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Co-housing series 1: Designing a Community

At Home but Not Alone

disconnected neighboursIn my previous blog, “5 Designs that Challenge our British Perceptions of Home”, I touched on the idea of home as an extension, or even more than that, a fundamental piece of our identity. “Home” is comprised of two main influential factors, one we control and one we do not: both where we come from and where we choose to live.  This is why perceptions of home are generated by lifestyle, which today is unrecognisable from 100, 50, or even 20 years ago.  The way we socialise, find our life partners, and interact in general has been completely revolutionised by a new, technology-driven, way of life.

In a world that grows more connected by the second, it is a cruel irony that loneliness is on the rise.  It has become normal to speak to somebody on the other side of the world at the touch of a button, but not to know your next-door neighbour’s name.  However, when researching her book, Clare found many people keen to buck this trend and live communally.  Whether as a reaction against this rise in real-world social isolation, or simply an economic necessity, lots of groups of people around the UK are turning (or returning) to co-housing as their preferred way of living.

Just as with the concept of “home”, the notion of “co-housing” has a multitude of meanings, and Clare investigated a range of housing schemes across the spectrum from those where some facilities are shared to those where residents’ lives are completely intertwined.  The main principle that all the schemes have in common is that shared space means more usable space for all the residents.

Clare Nash talking about the benefits of community in housing design

 

Springhill Co-housing

Springhill cohousing Architype

Architype’s Springhill Co-housing

Springhill Co-housing, designed by Architype, was the UK’s first new-build co-housing project.  High quality construction and landscaping make this an attractive place to live for a broad range of people, both young and old.  Cooking, childcare, gardening and administration are shared by everyone, and the general atmosphere is that of a traditional village.  A sustainable community has been created through both architectural and non-architectural methods.  For example, the housing terraces are deliberately connected and clustered around jointly maintained public land, forcing frequent neighbourly interaction.  Communal meals cooked by residents on a rota system 3 times a week is a very effective way of gluing a fairly diverse community together.  Architectural features such as a common house and open-plan kitchen space support and facilitate this important ritual.  At Springhill, Architype recognised that it is the community that is “home”, and they have rightly made this as durable and sustainable as possible.

Springhill communal kitchen

The communal kitchen at Springhill

This is the first part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Part 2 coming soon….

Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

Clare Nash talking about landscaping and place-making and their importance in contemporary vernacular design:

Clare Nash Talk on Vernacular Design

Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

“A manifesto for change!”

2017 has been very busy and exciting so far at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd., including two talks given by Clare about her book “Contemporary Vernacular Design: How British Architecture can Rediscover its Soul”.

Clare Nash book launch Oxford Brookes   Piers Taylor Clare Nash book launch contemporary vernacular

Book Launch at Oxford Brookes University

It was fantastic to see such a wide range of interest in the audience at the book launch hosted by Oxford Brookes – thank you to all the students, teachers, clients, friends and others who came along!

The launch began with an introductory talk by Piers Taylor (presenter of The House That £100k Built, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes, and founder of Invisible Studio).  Piers, like Clare, is determined to see a better standard of housing and placemaking in the UK, and wrote the foreword for Clare’s book.  The talks by Piers and Clare provoked some interesting discussions among the audience.  They debated the nature and popular perception of vernacular architecture and its relationship to place, and considered the role of government, regulation and planning in delivering the housing we desperately need.  The topics were far too in-depth for a short Q&A session, but there was plenty of food for thought!

Piers Taylor explaining Contemporary Vernacular Housing Design:

Matt Gaskin, Head of Architecture at Oxford Brookes, summed up the evening by describing the publication of Clare’s book as “timely and brave”, for addressing the issue of healthy, comfortable, affordable housing in the UK. Many other designers choose to shy away from asking the type of difficult questions that she does. Matt reiterated Piers Taylor’s description of Clare’s book: “A manifesto for change” – let’s make it one!

Clare Nash HTA Contemporary Vernacular

HTA Talk

Clare was also hosted by HTA Design, whose housing scheme in Portland features as a case study in her book.  The audience of architects and designers were interested in Clare’s research process, and what had attracted her to the case studies she had chosen.

The interest and engagement at Clare’s book talks has been hugely motivating and energising for the CNA team.  Improving the quality of housing we deliver is, and will continue to be, a challenge, but it is one we can take on, as individuals and as an industry.  As Clare says in her book:

“We can do better, we have done better; let’s use the examples in this book and just do better.”
August 30, 2017
Clare Nash speaking about Contemporary Vernacular Design

The benefits and drawbacks of pre-fabricating your dream home

Have you considered using pre-fabrication as a method for building your own home?

