Competition Brief


Designers are invited to speculate on new ideas for typologies and neighbourhood arrangements to cater for the private rented development, creating truly flexible homes and communities, and other benefits for those privately renting. The Wates Group and the RIBA hope to demonstrate that these fresh ideas for the suburban private rented sector can suit the emerging demographic AND be viable and desirable.


Research has shown that an increasing number of UK households are renting privately rather than buying, with demand for private tenancies anticipated to rise to 1 in 5 households by 2016 [1]. The private rented sector in the UK has long been an ad-hoc arrangement of private landlords buying properties designed for sale, rather than developments designed with the long term private tenant in mind. In conjunction with insecure and short term tenures, this can lead to privately renting households feeling transient rather than embedded in their neighbourhoods [2], with consequent impact on the families and the community around them.

The increase in renting privately rather than buying homes has come about for broadly two reasons. Firstly, low levels of house building since the 1970s has resulted in an undersupply, making the availability and prices of open market housing for sale more challenging, and social housing unavailable to all but the most needy; recently 2010 and 2011 have seen the lowest level of house building in peacetime years since 1923 [3]. Secondly, changes in family formation and an ageing population have both contributed to a growth in households, but the resulting demand has not been mirrored by a supply of suitable homes.

The impacts of the lack of homes to purchase have been significant and wide ranging. The affordability of homeownership has reduced in recent years, as over the last 20 years, the affordability gap between household earnings and house prices has increased significantly. Between 2001 and 2011, wages increased by 29 per cent whilst house prices increased by 94 per cent [4]. The continuing undersupply of housing has led to a marked growth in the number of households renting including young people, families and older people from varying social and economic backgrounds.

Wates Giving, the charitable programme of the Wates Family, the owners of the Wates Group, and the RIBA, are keen to explore what a suburban neighbourhood might be like if it was specifically designed to be privately rented in the current and future market.

By demonstrating alternative approaches to current thinking on the private rented sector's potential for placemaking and homemaking, this competition will seek to inform future policy and unlock the potential of greenfield suburban sites for private rental developments.

Context Information:

Households might feel freer to move every 5-10 years, as their circumstances change, if the right kind of housing was available in their community. Innovative housing design could enable this flexibility, while retaining the household's feeling of security and community engagement. Entrants are invited to think outside the box, quite literally, and explore possible alternatives to current house building practice and government housing policy, outlining why alternatives would create better homes.

The kind of changes this neighbourhood might cater for could include households expanding and contracting as families expand, extend across generations, shrink through break ups or as children leave home, or even children who grow up but don't leave home. There will be single people who wish to live alone, or live communally in households of multiple occupancy. People retire and may wish to downsize, liberating larger houses for future families. As they become more elderly, they may wish to live close to relatives, but with options to be independent, or perhaps in sheltered accommodation, or in groups with people of shared interest. Housing choices and designs could encourage people to move or adapt their home in response to these life changes, and could make the move or change viable economically, as well as positive at a personal level. The occupants should be able move accommodation without feeling they have had to move community, or perhaps the accommodation can be arranged to shrink and grow around them.

Recent research has shown that people want more space and light, and more storage from new homes [5] . Entrants could consider ways of arranging spaces and communal facilities so that these are provided either in the home itself, or in the communal areas. If part of the rental offer is a shared use of some spaces (party room, guest room, tool cupboard, garden) does it share the burden of financing and maintaining it in a more desirable way, while not compromising lifestyle and standards of living? [6] Does the ability to move homes to something more suitable at each stage of life make flexibility within the home more or less necessary? Can ways of grouping unit types or rooms make the rented property more flexible over time?

In short, can the suburban home become a better way of living because it is rented?

Design Requirements: If this was Privately Rented, how different or similar might it be?

The competition is asking designers to re-imagine a typical but hypothetical residential development of 250 houses for sale into a viable, attractive and high quality privately rented community in the suburbs,with an idea about density which balances land costs against suburban ideals.

What would such a development be like? What sort of homes might be appropriate? What encourages people to create a community and how can this thinking be incorporated into the design of a rental development?

This exploration should be at the level of site ideas (placemaking) and typologies of units (homemaking). The organisers are not looking for detailed proposals or cost plans, but it is important designers speculate on ideas of layouts and costs.

The designs might address site layouts and arrangements, shared and communal spaces and facilities, private and shared gardens, suitable housing typologies and the range of accommodation choices available in the neighbourhood. The proposals can explore ideas on the definitions of types, density, use, volume and area, quality, enabling change and flexibility, amenity and place, sustainability and ease of maintenance. Thoughts on what is missing in existing developments for sale, and other issues of their choice can all be included as part of the entrants response.

Competition Format:

This is an open ideas competition, the judges are interested in open, annotated thinking on your responses to the challenges.

Submission Format: 2 A2 lightweight foam mounted boards.

Sheet 1
PLACE to include a 1:1000 plan on the approach to the site layout.
Sheet 2
TYPES illustrating ideas about unit typologies.
Written Statement
up to 500 words in support of the submission, including a brief summary of unit types, mix and numbers achieved.


For the purposes of this competition, it can be assumed that the current UK figures are as follows:

  • 29% of households are 1 person, 35% are two people, 16% have three people, 16% have four, 6% have 5 or more people, and the trend is for household size to continue to reduce.
  • 29% of households have dependent children - 14% with 3 or more dependent children, 39% to have 2 children, and 47% 1 child. Lone parent families make up 25% of the total. The trend is for family sizes to continue to reduce, but for children to stay at home longer with their parents. Less than 3% of 16-24 year olds live alone, although there is much evidence to suggest that this is due to economic factors rather than lifestyle choice, compared to 45% of those aged 75 and over [7]. Households sharing as multifamily or unrelated adults was only 4% of the total.
  • The proportion of the current population aged under 16 was around 20% and the proportion of the population aged 65 and over was around 16%.
  • Population projections suggest that between 2013 and 2035, the number of people aged 60+ in the UK will increase by 43% and in 2035, 29% of the total projected population - or 20 million people - will be over the age of 60" - ONS principle projection.