouth Phoenix event provided the opportunity to collaborate with a range of architects, urban planners and current masters students, providing a platform for discussion between individuals with a wide range of experience and backgrounds. Throughout the event, we were able to benefit from the knowledge and mentoring of Andrew Matthews (Proctor & Matthews), Russell Curtis (RCKa) and Ruth Butler (Ruth Butler Architects). In addition to reviewing work throughout the design workshops, each mentor delivered a lecture explaining the research and processes behind their work, alongside built examples that embodied the philosophies of their practice.
The event was an excellent opportunity to work with other designers, benefiting from hearing diffident viewpoints and gaining exposure to new ideas. The consolidation of the event in the form of a public consultation was an excellent opportunity to bring the ideas out of the studio and into the community.
The event was attended by a local residents and councillors and it was insightful to be able to hear from and engage with these members of the community directly. A diverse range of schemes were produced across the three design teams, however the common thread running through them all was that the space in between houses played an equally great role in the quality of life for residents, and this importance will only increase as our cities continue to densify.
Following the Portsmouth Phoenix Project, Russell and Sophie are feeling inspired and will be taking the discussions and ideas generated throughout the event and using them to inform upcoming Noviun projects.
To read more about the Portsmouth Phoenix Project visit the website here.