Germany has been at the forefront of pre-fabricating home design for over 50 years (https://www.weberhaus.co.uk/) and the benefits are very German; time efficient, quality guarantee, energy efficiency guarantees. These advantages are also useful to British self-builders. Anyone who has spent time on a UK building site in winter will testify to the stress caused by weather delays and the impractical nature of working knee deep in mud. With pre-fabrication there is no need to worry about weather conditions setting you back or indeed supplier delays, you can have your dream home within a few weeks.

If you are building on a site such as Gravenhill (self-build site in Bicester) then you might find pre-fabrication offers cost and time certainty in achieving the 24 month build deadline.

We are keen to work with self-builders looking at the pre-fabrication route. We are good at working closely with pre-fabricators to ensure that you get the design and the home that you really want and for the price that you can afford.

Pre-fabrication options

There are quite a few different pre-fabrication options now available in the UK. These can be quite confusing and hopefully the next few paragraphs will ease your understanding:

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels

Greencore closed panel system using hemp, lime and timber frame to create a breathable construction

Complete pre-fabrication (or closed panel timber frame system)

Everything is manufactured off site and arrives on a lorry. It is a timber frame system, originally from Germany but now also found in the UK (Greencore Construction, Modcell), including; external cladding, doors and windows fitted, ducting and service voids. The heavy panels require a crane so this method not suitable for a poorly accessible site. Sometimes also these systems include foundations (e.g Danilith and Greencore Construction), other times this is contracted separately.

Super structure pre-fabrication (or open panel timber frame system)

Only the walls and roof structure are built off-site in a factory, external cladding is fitted on site, as are windows, doors, ducting, plumbing, electrics. These and the rest of the trades are managed by the self-builder.

SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels)

An American idea that made its way over to the UK in the 50’s. These are panels that look like an insulation sandwich. Not really timber frame although the ‘bread’ is usually formed from OSB (made from waste timber) or plywood panels. Not so easily mortgageable (see below).

Oakframe construction

Large timber structure made off-site and then walls and roof are wrapped in SIPs or a more natural, breathable insulation and cladding layer. The oak frame is exposed internally creating a more traditional and characterful appearance. E.g Oakwrights and Carpenter Oak

Concrete insulated panel system

Heavy panels, requiring crane erection, with pre-fitted brick/render/timber/flint cladding. E.g Danilith

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

Speeds up on site masonry construction. Not pre-fab but some companies think it saves up to 25% of time on site compared to traditional masonry construction (HB&R mag link reference).

Mortgageable straw home

Inside one of the first straw bale homes to be mortgageable in the UK (by Modcell and White Design).

Mortgageability

A timber frame pre-fabricated home will ensure that you have access to any high street lender, if you want to use SIPs you will need a specialist lender with less competitive rates. If you can buy your plot in cash you can get a mortgage based on the value of the land which gives you access to much cheaper loans.

Sustainability benefits

Off-site construction results in less construction waste, any left over materials can be re-used in the factory instead of going to land fill. But this needs to be offset with how many miles the wall and roof panels have travelled. Though there are now companies manufacturing in the UK (Scotframe, Dwelle, Boutique Modern, Modcell and Greencore). Modcell use ‘flying factories’ to literally factory build within a few miles of your site using local farm buildings and straw. Very high standards of energy efficiency and airtightness can be achieved, this, combined with a heat recovery ventilation system, will ensure a warm, healthy, fresh air environment. Only the ‘complete pre-fabrication system’ will come with the heat recovery system installed, this will need to be designed and installed by professionals if using one of the other systems.

We at CNA are keen to work on pre-fabricated dwellings with strong sustainability credentials. We believe a breathable system is best (such as Modcell, Greencore, Oakwrights or Dwelle). Timber is a breathable material and it makes sense to use breathable insulations with it. There have been issues in America whereby poor airtightness detailing has caused SIPs panels to go mouldy in parts. Until everyone is really super hot on airtightness in the UK, we feel it is safer to use breathable materials (and it is better for the environment).

Modcell straw bale home

The thickness of walls inside a Modcell and White Design straw bale pre-fabricated home in Bristol

 

Benefits of pre-fabricating your dream home

Cost certainty and time saving on site (British weather is not an issue), guaranteed airtightness and energy efficiency, high quality design. If using a UK pre-fabricator, the embodied energy of producing your home will be very low and you will be creating a true eco-home. Costs are reducing as more pre-fabricators have factories in the UK and custom build sites such as igloo’s Trevenson Park in Cornwall are increasing the demand for pre-fabricated homes. Your finish date for a watertight shell will be a certainty and if you go for the full pre-fabrication method, your move in date will be certain as well. This is a great asset when paying rent or living in a caravan on site.

