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Third year architecture students from Cambridge University visited Stevenage in October to kickstart their year-long project on housing in the new town. 

They started with a visit to the museum to understand the housing crisis after the Second World War, why Stevenage was chosen as the first site for a new town and how the planners at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and Stevenage Development Corporation used Garden City principles already tested in Letchworth and Welwyn Garden cities.

A map showing the neighbourhoods and colour coded to show different uses.

The 1949 Master Plan laid out the neighbourhoods, where the industrial area and town centre would be and how green spaces would be incorporated into the layout.

A tour of the town centre with Alison from the Regeneration team and Jo from the Museum followed, looking at how the town centre was planned and built. Stevenage was the first pedestrian-only town centre of its size in the UK when it opened in 1958 and used new ideas like curtain walling with prefabricated modular panels that helped keep costs down and the design unified. Public art was integrated across the town centre and homes above shops built on the smaller shopping streets radiating from the Town Square.

A key part of Stevenage’s £1billion regeneration programme is to celebrate this unique new town heritage and continue to embed and celebrate culture. Having seen how sculpture was used historically in the town centre, it was interesting to hear about the development of an exciting new heritage and arts trail to showcase the wide range of arts and cultural assets we have in Stevenage.

Alison explained how the transformation is also creating a more vibrant town centre with spaces such as Event Island Stevenage, town centre living and spaces for work. The programme brings opportunities for local people in several areas, including our growing and world-renowned Life Sciences sector.

Students in a group shot at the bus interchange.

Students at the bus interchange.

Then it was off to the first new town developments around Sish Lane and Popple Way to look at different housing types and how new town planners used Scandinavian inspired design principles to set short terraces of homes in a green landscape with housing overlooking garden commons, old trees preserved and new ones planted.

Students stand looking at the buildings they are visiting.

Students visit homes in the first new town area near Sish Lane (King George Close).

After lunch, Lewis Claridge and Sally Talbot from Planning talked about the development of the new town, earlier Master Plans and how neighbourhoods were designed and connected to promote walking and cycling. Then they focussed on the latest Local Plan and how it accommodates growth up to 2031, balancing delivery of new homes, jobs, amenities, sustainability, green infrastructure and heritage. They also shared the work being done by the Housing Development team and showed where new developments are underway or about to start. Discussion points included minimising environmental impact, how to apply national guidelines on what constitutes good design and the challenges and priorities for Planning Policy in the future.

Students seated in rows listening to a speaker.

Listening to the Planning Policy team.

The rest of the afternoon was spent looking at drawings, plans, photos and maps showing the development of the new town. Students took lots of photos and then emailed in requests for plans they were considering working on over the coming year. It will be interesting to see how their work develops and we look forward to seeing how a new generation of architects respond to the work of their predecessors in light of the new challenges of the 21st century.

Black and white photo of a pair of semi-detached houses with gardens to the front and a group of women with a pram.

Photograph of C5 type houses in Bedwell.

Plans for the C5 house type.

Plans for the C5 house type.