Blog: Inspiring architectural diversity in suburbia

Peaceful, self-contained towns away from the stress, pollution, and hectic pace of inner cities. That was the dream when suburbia was first visualised. The housing booms of the 50s and 80s made this dream a reality for many and now around eight in 10 people live in suburban areas.

However, attitudes toward suburbia have changed. Their safety and peacefulness have come to be viewed as ‘a bit dull’. The butt of sitcom jokes stretching from The Good Life through to The Inbetweeners, living in suburbia is now seen as uninspiring and creatively stifling.

Contrast this with the regeneration of city centres. The diversity, vibrancy, and access to culture and entertainment on offer is leading to a steep rise in popularity. In a complete reversal, it is now the inner cities, not the suburbs, where people aspire to live. The BBC estimates, for example, that Leeds has seen a growth of 150% of people living in the city centre.

Realistically though, most people can only afford to live in the suburbs – and the housing shortage and limits on space necessitate out of town developments. The sheer scale and speed of development means there is a danger of housebuilders choosing a couple of ‘template’ designs and simply replicating them over and over again. But this sameness has a tangible effect on a person’s pride in where they live – and the longing for variety, creativity, and interest is more keenly felt.

Architects have been at the forefront of inner-city regeneration, imaginatively and skilfully designing stylish homes perfectly suited to the lifestyles of the occupants. In the past, time scales and a shortage of skilled workers on site have restricted the same treatment in designs for suburban housing.

Manufacturers have been responding to this challenge and have developed products that allow architects to unleash their creativity and transform the look of their buildings. Special lintels and brick slip steel lintels, for example, enable designers to create stunning designs to make projects stand out for all the right reasons, while maintaining buildability at a manageable cost. They allow for more creative designs that are not affected by the available skills or the environment on site.

Examples of details that can make all the difference to the overall appeal of a traditional suburban house include impressive arches, sun lounges, brick soffits, brick detailing, and intriguing window styles including bullseyes, square bays, and corner windows.

These elements can also be used to make breath-taking designs achievable, as with an elegant family home by Stephen Langer Architects (pictured). Whyte Gates is reminiscent of the arts and crafts movement and the intricate brick details played an important role in the architect’s vision.

A variety of openings of different sizes created the need for numerous brick elements. To achieve these details on a traditional build would have been a time-consuming task involving brick cutting and additional skilled labour. Instead, pre-fabricated elements provided by IG Lintels were used. Bricks being used on site were collected and then cut and applied to steel lintels in factory controlled conditions. The lintels were then delivered back to site ready for simple, quick installation and pointing, blending perfectly with the surrounding brickwork.

The decorative elements included a 2.4m span corbelled arch, which defines the impressive porch entrance to the property. This single piece element alone saved significant installation time on site. Other pre-fabricated components included flat gauge arches, full arch lintels and bullseye lintels, all of which were manufactured bespoke to create the elaborate brick features on this stunning home.

Suburban development will continue apace for the foreseeable future and it presents a vast canvas for architects to demonstrate their creativity and imagination. Thanks to modern methods of construction, there is an opportunity to enrich the architecture of suburbia – and encourage people to fall in love with it again.

For more than 60 years, IG Lintels has been designing and developing specialist products to give architects freedom of choice without compromising build quality. For more information on designing stylish suburban houses, log on to: