London's Housing Typologies
London proudly boasts all manner of domestic architectural styles: from Georgian terraces through Brutalist high density housing, to futuristic uber-modern penthouses. While some may prefer a small apartment in a central area, others wouldn’t be content without a garden. The variety of residential offerings is what allows London’s property markets to provide the city’s residents with something as close to the type of home they desire as possible.
Although every dwelling is different, based on the data that we at Walulel have gathered, we are able to see that dwellings can be split into categories that share particular characteristics, amenities and also disadvantages. So rather than hoard our findings we thought we’d share them with you. What follows is a brief taxonomy of the housing typologies London offers, and what you can expect to be the pros and cons of each type.
Large-Scale Modern Apartment Complex (“LSMAC”):
· Size: A property in a LSMAC would typically be less than 15 years old, an apartment, and modest in size. In the last decades, UK homes have been getting smaller and smaller and are on average just 68.7 sqm. You can also forget about high ceilings. Although 75% of the dwelling has to be above 2.5 meters of height, 25% of it, especially the kitchen and bathroom, can be lower.
· Surrounds: The good thing about homes within a LSMAC is that they are, almost always, part of a large mixed-use development project. This sometimes allows them to provide the basic daily amenities such as a grocery shop, a café/bar, gym/fitness facilities, and sometimes even a cinema room, all within the structure itself. The more luxurious can even go on to provide residents with concierge services, sports facilities and in some cases, laundry services.
· Activity: The combination of housing and commercial uses often creates a lively atmosphere throughout the day as workers carry out their jobs by day and residents socialise by night. Several transportation options are usually available. However, parking spaces tend to be hard to come by as LSMACs are often designed to primarily be served by public transport options.
· Demography: As most units within LSMACs only provide 1-, 2- or 3-bedroom accommodation, they are most utilised by young professionals and couples.
· Three things LSMACs are great for: The “time poor”, easily reachable amenities, energy efficiency.
· Three common complaints: Units are often poorly soundproofed, they’re relatively expensive and small, and sometimes lack any sense of community.
· Size: Usually situated on a high-street, these low to medium-rise houses create some London’s most iconic landscapes. Most of these Victorian or Georgian houses have now been subdivided into one-floor apartments. Nevertheless, they tend to offer a decent size of room with high ceilings. Although the interior of a refurbished apartment is likely to feel like a modern one, its age will be reflected in the maintenance costs.
· Surrounds: Living above a shop means witnessing the city’s comings and goings; what some have called the ‘street ballet’. While for some this type of housing may lack intimacy, others will enjoy the diversity of the peoples and activities that surround it.
· Activity: One of the great assets of these dwellings is the proximity to multiple retailers and services such as hairdressers, banks, dry cleaners... High-streets are the commercial and recreational heart of London’s neighbourhoods, buoyant with passers-by, pub-goers and grocers.
· Demography: Most above-shop flats tend to be big enough to house a large family or be shared by groups of students and young professionals.
· Three things above-shop flats are great for: Easily reachable and diverse amenities, great local vibe and historic sense of community, public transport accessible.
· Three common complaints: Lack of tranquillity related to high noise levels, maintenance costs, reduced car accessibility and parking surrounded by heavy traffic.
Flat in a mid-density area:
· Size: Traditional terraced houses, built in the 18th, 19th and early-20th centuries, have often been refurbished and adapted to the needs of smaller families and groups of tenants. These type of dwellings present similar physical characteristics as the one presented above.
· Surrounds: Continuous rows of housing allow for a moderate flow of people that falls in between a busy commercial street and calm suburban area. This typology is for those who want to be near a busy street but at the end of the day dislike the noise that comes with it. The availability of public transport is an alternative to the reduced car accessibility the city brings with it.
· Activity: These flats lack some of the amenities of newer developments: community facilities, elevators or parking spaces. Do not expect to find a fully equipped gym in your basement... However, these iconic constructions are robust and usually located in walkable neighbourhoods with a warm feeling of place.
· Demography: As with above shop flats, terraced houses have usually been subdivided and turn into medium size 3 or 4-bedroom units, big enough to house a large family or be shared by groups of students and young professionals.
· Three things medium-density flats are great for: Tranquillity, some outdoor and garden spaces, iconic urban landscape.
· Three common complaints: High maintenance costs, lack of parking spaces and moderate distance from amenities.
· Size: Suburban houses usually enjoy a private garden and are more spacious than their downtown counterparts. Semi-detached properties usually rang between the 150 and 100 sqm. These houses are often less noisy and have better air quality than urban areas.
· Surrounds: Suburbia is often less noisy and has better air quality than more central areas. Nevertheless, public transport accessibility is considerably reduced and commuting time increases exponentially as one moves away from work centres.
· Activity: Suburban households tend to rely on standalone supermarkets and retail parks for their shopping. These make most suburban streets monotonous and lacking in identifiable landmarks. That being said, the architectural diversity of suburban houses from place to place is astonishing: from neo-Tudor recreations all the way through to bold contemporary architecture. However, these houses tend to be grouped together creating neighbourhoods of almost identical rows.
· Demography: This is the natural habitat of families with children that require more space and outdoor areas.
