Mikhail-Riches' housing project in York: can aesthetics and sustainability work together?

Iona Lowe takes a look at Mikhail-Riches' new plans for York, and asks if aesthetics such be prioritised over sustainability.

Iona Lowe
27th October 2020

The home is where the heart is, or as we move into the post COVID era, the home is where the zoom is. Hence, having a pleasant home environment has become a central issue in most people's lives.

The UK already had a housing problem, but in recent housing developments architects seem to have neglected quality and opted for quantity. Whilst this may solve the housing crisis, it's certainly questionable for groups and individuals contesting for environmental change.

Monstrous developments seem to be elevating all over the country without a second glance at sustainability or aesthetic beauty, and are often grossly expensive to rent. Office conversions taking place in London go on the market for extortionate rates; the recent 30 Old Street contains two-bedroom luxury apartments starting at £1.255 million.

Sustainability is largely ignored from planning policy, meaning developers are also wasting natural resources. However, architectural firms such as Mikhail-Riches are prioritising the environment, revealing plans to build one of the world's largest Passivhaus projects – only a stone's throw away in York.

New housing plans for York | Credit: Mikhail-Riches

The practice have worked together to create a 600-property development, built with the environment in the mind. Not only does the housing project provide homes, but it demonstrates how large scale sustainable housing is achievable, and at the same time spacious and pleasant to live in. Each house will be built to utilise the natural world, as well as modern technology, whilst also managing to create some sense of ownership for the occupant within.

While all this may sound splendid on paper – is it sustainable aesthetically? Many new builds for social housing are not pleasant on the eye, as they are built to reduce costs and maximise the amount of people they can fit in however many square feet. 

Now comes the question of aesthetics. 

Mikhail-Riches are most notable due to their Stirling Prize winning Goldsmith Street project in Norwich. Here, bricked houses fit into the surrounding environment, as well as offering communal garden spaces, making one feels as though they are not in the middle of an urban residential area. 

Goldsmith Street | Credit: Maud Webster

Modern architecture is inherently diverse, especially in an era where individual opinion is at the centre point of society. While the housing blocks may not replicate the beauty of some more archaic architecture, they certainly fit the bill (while keeping this exact cosh down) and some may argue they are not aesthetically pleasing, but there are also people who find their presence more than satisfying. 

Though I do not believe that sustainability should be prioritised over aesthetics, I think that the two should work together. As demonstrated through Goldsmith street, this is certainly possible. 

Featured Image: Mikhail-Riches

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