Barking council housing wins award for architecture

Council houses in east London have been hailed as “excellent” by residents after winning an award for architecture.

Architects Peter Barber were handed a 2021 London Award by the Royal Institute of British Architects on August 26 for their work on the social housing on North Street in Barking.

Built on what was once a thin strip of grass, the 14 single-bedroom homes are just a five-minute walk from Barking station.

Most of the flats have only one bedroom, and all enjoy their own front door and small garden area which leads out onto the street.

Many of the residents in the buildings have downsized from flats in nearby council estates to live in the homes.

Misbah Sunny, a resident since 2019, said that his home was a good space to live in and that the design had maximised the space.

Misbah says he was kept on a waiting list for 10 years before finally being given social housing.

He said: “They did a really good job with it – before it was just grass. 

“I used to live beside here and I saw the houses being built… they’ve made the most of the space.

“The only problem is the cooking unit is next to the stairs and every time you use it the smell gets trapped.”

Misbah added that despite liking the property, he discovered that the oven hadn’t been wired properly when he first moved in.

He said: “I spent three months on a microwave.”

However, he added that most of his experiences with the flat had been positive, saying: “I really do like the house, it’s excellent. The gym’s close by, the train service, bus, food shops.”

Another resident of the award-winning homes, Ade Oyegoke, also praised the design of the buildings.

He said they were: “Really different from what else is around here. I like it, I think it stands out – I like the clean design.

“I think most people when they walk past take a second look.”

Architect Peter Barber welcomed RIBA’s award for the properties, saying that they had been built to deliver the “very best” for their residents.

He said that the judges at RIBA likely noticed the difficulty of building the 14 properties on such a narrow stretch of ground.

He said: “I suspected people were intrigued by the very difficult site – it’s a very very long thin, narrow site and I think they might have thought that it’s quite ingenious the way we managed to get so many on there, and that we were able to do it in the form of little houses rather than flats.

“I suppose there’s a sort of cuddly style to the thing which might appeal to people – some interesting brick detailing.”

He added that he hoped the prize would help to promote the need for more social housing throughout the UK and criticised the ‘right to buy’ scheme which allows council flat residents to purchase their property. 

He said: “We need to get rid of right to buy and replenish social housing which has been lost because of right to buy – half a century ago nearly half the population of this country enjoyed the benefits of living in social housing.

“Now it’s a tiny fraction of that, we can do something about that.”

According to Statista, 16.7 per cent of English households rented social housing in 2020.

This figure has steadily declined since the level of social housing peaked at 42 per cent in 1979.

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Alastair Lockhart

Local Democracy Reporter