· Three things the suburbs are great for: The great outdoors (grow your own tomatoes if you want!) and parking spaces, generous indoor space and calm, quiet streets.
· Three common complaints: Car-dependency, moderate to high distance from amenities and a monotonous built form.
Low-density and isolated properties
· Size: Situated in deeply suburban or almost rural areas, these houses provide intimacy and isolation. Country houses are usually larger than others, with 3 or more bedrooms, as well as expansive outdoor spaces.
· Surrounds: Greenery and wildlife in abundance – it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re still in Greater London. Reduced public transport accessibility makes these areas calm oases.
· Activity: The lack of almost any amenities within a walk makes car mobility indispensable. Commuting times for country-house dwellers are usually higher than in other areas. Those who live in these areas are the ones who make the London average commute of 74 minutes a day, almost twice the world average of 40.
· Demography: Isolated properties are favoured by senior Londoners as well as by affluent families with higher space desires than an ordinary suburban house can afford.
· Three things low-density isolated properties are great for: Extremely generous in indoor and outdoor spaces, and rural tranquillity.
· Three common complaints: Car-dependency, high distance from amenities and higher costs.
Gated community and institutional living
· Size: Gated communities appear in a wide array of shapes and sizes: from high-density urban to more low-density suburbia-like. Whether it is in the outskirts or in central areas, they tend to include parking facilities and private security.
· Surrounds: These dwellings encompass built-in facilities specially designed for the occupants such as nurseries, silent study areas, leisure equipment, etc. Gated communities and other forms of shared living are usually cut-off from their surroundings creating self-contained communities. This reduces encounters with strangers resulting in an internally cohesive, yet to a certain extent isolated, community.
· Activity: Gated communities generate their own activity within their walls almost independently.
· Demography: Gated communities gather people with similar characteristics: the elderly, students, or employees from a particular company. More recently, co-living has become increasingly popular among London’s young professionals.
· Three things gated communities are great for: Close-knit community of like-minded individuals, built to measure amenities, personalised services.
· Three common complaints: Isolation from surroundings, homogeneous inhabitants and lack of personalised spaces.
Refurbished industrial building
· Size: Heavy industries have progressively moved to outer areas of the city and the spaces they used to occupy have been given new uses. These buildings have peculiar shapes and sizes and are highly coveted by creators and artists because of the abundant space and natural light. Rooftops, inner courts and quirky façades are some of their defining elements.
· Surrounds: Refurbished dwellings are particularly common in the Eastern Docklands area or the formerly industrial Lea Valley. These neighbourhoods tend to be well-connected to other parts of the city via public transport, and are some of London’s most popular hipster haunts.
· Activity: Buildings in industrial estates are often refurbished individually, which is why they maintain a unique identity. However, these dwellings tend to cluster creating mixed communities with particular sets of amenities that tend to include design stores, local shops and cafes.
· Demography: Refurbished industrial buildings attract young people without children, artists and creators with peculiar space requirements.
· Three things refurbished industrial buildings are great for: Amazing interiors with open spaces and high ceilings, as well as plenty of unique architectural features.
· Three common complaints: Insulation and maintenance problems, lack of interior divisions and traditional room separation
Former Social Housing Estates (SHE)
· Size: After the Second World War, public housing provision deeply changed the look of major areas of the city. These apartments were designed for extensive families and often include 3-4 bedrooms. Since the 1980s, most of these dwellings have been privatised and now are often rented out in the private rental sector.
· Surrounds: Social housing estates were built as self-contained communities for similar types of industrial workers. While these neighbourhoods often enjoy open green spaces, the concrete brutality of the architecture can sometimes appear rather hostile.
· Activity: The residential character of social housing estates makes them less vibrant than other parts of the city when it comes to retail and recreation options.
· Demography: Lower prices make former social housing an affordable option for students and newcomers.
· Three things former social housing estates are great for: Generous indoor spaces, low prices, car and public transport accessibility.
· Three common complaints: Occasionally low-quality construction that results in insulation and maintenance problems, stigmatisation based on the reputation of the architecture and social history, and fewer amenities.
Contemporary historical ensembles
· Size: London has historically been a place of experimentation and innovation. Avant-garde architects have created unique residential spaces such as the Barbican, the Trellick Tower and the Bethnal Green Estate.
· Surrounds: Well-maintained public spaces and parks make these spaces an attractive destination for tourists and locals. Thanks to a particular design or a location advantage they have become contemporary classics.
· Activity: Albeit built as housing quarters, these buildings have become iconic landmarks. They provide unique amenities, whether it is amazing views or proximity to a cultural centre.
· Demography: These dwellings are sought after by architecture enthusiasts and creators who especially value aesthetics, as well as those who wish to live in unique, iconic buildings.
· Three things contemporary historical ensembles are great for: Iconic identity, distance to amenities, and often an abundance of public space.
· Three common complaints: Unique architecture is always divisive, and prices are often inflated. They are also commonly situated in inner city locations, and are therefore subject to pollution.
We hope this housing typology helps you assess the pros and cons of any property type, and perhaps decide which housing option could be best for you. Please leave us a comment telling us which housing type you live in!