19 November 2010

Modern Terrace Housing (1946 Research Proposal)

In 1946 a paper examining ‘Modern Terrace Houses’ was released - complied as research by Arthur Trystan Edwards on behalf of the Chadwick Trust, its purpose was “to investigate the question of the maximum ‘density’ per acre for small houses with gardens suitable especially for the intermediate and outer zones of large towns, having regard to the amenities essential to a comprehensive town planning arrangement.” (Edwards 1946) In the paper Edwards puts forth a series of possible terrace housing types and master plans for built-up areas in large towns, rather than large blocks of tenements – as was being proposed at the time and championed by the Modern movement.

Perspective of Terraces facing onto Public Space.

Edwards (1884-1973) was a Welsh Architect and Town Planner who's interest in architecture and civic design, following a 12-year interlude in the Navy, work for the Ministry of Health in the 1920s - the departments responsibilities included at this time, housing - where he became associated with Sir Raymond Unwin. His 1924 book, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture, urged architects to respect the context in which they were designing. His 1946 research into the density of houses in large towns was met with wide spread criticism upon its publication, commentators of the time arguing that the densities he proposed we too high.

Proposed master plan of 200 people per acre.

The terrace house had become associated with slums (most notoriously the ‘back-to-back’ houses) but Edwards pointed out that it was “unfortunate that the protagonists of ‘open development’ had consistently ignored the earlier and more reputable examples of the terrace house.” (Edwards 1946) He draws his inspiration from the larger terraces of the Georgian-period and focuses the arrangements around large public spaces. His proposal for a permeable street network was just the sort that would be championed two decades later by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities, whilst the arrangement of housings around public squares echoes that of the modern day new urbanists. Furthermore, Edwards argues for a mixture of one, two and three storey developments and of no greater in height, so as to not detract from the importance of local civic buildings which surely has it's origins in the Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard.

Proposed section through Terraces, with second storey balconies.

The Terrace House as a typological solution to creating urban living at higher densities has, over the past two-five years, received generous press coverage and has to been seen to be undergoing somewhat of a 'renaissance.' Studies like those of Edwards reaffirm that these are not new ideas and how cyclical the 'fashion' tastes of architects, planners and urban designers are.


Modern Terrace Houses: Researches on High Density Development, A. Trystan Edwards, 1946