Architecture: Glasgow's hottest supermodel

Stylish, sleek and sexy, Homes for the Future could provide a model for urban living.
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The Independent Culture
THE NEW housing estate zigzags across the skyline in Glasgow East breaking out of the tenement blocks. Homes for the Future has now landed as part of Glasgow City of Architecture & Design '99. That the project hasn't crash-landed but has smoothly prototyped a hundred mixed- use houses makes the estate, carved out of a 1.3 acre former industrial site overlooking leafy Glasgow Green, even more des res.

Homes for the Future is an ambitious title for a pounds 10 million housing development, funded by the public and private sector and with 300 houses planned by 2005. Its popularity is shown by the fact that 80 per cent of the 88 private houses have been sold before completion.

The scheme is much more than a practical bit of real estate. Getting a masterplan then calling in five property developers and seven architects to come up with affordable, architecturally driven houses and apartment blocks could provide Britain with a model for urban living.

It's not a supermodel because the time constraints have meant that energy consumption is bog standard. It is a great pity that this prevented eco- chic houses. Nothing special or sustainable to heat, cool, or light these houses effectively and cheaply was a missed opportunity.

But in other far-reaching ways the collaboration of developers with different architects to create good-looking, affordable houses and raise the profile of the neighbourhood is astonishing. The smallest studio segmented out of the Ushida Findlay tower for example is pounds 40,000 while a typical, two- bedroomed house is pounds 90,000. These are reasonable prices in Glasgow Central, but high for the unfashionable and industrial east side. Seeing how Hackney in east London has turned into a fashionable address, the developers backed their hunch for this unlovely and unloved part of Glasgow.

This bold concept for land use was pioneered in Barcelona in the early Eighties when the mayor, Pasqual Marrigal, tried to hold down house prices in the city but still people left in droves. Only when he tackled street lighting and public spaces, parks and transport, did the community move back. Glasgow has a good infrastructure from its days of Old Labour and the site of Homes for the Future overlooks the verdant Glasgow Green so the developers' hunch that prices would pick up was right.

How did so many different property developers and architects manage to synchronise their styles? This is no Frankenstein or Post-Modern collage. Andrew Burrell of the Burrell Company, who built two very different housing solutions, one with architect McKeown Alexander, the other with Ushida Findlay, explains: "We all speak the same language and, using different typologies, build contemporary houses. My only regret is that we didn't do more for energy efficiency and sustainable architecture, though we obviously pass all the current standards."

The estate looks nothing like the Ideal Home exhibition with its smug middle-England show houses. It is aimed at the Net generation rather than net curtain tweakers. Really broad, deep-set powder-coated profiled aluminium frames - what the architect McKeown Alexander calls `TV windows' because they look like sets on the facade of two-storey flats - give a contemporary spin to picture windows. Cedar wood cladding, pigmented cement, curvaceous concrete balconies with ironwork and glazing that turns corners around the block like sticky tape are just some of the details.

The big picture from the street elevation is captivating too. Forget tower blocks that isolate their inhabitants. Rounded Art Deco decks cascading like boat decks offer a 190 view of the Glasgow Park in architect Ushido Findlay's homage to Glasgow's shipyards. Next to this seductive section, a pair of seven-storey apartment blocks joined by a sky deck that accesses a row of penthouse apartments, designed by Rick Mather with Elder & Cannon, contours the southern side overlooking Glasgow Green as sinuously as rippling waves. Set back from the street with its own walled garden, Ian Ritchie's prototype housing association block is designed to adapt to changing lifestyle and family needs as British families shrink or grow with divorce and step- parenting, longevity and widowhood.

Twelve flats over six floors, each with its own outdoor room, and a place to hang out washing or sit out in the sunshine, far outweigh the failure of the project to come in on time because of a problem with the steel frame. On plan it is a good example of what the Urban Task Force are looking for in their recommended mix of private and public sector housing that takes into account changing demographics.

Homes for the Future should not be confused with houses of the future. This is no crystal ball exercise. No one can expect to see gizmos such as Bill Gates's butler in a box. This is a pragmatic exercise in urban planning and while there is criticism of the gravel paths and granite setts that landscape the building site, it is an imaginative and adventurous start. The citizens of Glasgow can be proud of it.