Reimagining the Garden City: Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation Launches Design Competition with Royal Institute of British Architects

We're delighted to be launching a competition to discover new designs for a 21st Century garden city in partnership with the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Launching on 17 October 2018, the design and ideas competition Reimagining the Garden City invites architects to unleash their creativity to explore modern garden city living and place making to meet today’s needs, using a potential development site in the world’s first garden city as a case study.  The competition is open internationally to architect-led design teams, with inter-disciplinary collaboration encouraged, as is collaboration between practices of different size, expertise and experience.

Founded in 1903, Letchworth Garden City is the world’s first garden city and it was the brainchild of social reformer Ebenezer Howard. His vision to improve lives for people by combining the best of living and working in the town and country led to a vibrant international garden city movement.

Today, the need for new homes means that there will be an expansion of the urban area of Letchworth for the first time since the 1980s, and this creates a real live case study for the design competition, with the design concepts generated by the winning team informing the overall master plan and subsequent build. The approximately 110-acre case study site is located just north of the Grange Recreation Ground and is included in the North Herts Local Plan for housing.  The Local Plan is due to be adopted in 2019 and includes proposals on this land for 900 new homes – 40% of which will be affordable housing. There will also be a 2-form entry primary school, with 900 sq m of local community facility and retail space.

The Foundation is seeking to recapture the pioneering spirit of the founding years of the Garden City where many of the original Letchworth homes were designed by architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin and incorporate the much admired, simple yet beautiful, design details and elements which embrace the harmonious use and inclusion of local materials, light and fresh air.  Their approach to design for people’s homes was largely inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement, which celebrated thoughtful and sustainable design. For the Reimagining the Garden City competition the Foundation believes that these values can be repeated to meet modern needs and encourage sustainable living, which can influence new garden communities across the UK and beyond.

David Ames, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, commented: “This competition is exciting not just for Letchworth, but for the whole of the UK and beyond. We believe that there is a huge opportunity to reimagine some of the design principles of Barry Parker and other early pioneers in the Garden City Movement, in order to create new homes in Letchworth that meet the needs for how we live now and in the future. Letchworth has always been a pioneering town for place making and we are lucky to have the RIBA running the competition."  

"The judging panel brings a huge level of expertise across disciplines, which we hope will challenge individuals and teams to submit ambitious and sustainable solutions which address any number of the social, environmental and financial challenges of the 21st Century, embedded in high quality place making.  As well as efficient and sustainable building design, applicants will be encouraged to consider water use and management, together with urban agriculture initiatives.  We hope that ideas will be generated that nobody in the LGCHF team could ever have begun to imagine.”   

Ames concluded: “The Foundation hopes that this will help move the debate about new housing away from purely numbers and delivery, to creating beautiful affordable homes in great places where people want to live and work.”

The first phase of the competition opens on 17 October with design submissions to be submitted for 13 December 2018.   Four teams will be short-listed in early 2019 and invited to develop their proposals in response to feedback from the judging panel.    The developed design proposals will be displayed online and exhibited at community engagement events so that people, particularly residents of Letchworth can view the plans and give their feedback.  Short-listed teams will then be invited to present their proposals to the Judging Panel in early April 2019.  Each short-listed team will receive an honorarium of £6,000 (+VAT) with the winning team to receive an additional £6,000 (+VAT).  

“We believe that the ideas generated in the competition will promote debate about housing and the way we live throughout the UK and possibly around the world,” continues David Ames, “again placing Letchworth Garden City at the centre of the debate about how we can create great places.”

Jane Duncan, RIBA Past President, says:  “This is a very rare opportunity for architects to showcase their empathy for the pioneering Garden Cities ethic, hone their most subtle masterplanning skills, and recreate the most delightful 21st century reworking of sustainable living in this newly released area of Letchworth Garden City. I look forward with great relish to seeing the outcome of this competition.”