- Birmingham City Council
In the context of a changing economic climate and in response to a need for sustainable family housing in the city centre, Birmingham City Council, via its Big City Plan, wanted to challenge outmoded and unsustainable housing.
The Birmingham House project was part of the Big City Plan. Its purpose was to develop a new housing typology to support the creation of a smart neighbourhood that reflected Birmingham’s diverse identity.
The grounding principles of the project focused on understanding how to build low impact, affordable, adaptable and sustainable designs distinct to Birmingham and which embraced the requirements of its diverse population in the 21st century. Its aim was to respond to the city’s twin challenges of increasing demand for housing and decreasing affordability whilst reflecting sustainable, design-led thinking, ensuring that the neighbourhoods that were developed would have a 'heart and soul'.
Birmingham City University responded to the challenge by producing a wide consultation process supported by academic debate, interrogation and research, overlaid with student observation, study and intelligence to create a comprehensive review of requirements to feed into the design process.
The process embraced the liveability, mixed community, social cohesion, environmental sustainability and smart design objectives outlined as part of the project, while capitalising on the latest thinking on smart design and research on urban futurology. The consultation was created in partnership with Birmingham City Council, which provided a comprehensive brief. Community members from a cross-section of Birmingham neighbourhoods were the bedrock from which the study developed.
The unique consultation process provided a series of recommendations which are now integrated into the design brief for architects to respond to.
I am a great believer in working with local institutions... what was interesting about Birmingham City University in particular is that it already had a programme of work where it had worked with people in communities about the built environment and design."
Philip Singleton, Assistant Director, City Centre Developments at Birmingham City Council
The ambition of this public consultation study was to enhance social cohesion by illustrating to communities the value of working in partnership with each other, and the local authority. Its legacy will enable the project brief to be relevant to local communities by bringing understanding, knowledge and experience quite different to that of policy makers, developers and designers.
In addition to the benefits to the project that community participation provided, the work also benefited the community participants, by giving them the opportunity to develop the skills and networks needed to address social exclusion and the skills development that can enhance opportunities for employment.
Birmingham House engaged the support of public stakeholders and other partnership organisations, including the Homes & Communities Agency, Birmingham City Council housing department and Registered Social Landlords. Much research and a one-day workshop held with these stakeholders among others established the priorities, requirements, objectives and constraints of these organisations.
The Birmingham House project seeks to drive future regeneration in Birmingham city centre through addressing the domestic needs of local people. Birmingham City University, in consulting and engaging with households within existing communities, was able to identify these needs, which the wider project will address.
It was the view of Birmingham City Council in appointing Birmingham City University that a local, neighbourhood-based approach to regeneration via innovative consultation would enable the project ultimately to:
- Enhance the social capital of participants.
- Improve living standards of city centre residents.
- Reduce crime.
- Improve educational attainment.
Birmingham City Council received a 62 page report which included:
- Detailed research and analysis of Birmingham’s housing stock and intelligence on design techniques from Birmingham’s history
- Detailed intelligence based on new research looking at environmental and sustainability issues.
- New intelligence based on what the Birmingham population living in the centre of Birmingham are looking for and how they use space and community areas.
The Birmingham House project has increased knowledge in the attitudes and lifestyle requirements a diverse society places on the home. It has also revealed what type of city centre neighbourhood is required for the 21st century. This work has formed an important addition to the growing body of knowledge that Birmingham City University is gathering in determining the design implications of culture in space.