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Last night we held the third panel debate in our ‘Cities’ series in partnership with RIBAJ, discussing hyperdensity, microhomes and affordability.

The evening’s theme was ‘housing in cities’ focusing on funding, planning, government policy and touching on broader topics such as technology, data, security and climate change.

Peter Head CBE, CEO of the Ecological Sequestration Trust, chaired the evening and opened the debate by criticising the ‘failed system’ of urban housing and asking how architects - working alongside other professions and industries - can turn that failure into a success.

Joining Peter at the debate were June Barnes of Urban and Civic PLC; Tim Bell, one of the lead architects and founders of Bell Phillips architectural practice; Paul Jones, technology director for green housing developer SPECIFIC; and Julia Park, head of housing research at Levitt Bernstein.

Opening the debate, June Barnes touched on the government’s ‘ambition’ to build homes in London, but called it ‘just that - an ambition’. She then discussed the dangers of over-densification to communities and the economy, citing higher prices for lower quality dwellings, multiple ownership and loss of common space as just some of the risks.

Expanding on this, Julia Park accepted that super- and hyperdensity are ‘the new normal’, but stressed that it needs to be well thought out, asking: ‘Can London support [hyperdensity], or is it about mitigating damage? Does it make us more sociable, or less? Can it be environmentally sound?’

Moving on, Tim Bell spoke passionately on the importance of tackling climate change and looking for sustainable housing solutions. He praised the design and build talent in the UK, but warned against just trying to create ‘cool’ buildings, while Paul Jones urged young architects to challenge themselves to solve the problems of the future: ‘Can you design a building that doesn’t have a gas supply? Where water shortages are imminent?’

With questions from the audience asking the panellists how, with changing technology, the future will look in 60 years, the persistent issue of building houses but not communities, and the question of whether or not the housing crisis is unique to London, the debate covered a fascinating range of topics.

Thanks to all of our panellists and everyone who came along, we hope you enjoyed the debate and look forward to seeing you at the next one.