Wednesday 30 August 2017

Mapping a specific building form

Arts-and-Craft style semi-detacheed houses, Edwards Lane Estate, Nottingham

My interest in many aspects of urban environments has increased greatly since I started contributing to OpenStreetMap.

I suppose this was always there but largely latent. Wandering around familiar places to capture details to add to OSM often forces me to ask questions about the area. Why is it there? Why is it laid out in that way? Who designed the buildings? When was it built? Why are there gaps in house numbering? What was planned for the little stub street? What used to be on the land with newer houses?

A particular class of urban areas which I find interesting are social housing estates. I've written a little about these before: here and here. Fortunately I am not alone in this interest. Planners, Architects, Social Historians, and others share it. As a result there is more documentation readily available to satisfy casual queries. In the lead is an inspirational blog called Municipal Dreams. Although this has, an understandable, London bias, John Boughton has managed to cover plenty of other cities across the country. Other blogs may cover individual estates in detail, for instance Ian Waites' blog on the Middlefield Estate in Gainsborough, . For Nottingham, I'm lucky that Chris Matthews has written (an all too short) history of council housing in the city.

This particular blog post originated when Municipal Dreams tweeted a picture of a characteristic Arts-and-Craft style house in Osmaston, Derby:

This house looked very familiar: there are hundreds of similar houses scattered across Nottingham on estates built by the city council between the 1920s and the 1940s. It prompted me to systematically add all such houses to OSM. So far, I may have missed a few, I have found over 900 across the city as shown in the map below.

Distribution of this particular building style across the city of Nottingham.

Just adding the footprints of the houses is not enough. Additional tags are needed to be able to identify this particular design. At present I am using personal tags as an interim measure. I hope that ultimately it will be possible to accurately identify the design reference used by the Nottingham City Housing department (see examples in Alex Ball's post on their early work). I am documenting my approach on the wiki.

Sherwood Perry Road 2235
One of the earliest examples of the design. Perry Road, Sherwood Estate.
Later examples (see below and above) either have hanging tiles covering  first floor at the front, or are not rendered at all.

Houses on Charnock Avenue, Wollaton Park Estate
Only 4 pairs of houses of this type were built on this estate.

Side view of Charnock Avenue Houses.
Using Environment Agency Lidar open data and Simple 3D Building tags I've had a go at capturing the form of a couple of these houses too: the image below shows how they are rendered on F4 Map.
Screengrab from F4 map.
The S3DB rules for the two houses are slightly different.

Given that the houses were built over a period of about 20 years it can be awkward to date them. In addition to old maps and various information in the Matthews book and on-line, there are archival aerial photographs of the estates largely taken shortly after they were built.

Bulwell Hall Estate photographed from the South-west 1930.
The semi-detached houses discussed in this post can be seen at the far end of the road in the foreground.
Source: Britain from Above.
Aspley Estate from the S in 1931.
Again the houses are most prominent in the corners of street intersections.
Source: Britain from Above.
Sherwood Estates from the SW in 1928.
The rendered houses shown above are in front of the school centre left.
Source: Britain from Above.
These pictures also give a good impression of the sheer scale of Nottingham's social housing programme between the wars. These three estates were more or less complete by 1930 and several others followed before the start of WWII. For instance the Broxtowe Estate consists of around 1700 houses. It's difficult to determine the exact year of construction, but surprisingly easy to identify the decade, so for some I have tagged them with decade_built=*.

Mapping this level of detail: a single design for a single type of house is feasible within a city and when they are all built by a single organisation. It may also be suitable for many of the private housing developments built post-war by national firms (Wimpey, Taylor Woodrow, etc) as they often used identical designs. It becomes more problematic when very similar, but not identical houses turn up across the country. Being alerted to this by Municipal Dreams, I noted a pair at the junction of Park Drive and Nottingham Road in Ilkeston, and then I came across these houses in Station Road Awsworth:

Station Road, Awsworth. Note minor differences (absence of bay window, single window at side etc)
Although we can identify these houses with a range of tags:
  • building=semi-detached,
  • building:architecture=arts_and_crafts,
  • decade_built=1920,
  • architect=* (if known),
  • developer=* (or building:developer);
it is still very difficult to envisage a single typology which is likely to satisfy the demands of mappers, historians of social housing, architecture and planning. However, I hope I have shown here that much is possible with OSM data at a local level.

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