Thursday, 1 December 2016

Suburban condenser. A spatial, social and ecological framework for the concentrated growth of an expanding city

This project is also published here:

An urban answer to the misfortunes of dispersed, fragmented, uncontrolled and alienating suburbia. 


Suburbia in the UK is experiencing turbulent transformations. From being an idyllic habitation for homogenous, relatively affluent middle class, it has become a complex reflection of political, social and economic processes in the urban cores – gentrification, a property bubble and housing shortage. As a result, more and more households are being expelled out from the inner areas into suburbs and then, further out to the fringes. In the face of the increasing influx of population and scarcity of land, project proposes a linear suburbanisation - a concentrated, medium-density but high-intensity development which uses the land effectively and creates diverse built environment alongside the infrastructure. By exploiting the most basic urban elements and typologies such as street, perimeter block and courtyard building, and placing them in a dialogue with a natural setting, a new type of suburbia emerges.


• UK LAND USE. 7 % of UK area is urban (including infrastructure), 70 % is farmland.(1)
• WHAT THE URBAN AREAS ARE MADE OF? Only 2 % of urban areas are buildings. 54 % is green space (gardens, parks, etc.).(2)
• UK POPULATION. 64 million. 83 % of the UK population live in cities.(3)
• SUBURBAN LIFESTYLE. 15 % of city population live in an inner city, while 85 % live in outer suburbs.
• THE AGE OF LONELINESS. 29 % of the UK population live alone. 1 million older people live alone.(4)
• LOVE OF GARDENING. 90 % have a garden (including communal).(5)
• WORK AT HOME. From 30 million workers 4 million work from home.(6)
• AUTOMOBILE DEPENDENCY. 36% of the UK population commute to work by car. The average UK commute is 54 minutes.(7)
• UK’S HOUSING CRISIS. UK housing shortage is almost 1 million homes.(8)


The project draws a mental framework to the set of spatial, social and environmental issues of outer suburbia and its relationship with the inner city (9):
• Rising and ageing population,
• Housing shortage,
• Increasing poverty and precariousness,
• Social isolation and reduced connectivity,
• Economic, cultural and ethnic segregation,
• Car dependency, poor public transport, increasing road traffic congestion,
• Land-consuming, sprawling development and controversial green belts.


Unwillingness to build high and densely, inability to accommodate empty homes, complexities of brownfield redevelopment and scarcity of land have led to a development of ever increasing expanding of UK cities. However, Green belts designated to limit urban sprawl are now the challenge for both the politicians and developers. 

Green Belts around the British cities are designated for:
• making a distinction between rural and urban,

• preventing from urban sprawl and conurbation,
• providing access to open green space.


London's Metropolitan Green Belt policy has several significant drawbacks. Firstly, an inefficient use of land. For instance, intensive farming (more than a third of the land (11)) on the edge of the metropolis has no significant economic or environmental benefits. Secondly, this comes at the expense of more valuable development and leads to its 'leapfrogging' and displacement beyond the Green Belt. (12) Finally, all these factors contribute to longer commuting between London and its satellites. Created with positive intentions in the 50s, Green Belt today aggravates prolonged problems of suburbia such as reduced connectivity, accessibility to services and traffic congestion. The arcadian vision of suburbia must be reviewed.

Current condition. Greater London enclosed by London Orbital Motorway and London Green Belt (schematic diagram).

The project proposes infrastructure integrated development within preserved yet transformed Green Belt.


Aerial view. London Orbital Motorway (M25)and A3 junction. The project rethinks the old ideas of Metro-land in a contemporary context.
Birds eye view
Suburban condenser defines a clear edge between Nature and build environment. At the same time, by being porous, it allows the Nature flow through.



SC uses infrastructure as a form-defining armature which supports chain-link enclaves and is perforated with heterotopic voids. (13)

Basic module exploits the traditional, normative 600ft pedestrian armature between centres.(14)

A city is a plane of tarmac with some red hot spots of urban intensity.

Rem Koolhaas, The Surface, 1969

First page of the manuscript of Rem Koolhaas’s The Surface (1969)

Axonometric view

Infrastructure has a clear functional, scale and speed hierarchy. As such it does not have a segregating effect on communities. 
Infrastructure is an integral part of the formation and its footprint ratio to entire development is minimised.

Heterotopic voids provide a space for uncertainty, endless possibilities and transformations for the future development. They are landmarks and nodes within the continuous framework.

Heterotopic void. Nature: park / forest / meadow

Heterotopic void. Intensification: housing infill

Heterotopic void. Industry / service / retail: sheds, warehouses, shopping centre

Heterotopic void. Football field: games, concerts, events

Enclave / neighbourhood.
The enclave is a self-organising system which accommodates the private sphere - housing, business and retail activities, incorporate communal life and embraces the public sphere. By using uniformity and repetition, equality is ensured yet it is diversified by its context and inhabitants – heterogenous and egalitarian society.

Enclave section. 

SC is a built environment where:
Public sphere is provided for knowledge and social exchange.
Co-working and work from home are supported by providing facilities next to the living space.
Different housing typologies offer accommodation for a diverse spectrum of households.
Spaces are adaptable and extendable by using flexible modules, layouts and structure.

Typology of units. 

The edge. Allotments. 

Town square / courtyard.

The street view.

The upper street.

A workshop on ground level.

Studio flat on 1st level.


1. Mark Easton, The great myth of urban Britain
2. Ibid.
3. United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects 
Urban population <>
4. Kim Walker, Loneliness in the UK

5. Christopher Hope More than two million British homes without a garden The Telegraph
6. Characteristics of Home Workers, (The Office for National Statistics, 2014)
7. 36% of the UK population still drive to work, only 3% cycle 
8. David Kingman Britain’s housing crisis in 3 numbers
9. Some data is taken from: Paul Hunter, Towards an suburban renaissance: an agenda for our city suburbs (The Smith Institute, 2016)
10. Tom Papworth. The green noose. An analysis of Green Belts and proposals for reform (Adam Smith Research Trust, 2015)
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Three primary urban elements - armature, enclave and heterotopia are the terminology used by David G. Shane in Recombinant urbanism : conceptual modelling in architecture, urban design, and city theory (John Wiley & Sons, 2005)
14. Ibid.