Zones of Collision

Zones of Collision

General Concept

What is a zone of collision? If we start by dissecting the term into its components: zone and collision, we can start to understand how this can relate to architecture. In general terms a zone can be an area with particular features or properties. For example, zones of the earth - temperate, torrid, frigid, or zones of alienation (around a nuclear disaster for example), it can mean a system of land use regulation, e.g. planning or in sporting terms a zone defence (in basketball). The word collision generally means the act of colliding and coming violently into contact. It could mean a clash or a conflict not only in physical terms but also the conflict of ideas, attitudes or goals - a conflict of interest. It is important to note, however, that collisions are not always a negative thing, they can have positive outcomes.

What is a zone and a collision in the architectural sense?

A zone in architectural terms may mean a physical area either for entertainment to occur, for example an arena, or an area for a collision to occur, for example in the Colosseum. It can be an area within a building where conflict may occur, for example a room which is allocated for too many people who each have their own conflicting agendas for the use of that space. A zone could also be mental or spatial where there is no physical area for the collision to occur, however, a conflict of ideas and views may create this zone of tension.

A collision in architecture may quite literally mean a collision of people leading to riots due to a collision of ideas and views. It could also refer to the collision between people and buildings where a building may not satisfy the needs of the users. A collision could relate to the conflict of spaces which are fighting for identity and occupation and due to this fight are sometimes are completely unused. Perhaps the most important collision in architecture may be that which occurs between the different factors which affect architecture, those which are political, economical, social, sustainable and of course architectural.

The Street as an Arena

The public street can be seen as an arena where positive or negative collisions may occur. The perfect example of this is Alexandra Road. Here the street runs between two blocks of tiered housing. This street can be seen as the arena for activities to take place as people spill out of their flats into this area. Mothers feel safe in letting their children play out there since they are in clear view. In this sense the street can also be seen as a social condenser where mothers of all status and standing share this activity of watching over their children, which brings them together in this one space. However, conflict may also occur in this space if people are fighting over ownership since the street is owned not by one but by all.

Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104738906). The photo either does not exist, or is private

The factors affecting architectural zones of collision

As mentioned above architecture is shaped by the factors which restrict it. These factors loosely come under the following categories which are all interlinked since no one category on its own can be the cause for zones of collision.

Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104787014). The photo either does not exist, or is private


The political factors affecting zones of collision are many and varied, below is a list of some of them:

  • government requirements - high quantity with little time or money
  • a duty to ensure those who need housing most have access to it
  • ownership - who owns the land and who has the right to develop on it
  • conflict between architects, developers and the local council and government
  • a "top-down" approach with lack of participatory design where residents are told what they will get but never asked what they would like
  • green belt development - a conflict between the residents and those who wish to build social housing there. An attitude of "not in my backyard"


  • the issue of who has the resources and the willingness to build social housing
  • use of brownfield sites should be encouraged since it has many advantages over new build however, cost restrictions often mean it is easier and simpler to build on suburban plots
Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104784490). The photo either does not exist, or is private
  • it is important when designing social housing to ensure that the running of those houses is also feasible by those inhabiting them. If running costs are too high then is the housing really affordable?


Social factors play a major role in the occurance of zones of collisions. This may be because often due to other factors such as those which are political and economical, the social considerations are neglected. These are just as important if not more important than those other factors in the success of housing schemes. Some of these factors are mentioned below:

  • the integration of different cultures, religions, beliefs and ideas is important in providing sustainable communities
  • it is important to encourage user participation to ensure that the housing addresses the needs of those using it.
  • conflict often occurs between native dwellers and immigrants since there is a fight over resources. An example of this is the Lansdowne Estate where residents who have lived there from the beginning have hostile feelings towards the new Somalian community which has moved onto the estate.
  • management is an important factor in the success of housing estates since where there is a failure of management the whole structure of the estate ceases to function. Examples such as the Broadwater Farm Estate show just how successful good management can be in sustaining the success of housing estates.


