This scheme proposes an architectural process which will enable a transition in the South Wales Valleys from a post industrial region to a prosperous third age industrial society. The architectural process will consist of a series of spatial interventions whose spatial and constructive characteristics, and the means by which they are realised, will act as a stimulus to the local economy and a means to improve the community’s skills and quality of life.
The Rhondda Valley is a former coal mining region which has failed to successfully transition from being a society of heavy industry. Social life, as well as work, revolved around the centralised extraction of coal and with its demise the structure of society and its raison d’être disappeared. The relative remoteness of the valleys, hemmed in by their topography, and the lack of local medium-scale businesses has resulted in an economy which is vulnerable to the global forces behind footloose global corporations. This has resulted in a cycle of investment and divestment, who’s disruptive nature has resulted in widespread social problems and poverty. The initial component of this proposed process will be the improvement of the energy standard of the existing housing stock. At the same time as improving the energy performance, residents would be supported in extending their homes to provide much needed extra space. With their new skills and free space within their homes, new cottage industries could develop, which would be powered by the excess energy generated by the positive energy homes. Thus transforming the 19th century workers dwellings to ones fit for the 21st century. Though empowering the residents to achieve this goal they will also be empowered to act on a community level resulting in the creation of common facilities like construction hubs or workshops. The scheme would be initiated by setting up a site office where residents could obtain advice and assistance from architects and tradesmen. It would also act as an informal meeting point for the constructive community, being a place to share knowledge, gain skills and hopefully revitalise social links within the community. It would employ the same constructive system as the dwellings so that once it has served its purpose as a site office the community could occupy it as a community centre, or a workshop, or a factory, and be able to carry out any changes necessary. A standard constructive system would also allow the architect to ensure a level of quality at the same time as providing freedom to the residents. This ‘quality’ would aim to recapture the pride in the built environment which was once evident within the architecture of the region though reflecting the ethos of its cooperative construction, contemporary local materiality and energy credentials.
The construction work, if carried out on a broad scale would create a large demand for building materials and technologies. This could stimulate community industries to satisfy this demand, and the knowledge capital gained from renewing their own homes could be applied to other homes and buildings, and in developing new technologies. A community led approach would result in a greater legacy and would be economically viable due to the savings from manufacturing locally to order. Once established, the constructive system could become a saleable product, allowing companies to start renewing properties across the country, which has a great potential due to pressure to reduce energy consumption combined with the average age of housing stock in the UK being amongst the oldest in Europe. Through designing a process which is manifested as a series of spatial interventions, as opposed to a once off building wider and longer lasting social and political change may be achieved over time.