This project aimed to improve the designs for 26 schemes which would replace the entire Sheltered Housing Stock of a Metropolitan Local Authority in the North East of England in a way that responded to residents' needs, produced assets for the local authority, and fairness for the bidding consortia; and provided a Tool that could be used by others, and adapted to other building types.
The project started as a Knowledge Transfer Partnership to establish guidance for a new process in Private Finance Initiative Projects, known as Competitive Dialogue. For the first time, this process enabled local authorities to discuss proposals with the bidding consortia, and suggest improvements, provided all bidders were treated equally. It became apparent that an evaluation tool for design quality would be needed for the process. Workshops with the residents demonstrated their overwhelming desire to put institutional accommodation behind them and to live in a welcoming, homely atmosphere. All the available evaluation tools measured performance but none assessed the kind of amenity values that the residents were seeking. It was therefore decided that the focus of the project would be to devise a Tool and User Guide to respond to the residents’ wishes.
In the past, residents of sheltered housing have been passive recipients of accommodation. The Research and Project Teams agreed this venture was an opportunity to engage with the residents. A Users’ Group was established, with whom design workshops were enacted on topics such as communal spaces, sustainability and interior details. The outcomes from the workshops were fed directly into the Tool’s criteria for assessment. The Users’ Group attended the Research Group’s initial presentations to the bidding consortia, where different notions of quality were introduced. They also attended the first presentations by all six bidders, and voted on the most promising designs. The outcomes from the three assessment stages were also fed back to them. Meetings with the Users’ Group were held in inspiring buildings, so that the residents could feel design quality around them. The process for the development of the Tool showed great originality in interactions with the participants – users, councillors, officers, the project team, the research team, and the bidding consortia. However, the greatest originality is within the Tool. Most quality assessment is based on performance. This is well-researched and easily measurable. The new Tool includes performance attributes but adds amenity attributes, which are not well-researched and are difficult to measure. They include: atmosphere, character, image, symbolic significance, contextual impact and aesthetics; and it is these values that define home. As stated in the North Tyneside Council Report - The Tool has been presented to RIBA Enterprises (Royal Institute of British Architects), and the Homes and Communities Agency, with a view to it becoming an approved document that can be marketed nationally.