The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched the National Model Design Code consultation process in January 2021 as part of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Honoré van Rijswijk the founder of collective has taken this opportunity to share its initial thoughts regarding the interrelation of design codes and Custom and Self Build initiatives.
Design codes form an integral component of the planning and development process of Custom and Self Build communities. The codes were not exclusively introduced to restrain or control this process. Rather, they have the potential to empower Custom and Self Builders, by offering applicable design tools to shape their individual and communal environments. It is therefore recommendable that decision making should take into consideration a two-way process, bringing stakeholders together, and offering future residents the prospect to take a leading role. Custom and Self Builders often have the ability, determination and spirit, to steer and take control of the design, development and delivery process and flourish when offered a genuine sense of ownership.
Throughout the years, design codes have made a significant contribution to the delivery of Custom and Self Build communities. By defining specific design (site) conditions, principles and guidance, Custom and Self Builders are enabled to deliver their individual and collective ideals.
Design codes have the potential to capture and guide multiple site characteristics and create cohesive and distinctive Custom and Self Build communities. For example, by taking into consideration the ten characteristics of well designed places as set out in the National Design Guide. This includes the site context, movement, nature, built form, identity, public space, uses, homes and buildings, resources and lifespan. Design codes, if applied correctly, will have the ability to create and contribute to unique identities for Custom and Self Build initiatives implemented at multiple scales.
Generally it is essential for Custom and Self Build design codes to capture detailed design resolutions and provide effective guidance. However at the same time it is critical to balance distinct and rigorous design guidance with the intent to offer flexibility and choice. A more dynamic design and planning process should be aimed for, whereby design codes inform and shape communities and offer sufficient choice, encourage variation and allow for adaptation overtime. Our experience is that a limited but an explicit set of design codes are more successful, to steer the design and development process, with the overall intention to provide enough freedom for Custom and Self Builders to fulfil their dreams of future ways of living.
Custom and Self Build initiatives have proven to offer an opportunity for individuals and groups to innovate and experiment. Design codes have hereby played a significant role: if defined in a considered way it will be possible to instigate an innovative response at all stages of the development. Design codes as part of plot passports could generate inventive housing typologies, materials and construction techniques and solutions. Additionally, design codes at the scale of the community could encourage experimentation and make a positive contribution to redefining urban and open space typologies. For example, the New Leyden community in the Netherlands is reinventing the urban layout by proposing a tight urban grid, ‘affordable’ compact plots and pedestrianised living streets.
We expect that the future of Custom and Self Build communities will be directed and formed by inventive but rigorous design codes, which will empower communities, create unique identities, offer freedom of choice, promote innovation and introduce opportunities of living together.