Sustainability issues are high on the government's agenda today. However, it is important to note that sustainability is not only important in the environmental sense but also in a social sense.

  • employment sustainability is important in new social housing estates where often residents are unable to sustain jobs since they are simply too far away from their place of work. Providing work close to the home can really benefit these groups of people
  • adaptable/ flexible design is important in housing to ensure that those growing families have the ability to reconfiger their homes to accommodate these new arrivals without having to relocate
  • it is important to create mixed use, tenure and demographic developments to allow diversity and to avoid the occurance of isolated communities


The architectural aspects are perhaps the most relevant to us when designing new social housing. However, we should always ensure we address all the other factors which affect the sustainability of these housing schemes. Some of the architectural factors we should keep in mind are:

  • careful consideration of how to maximise the minimal space available
  • we should endeavour to provide sufficient indoor space but also enough private external space for residents to personalise and make their own
  • basic amenities should be incorporated into mass housing estates to ensure that the communities do not become isolated
  • open decks and isolated walkways should be avoided to prevent these being a cause of conflict within the community as was the case at Broadwater Farm
  • where possible try and incorporate the idea of natural surveillance into any open public spaces. If these spaces are overlooked naturally by the buildings surrounding them then people will feel safer using them and perhaps they may not get abused from fear of being observed

Zones of Collision within mass housing estates

As shown above the causes of zones of collision are many and varied. However, research into peripheral problem mass housing estates has shown that certain aspects of housing are almost always a cause for conflict.

  • poor transport links - often large housing estates were built on the periphery of cities and with friends,

work and amenities being in the city, transport was an important factor in providing residents with a healthy
lifestyle. However, these estates were not well connected at all to the city and when there were connections, it was
often too expensive to be affordable for the residents of the estate.

Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104911030). The photo either does not exist, or is private
  • lack of amenities - to ensure a good community atmosphere on the estate, it was vital to provide good

amenities alongside good accommodation. However, these housing estates provided little more than a place to live.

Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104090099). The photo either does not exist, or is private
  • multi-cultural communities - a lack of knowledge about people of different nationalities meant that people

were less tolerant and often ethnic minority groups were blamed for disruptive behaviour. Racial discrmination on
these estates meant tensions were high between groups of different nationalities.

See: Broadwater Farm
See: Lansdowne Estate

  • bad architectural design - high-rise buildings were often elevated from the ground meaning they had to

be accessed from dark, unsafe underground areas and were connected via open walkways or decks. Lack of a lively
street level created isolation and fear within residents. Crime flourished in these areas since they were lacking life.
the ground floor was used as an access level and the first floor (usually where the open walkways were) was
sometimes used as a storage level for the upper floors. It was seen to be safer to have storage on that level rather
than flats to prevent cause of disruption to the first floor residents from the walkways.

Cannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104941960). The photo either does not exist, or is privateCannot fetch Flickr photo (id: 3104104183). The photo either does not exist, or is private

The images of Broadwater Farm shows the ground floor car parking spaces which make the street level very isolated and the inner court photo shows the elevated walkways above the car parking level, which connect all the buildings of the estate together.

  • lack of security and security - lack of secure entrances at the bases of tower blocks meant it was difficult to

control strangers from entering the buildings. Mothers with young children were faced with a dilemma, they did not
have enough space within the flat for their children to let off steam and play openly, nor could they let them play out
in the corridors due to a risk from potentially dangerous strangers. Although there were plenty of open spaces on
the estate, they were not defined as play areas and were often too exposed for young children to play in. Signs such
as “no ball games” helped to worsen the situation. Multiple entrances/ exits on the estates meant that criminals
had easy escape routes.

  • anonymity and lack of individuality - large apartment blocks were often so monolithic that people felt

anonymous within them. The monotonous appearance of the estate enforced this feeling as there was a lack of
individuality since councils restricted residents from personalising the outside of their flats.

See also

Broadwater Farm, London
Alexandra Road, London
Lansdowne Estate, Sheffield

External links

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License