From an M25 Mega City to Thames River Floating Homes: Solving London's Housing Crisis

By Gerald Lynch on at

With a population of over 8.6 million people, London's sprawl is incredible. Squeezing an average of 5,491 people into each square kilometre, housing shortages and stratospheric rental and mortgage costs run the risk of forcing a whole generation out of the capital, as well as those in lower-paid essential service industry roles. But even with London's widening boundaries, space on Earth is finite. Can demand for housing ever match the supply?

That's the question asked by the New Ideas For Housing Competition, set by think tank New London Architecture. An international competition attracting entries from some 200 design and architecture teams and artists, it looks outside the box for ways to solve London's increasingly fraught housing situation.

"The scale of the challenge is so big that we genuinely need some fresh thinking," says Lord Bob Kerslake, Chair, London Housing Commission.

"There are a lot of new ideas here, particularly new approaches to tenure and off site construction."

Fresh thinking – and potentially controversial – ideas are certainly what's made the backbone of the 100-strong shortlist. Suburbanites – would you accept a dream home built to your most-wanted specifications if it meant sacrificing half your current plot of land? That's one proposal from Alastair Parvin and Adam Towle in partnership with the WikiHouse Foundation as part of a new initiative called ‘Right to Replace’. How about living on top of an existing hospital or school in a pre-fab, as in Stride Treglown's '[nest]' idea? Or within a mega city along the M25, as part of the 'Mega Planning: Beyond 2050 - MegaPlan for a MegaCity' concept by GL Hearn part of Capita Ltd, which sounds ominously like something from a Judge Dredd comic?

Ten winning ideas will be chosen by an expert jury in mid-October, with winners invited to join a Greater London Authority working group to examine how each winning entrant can develop their ideas into actual real-world housing projects. The 100 shortlisted ideas will make up a free public exhibition at the NLA galleries in The Building Centre from 15th October to 17th December, but we've picked out some of our favourites for you to gawp at below in the meantime.

Floatopolis by drMM

Think Kevin Costner's Waterworld, but with more Cockneys and jellied eels, and you'll be on your way to drMM's Floatopolis concept. Making use of the Thames's little-used waterways, it'd turn the river into a series of floating neighbourhoods, complete with housing, lidos, open-air cinemas, shops and, presumably, a lifeguard on every corner.

Community Led Intensification by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Is a patch of wasteground going unloved (and driving down your mansion's value) near you? This community-driven app-based idea lets locals identify plots of land crying out for redevelopment, letting housing authorities establish "micro development zones" based on crowd-sourced feedback.

The Streets by NBBJ

A third of London's surface area consists of roads so, you know, why not turn them into pedestrianised housing zones? That won't cause additional problems at all. Yep. Still, investigating London's 9,000 miles of road would likely uncover a few little-used rat runs that could be converted into housing areas with little difficulty. And it's worth remembering that this is from the same crazy team behind the Circle Line Travelator, making this idea seem relatively sane by comparison.

[nest] by Stride Treglown

[nest] proposes installing a series of modular housing units on top of retail spaces and car parks, offering 10 year leases for those willing to live above the bustling spots, with loyalty cards offered to residents that make use of the amenities below. But it's not the only high-rise roof dwelling submission to the competition, with Rooftop (Re)Generation by Bell Phillips Architects looking to do something similar with post-war housing estates. The later could potentially increase London's available housing on existing estates by 30 per cent according to the designers, without eating into existing open spaces.

Bouyant Starts by Floating Homes/ Baca Architects

Another Atlantean concept, Bouyant Starts would put fixed, affordable pre-fab houses along quiet spots of the Thames, re-energising local businesses and creating a potential 7,500 starter homes. Crucially, the customisable plots could be ready within six short months of the project being green-lit.

Living Arteries by Benjamin Marks

If there's 9,000 miles of road in London, what of overground rail lines? According to Benjamin Marks, Greater London has 1,522 hectares of space used by rail lines. His suggestion to build over as little of a quarter of these stretches of train lines would open up room for as many as 53,000 new homes (and make arguments for a window seat on the trains a little less heated, to boot.)