On first opening this book, I had doubts as it seemed to be an effort by designers PRP to advertise their work. On reading it however, I realised it is much more than that: the practice reflects on many years of experience in estate regeneration, explains their methodology, clarifies their concerns and draws lessons from their experience. It therefore offers much of value to other practitioners.
Twenty-four estate regeneration schemes, mostly by PRP and in the London area are described and analysed in detail, starting with a description of the estates as they found them. The involvement of the local community is painstaking and takes time, but it is at the core of PRP’s work, as is their involvement with the various stakeholders (including the clients) that need to be on board. The sequence of events is similar for most of the schemes and always includes community engagement and ‘the vision’.
Readers of this journal may be surprised (because of past experience) but also encouraged by the fact that in all schemes, urban design was pivotal in improving the estates. In scheme after scheme, poor urban design was the basis of the existing problems. Yes, there were issues with the dwellings, the density, the entrances and lifts, but what most residents seemed to complain about was the poor layout, the lack of permeability, the poorly designed and managed open spaces, etc. The book’s introduction by Brendan Kilpatrick makes the point: ‘We focus on the urban design and masterplanning journey of each example to determine best practice, for we strongly believe that this is a key ingredient for success’.
The book is divided into five sections with what appear to be somewhat arbitrary headings: Pioneering, Utopian, Visionary, Pragmatic and Evolutionary. Each of these starts with a reflective essay, which, although not very obviously related to its title, deals interestingly with various aspects of regeneration. Each essay is written by a different professional and all contribute to the debate while not shying away from criticising the system within which they are operating. For example in Manisha Patel’s essay The Future, which opens the Visionary section, she laments the loss of social housing; suggests new approaches to strategic and local planning, land use and social mix, procurement, quality, community engagement; and, even reflects on the effects of the pandemic.
The book is beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated with diagrams and photographs, including useful before and after statistics for each case. It is a shame that the lack of street and place names on the maps makes it difficult to cross-reference with the text. This seems to be a frequent problem with architects who assume everyone is familiar with the place, but editors should know better. Despite this, the book makes a valuable contribution to housing policies in the UK.