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Epic Buildings: Courtyard Housing, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham

Nominated on the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award shortlist, this elderly housing scheme by architect Patel Taylor is a breath of fresh air. In the face of ever lengthening waiting lists for social housing in England's capital, and a million fewer affordable London homes predicted for 2018 compared to 1980, housing availability for older people in the city is a huge concern.

Today many older people are living in sizeable properties as owner-occupiers, in homes that could be better re-purposed to house families in affordable premises. Yet, with nowhere else to go, it's bordering on impossible for the older generation to downsize and stay in London. Back in the 1980s, 30,000 homes were being built yearly specifically for the elderly. Today that figure is just 8,000 a year.

This was the motivation behind Patel Taylor's Courtyard Housing project. By purpose building affordable, specially designed homes for older people, it is hoped that new, larger affordable properties will be freed up for families desperate for space in Barking and Dagenham.

The project may not look epic. But the goals and aspirations behind it most certainly are.

Comprised of two settlements of 40 homes, with more dwellings to follow in the future, The Courtyard's first settlement of 27 properties occupies a site once home to the Wood Lane Sports Centre. With 10 one bedroom homes, 16 two bedroom homes and one family dwelling, the single story bungalows which make up the settlement all circle a central courtyard and back onto a shared communal garden – perfect for offering community, sociability and accessibility for older residents.

Rendered in brick for a homely, collegiate feel, the buildings offer both privacy and community. Every home wraps itself in an “L” shape around the courtyard, with a glazed inner wall which can open up in warmer months. Although uniform and heavily influenced by Scandinavian design, the homes – at the request of future residents – are all individual enough to be easily distinguished from one another.

Just around the corner, Patel's second settlement, The Lawns, uses a very similar approach but, due to space constraints, does not offer the same courtyard, wall-sharing layout. Still, however, the architect has insisted on evoking community and security, with inward facing positioning.

Ultimately, these sites may not be beautiful or exceptional, but they are good council housing. In fact, they're just plain good housing - designed for a purpose and for real people. And that's what London really needs. Do you agree? Have your say below.