“Long Life Loose Fit”: Architectural design notes for the Private Rented Sector

Top architecture practice Liftschutz Davidson Sandilands outlines the design elements required to create high-quality & future-proofed rental properties.

Prime residential property developers are beginning to embrace the Private Rented Sector (PRS), as the top-end of the market follows the mainstream’s lead in accepting this traditionally temporary tenure as a burgeoning normal.

We recently heard of a magnificent Regent’s Park mansion refurbished specifically with the rental market in mind; Harry Handelsman’s Manhattan Loft Company opted to keep a few extra units back in its landmark East London Manhattan Loft Gardens scheme, to rent out on the company’s own books, while Native Land has just confirmed that its 49-unit PRS scheme in Belgravia is now fully let.

Demand is clearly there for decent rental homes in high-value locations. Knight Frank reported a 19.6% increase in the number of new prospective tenants registering in prime central London between January and August 2017 versus 2016, and a 25% jump in viewings. The number of tenancies agreed in the first eight months of the year was 19% higher than 2016. Available rental stock, however, is struggling to keep pace with such demand; the number of units on the market increased by just 2.2% in the same period.

Average rental yields have settled in the 5-5.5% range for prime regional centres, while central London offers a more modest – but seemingly stable – 3ish%.

Trends such as these have inevitably piqued savvy developers’ interest, but how should development designs be adapted to fit this new market landscape?

Designing for the PRS

Paul Sandilands & Alex Lifschutz

Quality design should be non-negotiable in any new home, says architecture practice Liftschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS). The firm behind Fitzroy Place, much of Kidbrooke Village regeneration, Barking Riverside and the rather exciting Illuminated River project, shares its insights into how new PRS schemes can and should be delivered to be best for purpose.

Flexible Living: One of LDS’s guiding principles is “Long Life Loose Fit”. This is a flexible design philosophy that buildings should stand the test of time and facilitate change on behalf of current and future residents. Timber walls within a steel frame structure, for example, can be moved around inside the home to adapt as families grow, change and expand and shrink again through the ages.

The Six Metre Formula: LDS practice director, Alex Lifschutz also has a “six metre formula”.  He believes that this is the optimum width of a residence to allow for different configurations, whatever your family size, as this width of property can accommodate two double bedrooms side-by-side or any other living space, if open plan is the preference.

Case Study: Paradise Gardens, W6

LDS’s latest project of note is Paradise Gardens, a residential development of just six houses in Ravenscourt Park, which was this summer awarded both a London and National RIBA| Award and, more recently, a Housing Design Award.

At Paradise Gardens, the houses are spatially generous, with light-filled interiors, and designed to be flexible in layout. A steel frame structure gives the flexibility to break through laterally, and there are no load-bearing elements between party walls, which allows for future change.

The exterior design is sympathetic to the conservation area in which it is located, next to Ravenscourt Park itself. It occupies the site of a former derelict yard.

The buildings go beyond Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) level 4 through the upgrade of façade performance in line with Code 5 requirements. Excellent airtightness levels and thermal performance are achieved through the careful consideration of thermal bridging and solar gain, the use of heavily insulated wall and roof construction, and triple glazing.

Case study: Broadwall

LDS’s pursuit of flexible design goes back at least 20 years – to the firm’s award-winning Broadwall scheme on London’s South Bank, near the Oxo Tower. This series of modern terraced houses features sub-divisible living rooms at ground- and first-floor levels, with gallery loft space available for further expansion. The tenants who moved in 20 years ago are still happily there today (all living with different requirements and size of family, but using it effectively). Specified materials were robust and have improved with age by weathering gracefully. Brick forms part of the facade and Iroko hardwood is used for window frames and areas of weatherboarding. The houses look as good today as they did two decades ago.

Alex Lifschutz, founding director, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands: “Homes built for rental require an appropriate robustness and ability to be easily maintained and redecorated, and this should be thoughtfully considered from the outset.

“Designing for flexibility is key. Lifestyles are changing and the demands made on our living space are challenging the traditional layout of the family home. Architects have to respond to new relationship configurations and make ups with expanding and decreasing family sizes through the generations, say as result of divorce, new marriages with larger families and added children coming together, also children living at home longer who can’t afford to move out, older generations moving back in and so on.”