Nottingham and Derby Society of Architects

Blog / Articles

Join our mailing list here to keep on top of the debate and be notified of upcoming events.

Follow up: Housing Design Handbook Lecture

Levitt Bernstein director Jo McCafferty delivers a guest lecture for the Nottingham Trent Architecture Society

Levitt Bernstein director Jo McCafferty delivers a guest lecture for the Nottingham Trent Architecture Society

In part one of the talk, Jo McCaferty discussed the influence of the works of Atelier 5 in Switzerland. Their post-1955 work was developed towards collective living, with the lecture explaining the development of their Halen project. The vast housing complex was designed and delivered within a challenging topographical setting, surrounded by a beautiful natural environment. This setting became a large influence regarding the gradual intentions of Halen, with nature allowed and encouraged to steadily weave among the urban spaces.

Halen Estate by Altelier 5. Source: ArchitectUUL ( )

Halen Estate by Altelier 5. Source: ArchitectUUL (

As was suggested in the talk, the contemporary progression of the complex has now been transformed into appearing as a single, continuous environment. Halen is not simply an example of architecture built on nature. Instead, it has become architecture built in nature.

The impressive natural integration of Halen is only a single topic discussed through the in-depth talk however, with particular emphasis also being placed onto the intricate arrangement of the houses in both plan and section. It was explained that their design was developed in such a way so as to encourage social activities and safety. Spaces were organised to allow for the easy observation of a family’s children and the various functions of the houses were arranged to let family life flow with ease.

All such lessons from Halen offer valuable insights for housing which remain as valid now as they were during the project’s creation. It is without doubt worth examining by all those with an interest for improving contemporary housing design.

Following on from the discussions of Halen, among other examples of housing success, Jo McCafferty proceeded to part two of the evening’s talk. Having examined a range of influences, the lecture explored the current works of Levitt Bernstein and the approaches their design teams implement.

It was inspiring to see that the practice examines the various scales of impact housing can have, considering a range of societal functions from the intensely communal, to the personal moments of intimacy and privacy. Such characteristics were displayed through case studies of Levitt Bernstein’s own work, notably showcasing the recent completion of an affordable housing scheme on Sutherland Road in Waltham Forest, London.

Affordable housing scheme on Sutherland Road in Waltham Forest, London

Affordable housing scheme on Sutherland Road in Waltham Forest, London

The project provided a complex set of challenges, providing an industrial history through the site and requiring a mix of housing tied together by attractive landscaping; as well as space for a new doctors practice. The resulting project draws on many of the influences and principles discussed during the earlier moments of the talk. From the perspective of a student it was excellent to see the connections between the studied precedents and their effects on the final design.

The attention to detail, context and concept which Levitt Bernstein displayed through the project was a reinforcing statement that architecture is capable of providing a meaningful impact to people’s lives.

The underlying theme of the evening demonstrated the potential for housing to be more than a place to live; it emphasised the need for it as a place to be enjoyed. It should be our hope that more developments witness the same attention to social well-being and create spaces that aim to improve the lives of their occupants and all who happen upon them.

The Nottingham Trent Architecture Society would like to extend their thanks to Jo McCafferty and Levitt Bernstein for providing such an inspirational talk, and are excited to witness their continued work in the future.

Written by NTAS for the NDSA

For more information on the Levitt Bernstein Sutherland Road project in London visit

Paul MacMahon