Housing

A prestigious architecture prize is finding new ways to tackle homelessness

The Davidson Prize is giving £10,000 to projects which bring creative ideas to fill empty high streets and provide homes for rough sleepers and asylum seekers

The Davidson Prize is focusing on homelessness

The Davidson Prize is focusing on 'Somewhere to Call Home' in 2023, focusing on designs that prevent homelessness and help people recover from the trauma of life on the streets. Image: Daniel McCullough / Unsplash

A prestigious architecture prize is challenging designers and community groups to come up with innovative ways to tackle homelessness.

The 2023 iteration of The Davidson Prize, named after late pioneering architect Alan Davidson, is focusing on ‘Somewhere to Call Home’ with a £10,000 prize to help the winning project become a reality.

A longlist of 16 teams are in the running to win with the winner set to be announced in June.

It includes plans to transform disused buildings on the high street in Newport, Wales, as well as repurposing a Coventry shopping centre to create affordable homes. Other projects up for the award include turning London’s former Highgate railway station into a community hub to support asylum seekers and providing a council with an alternative plan to evicting families from temporary accommodation in the English capital.

Chair of the The Davidson Prize jury, Sadie Morgan told The Big Issue the contest shows that design can have a significant impact in tackling the big issues of the day. 

“Homelessness is a really topical and pressing issue. It’s something that we are all incredibly aware of but I think that we need to find some solutions that are long-term, dignified and a mix of physical and policy-based,” said Morgan.

The Davidson Prize London Highgate station
London’s former Highgate railway station will be transformed to grow and sell food under the plans. Image: The Davidson Prize

“It’s not just about giving somebody a home, it’s giving them the tools to live and reintegrate back into society. The way in which you can cultivate your own food, or you can add training to that and ways to reintegrate into the community. There are lots of ways that design can subtly help to encourage those connections.”

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Each competition entry had to include at least one architect with the task of imagining new kinds of homes and communities where people experiencing homelessness have the time and compassion to recover and put down roots.

Organisers said they were looking for solutions to help people affected by record-high rents or pushed into poverty due to the wider cost of living crisis. At-risk groups like care and prison leavers, asylum seekers and veterans were also specified in the design brief.

The Davidson Prize Newport Wales
Homes on the High Street aims to bring people in recovery and the services that support them to Newport high street. Image: The Davidson Prize

Homes on the High Street’s plan is to turn the disused Westgate Building that has laid empty for 20 years in Newport into secure housing for people who have experienced homelessness next to an ecosystem of social services.

Meanwhile, the Patchwork with Coffee Tots is hoping that its proposal to provide emergency temporary accommodation and longer-term family homes at Coventry’s City Arcade will prevent Three Spires Family Support Trust from being evicted from the shopping centre.

Rights of Passage’s vision for a scalable sanctuary for asylum seekers has also impressed judges. The plans include a new community building with co-living accommodation above allowing asylum seekers to learn skills and access legal and social support. From there, the group hopes to work with asylum seekers to design and develop the rest of the site.

The Davidson Prize Newham
Two of the entries in the running for The Davidson Prize are proposing projects in Newham, East London, which is one of the places with the highest levels of homelessness in the UK. Image: The Davidson Prize

Rifugio’s plan is also designed to help asylum seekers. The proposal hopes to create allotments at the former Highgate railway station to allow asylum seekers to grow their own food and sense of belonging. The former car park will also be turned into a place to collect surplus food while plans for a cafe are also included to provide an income.

Re-Focus E15 wants to reconfigure the Victoria Street temporary accommodation in Newham to convince the local council not to evict the remaining 60 families in May as currently planned. Building Trust International is also looking at improving things in Newham by putting training and employment at the heart of Carpenters Estate.

The Davidson Prize Coventry
Turning a tired shopping centre in Coventry into homes for displaced women and children is another project in the running for The Davidson Prize. Image: The Davidson Prize

Garden Family’s design wants to create a hyper-local social infrastructure of guardians to protect and nurture care leavers. Rhiz(h)ome is also developing move-on accommodation for care leavers in West Belfast.

Meanwhile, Neuronest London’s plans aim to prevent homelessness among neurodivergent individuals with a purpose-built design tailored to residents’ needs.

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The Home Building project uses the expertise of School of Nature Building founder Barbara Jones to create a 12-month design and construction course for people leaving care, the armed forces, prison or for asylum seekers. The plan is to create 12 sustainably built homes for a community of 50 people to allow trainees to live on site and work on building affordable homes.

The final project in the running is called Helping Hands and will see Hugh Baird College in Liverpool adapted to help care leavers into a nurturing communal landscape.

The Davidson Prize Asylum seekers
Architects want to change the hostile environment for asylum seekers. Image: The Davidson Prize

Space for Roots to Grow is eyeing a development of intergenerational housing in Dudley, West Midlands, that will allow people who have experienced domestic abuse to recover and move on to lead independent lives.

Morgan added: “I always look at design in the widest possible terms and design is about problem solving. The great thing about the Davidson Prize is it’s actually asking for teams of people who come from a policy background and a design background to look at all aspects of homelessness as a whole.

“What has impressed me so far is the breadth of the entries. The way people are tackling issues affecting asylum seekers to care leavers to single mothers. There’s a real breadth of understanding about the communities of people that become homeless.”

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Marie Chamillard, director of the Alan Davidson Foundation, said: “The sense of commitment and care that came across through all entries to this year’s prize was overwhelming. Alan would have been very moved.”

At the next judging stage in the design ideas competition, The Davidson Prize jury will shortlist three finalists who will each receive £5,000 to develop their design ideas. 

The longlisted and finalist projects will be showcased during the London Festival of Architecture in June 2023, when the winner of the £10,000 Davidson Prize will be announced.

The public is invited to vote for its favourite project from the longlist until April 26. The project with the most votes will be awarded the People’s Choice Award in June.

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