Mr Peter Barber

1. Doris's Place, Broadway Market, Hackney, London (2002)

Barbe is well known as one of the most talented British architects operating in housing design, linking his research into the nature of street life with the creation of high-density housing models. This built project, completed and inhabited in 2002, consists of an ultra-dense mixed-use urban regeneration scheme on a 4.5m wide slot infill site in Hackney. The project wraps a retail unit, two maisonettes and a live/work unit around a central courtyard at first-floor level; by doing so it achieves a density level which is equivalent to 650 habitable rooms per hectare, almost three times the density of local development. Research issues explored by Barber included how to design models of high-density mixed-use building that could help improve urban sustainability, and how to utilise new fabrication technologies - notably the parabolic roof vault to the rear - given a tight budget and construction schedule.

In terms of research, Barber's scheme offers a novel spatial and technical response to the pressure on mixed-use development in a city like London with its land shortage and extremely high land unit costs. As such, Doris's Place contributes squarely to contemporary research into higher densities of urban living, as being urged upon the profession by bodies such as the Urban Task Force and by architectural figures like Lord Richard Rogers and Ricky Burdett. The project was shortlisted for a RIBA London Region Award, and was written up variously in the Guardian, Independent, etc.; the innovative roof construction was subsequently analysed in Building Design(6 May 2005, p. 22). Barber is frequently invited to give public lectures, now having presented nearly 50 talks across Britain and abroad - including a special session on housing policy at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester (October 2006), and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran (October 2007).

2. Cedars Road Hostel, Clapham, London (2007)

This built project by Barber is one of a series of five hostel designs for St Mungo's Association around London. It acts as a stepping stone or 'mini-foyer' facility in Clapham for homeless people attempting to make the jump from institutional hostel living to independent living. This strategy is now enshrined as government policy, but Barber was the first to give it a distinctive architectural agenda. All these hostels are being part-funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government, and are seen as research exemplars for others to learn from. As such, the Cedars Road Hostel should be read in conjunction with the four further schemes for the same client association: one at Church Walk in Hackney, one the Cinderella House in Southwark, one at St Pancras Way near Kings Cross - all of them built and in use - and another, far larger scheme currently in design for a mixed hostel/housing development in Lewisham.

Research issues are those of how to adapt the program requirements and site conditions to create new types of low-cost community building for homeless people, and again how to utilise new fabrication technologies with a tight budget and construction schedule. The research driver in these projects is that of architecture as a social endeavour which can meet and enhance community needs. Cedars Road and its companion hostels should thus be understood as an ambitious and innovative attempt to devise an architectural approach which provides benefits to those in socially vulnerable positions without dominating or alienating them. The 'foyer' idea is one that developed in France and then Britain a decade or so ago, and which is now being given a new lease of life by these projects for St Mungo's Association. Cedars Road was written up glowingly in RIBA Journal(August 2007, pp. 40-46).

3. Donnybrook Quarter, Bow, London (2005)

This built project by Barber is a dense mixed-use scheme with living units along with community, work and retail spaces - all configured into an innovative terrace/courtyard hybrid typology. Research issues include how to use the program requirements and site conditions to generate models of high-density housing, and how to reinforce the role of urban streets as socially cohesive devices in the contemporary city. As such, the Donnybrook scheme should be seen as a further contribution to investigations into densified urban living, with the aim of improving urban sustainability. The notion of the street as the locus for social interaction has a long pedigree within architectural thought, as promoted by writers like Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennett. Barber had previously designed a well-received masterplan proposal which sought created a renewed sense of street culture in two Dalston estates, as discussed in Building Design(9 March 2001, pp. 12-13) and Local Government News(July/August 2001, p. 16).

The Donnybrook Quarter is published in Accommodating Change(Circle 33 Housing Group, 2002) and The Buildings of England - London Vol.5: East(Yale, 2005, pp. 625-6). The scheme was positively reviewed in the architectural press, including Building Design(24 February 2006, pp. 12-15) and RIBA Journal(April 2006, pp. 32-40). It was also included in the New London Architecture Exhibition in 2005. The project originated when it won Circle 33's 'Accommodating Change: Innovation in Housing' competition in 2002, and subsequently it received a Housing Design Award (2004; shortlisted again in 2006). The Donnybrook Quarter was highly commended in the Royal Academy Summer Show Architecture Awards (2004), received an American Institute of Architects (UK/London Chapter) Design Excellence Award (2006), and won a RIBA Regional Design Award (2006). The scheme was included on the long-list for the 2006 Stirling Prize, and only just narrowly missed the final cut.

4. Tanner Street Estate, Barking, London (2007)

Barber in this project again tackled the issue of designing a substantial mixed-use scheme, this time consisting of 250 living units and community, work and retail spaces in its novel terrace/courtyard hybrid. Altogether, it creates a distinctive higher-density urban quarter in Barking. The scheme essentially develops the Donnybrook Quarter model to create a lower cost and thus more widely applicable system. Jestico & Whiles were the collaborating architects on the project to help with the construction phase, but the research and design was done 100% by Barber. Research issues again involved how to use the program requirements and site conditions to create innovative high-density housing, but this time with particular emphasis on techniques for reducing costs in mass housing provision.

Once more, the Tanner Street Estate also sought to build on the ideas of Donnybrook in how to revive and strengthen the use of the urban street as a crucial social device. Hence it should be read in conjunction with ongoing housing projects by Barber that are currently in the design stage for English Partnerships in Morecombe, Milton Keynes, etc. - as well as those being done for other developer-clients in London, Exeter and elsewhere. All these schemes are conceived as research exercises in how to achieve socially sustainable models of mass housing, this being linked to technical innovations by testing out timber frame or metal frame construction in the variants. The Tanner Street Estate itself was warmly reviewed in the architectural press, including Building Design(16 March 2007), pp. 10-13. It was given a Housing Design Award (2005; shortlisted again in 2007), and it won a 2007 RIBA Regional Design Award (2007). Barber has given nearly 50 public lectures on his housing projects, most recently at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran (October 2007).

  • Experimental Practice