 

Downsides of pre-fabricating your dream home

It can cost more (but you have much more predictability about these costs, rather than waiting on site for problems to occur, or for bad weather or supplier delays). It is expensive to ship panels from the continent, but these days there are a few options for UK pre-fabricated homes (see above under sustainability).

Once the design is fixed, it is very difficult to change things on site, windows can’t be moved a bit to the left or right or sizes changed. Walls can’t be moved (unless the pre-fab element is just outer walls). Additionally some pre-fabrication types work best with certain external cladding such as timber, render, stone. This can be an issue where planning requirements dictate a certain material is used externally. This is why it is a good idea to have an architect involved to really understand what your dream home entails and how it is best realised. Pre-fabrication companies offer fantastic benefits, but sometimes their designs can restrict your aspirations, or they are a bit too ‘standardised’. An architect can push these boundaries with the pre-fabrication firm, ensuring you realise your dream home for a cost and timescale that works for you.

August 22, 2017

The benefits of using an architect on a Gravenhill self-build or elsewhere

self build benefits of architect

Thinking of building a Gravenhill Self-Build? Here’s how to save money and reduce stress…

It’s finally happening!  You’ve found your plot, bought a hard hat, and watched every episode of Grand Designs twice over.  You’re ready to build your own house, the way that you want.  You have a clear vision of how it will be, so why appoint an architect?  Doesn’t self-build mean you do everything yourself, controlling every aspect of the project down to the doorknobs?

Well, that’s one way of approaching this task, but an architect can actually be an invaluable guide through the Gravenhill self-build process.  A professional architect will help you to get the best quality home for your budget. They will identify potential pitfalls, and be an important point of contact for your project team, co-ordinating designs from many consultants – structural engineers, ventilation design, window manufacturers, etc, etc.  Even those self-builders with lots of experience in the construction industry benefit greatly from employing an architect to work on their build – for example this client, an engineer who has been working with CNA to realise his dream of an eco-house for his family.  He has said:

Just a quick note to say that we have had the below positive response from SNC Planning with regards to our proposals. And without your valued input through the process we wouldn’t be in this position, so thank you very much….the models and proposals have been excellent and really changed the way we’d been looking at some of the aspects of our design.

An architect will help self-builders to make the most of something like a Graven Hill Golden Brick package, turning the bare bones of a project into a bespoke home within tight budget and time constraints.

 

self build benefits of architect

Cost

Budget is the defining element of any project, and getting the most out of it can be the difference between a dream home and just an expensive pile of bricks.  An architect can find you the best value for money in terms of materials and labour, and also reduce the running costs of your building in the future through good design.  A product such as a Graven Hill Golden Brick is a good starting point for estimating the cost of a self-build, but, as anyone who has flown with a budget airline knows, what starts out as a clear and transparent set of costs can all too easily become a quagmire of optional extras and hidden fees and charges.  An architect can help you anticipate, reduce and avoid these potential costs, and help you to decide what is worth spending money on and what is not. One self-build interviewee stated that without an architect, she could not have afforded her dream home.

 

self build benefits of architect

Time

In the grand list of self-building headaches, time comes a close second to cost, and there is of course a huge overlap between the two.  In the case of a package such as a Golden Brick at Gravenhill (self-build site in Bicester), the issue of time is brought sharply to the fore with the looming 32 month deadline to get a home built.  An architect can speed up the process of design itself, as well as streamlining the planning and construction stages.  It is our job to always be thinking one step ahead and making sure that the design will cause minimal problems in getting through planning and building control, and also on-site.  Our industry knowledge can also speed up decision making for you, reducing or eliminating the need for you to spend days (or weeks!) researching products or legal requirements for the project.

 

Quality

Quality is something self-builders have a large amount of control over.  This can be both a blessing, as you do not have to compromise on things that are important to you, and a curse, as the responsibility for making the correct decisions can result in a great amount of pressure and stress.  An architect, especially one based locally, is your gateway to an established network of reliable and recommended tradespeople.  Over their years in the industry, we at CNA have done the groundwork of building invaluable relationships with tradespeople, suppliers, planners and building inspectors, that you can then take advantage of.

Getting the design right

Another major influencing factor in the quality of a build is the design itself.  This is undoubtedly where architects come into their own, and where their years (and years and years!) of training are most evident.  Your architect can interpret your individual needs and come up with solutions that suit your lifestyle that you may not have even considered yourself.  They can also work out ways of fitting your requirements into restrictions such as a strict Design Code that may apply to your plot.  A predefined material or formal palette does not mean your home cannot be a bespoke expression of you.  Good design means that your home will be comfortable, safe and secure, meaning you are less likely to need to spend money on changes in years to come.  Once your house is built you will truly be able to settle in and relax.  It may be a cliché, but happiness and wellbeing are priceless, and your home is a crucial part of building a healthy personal environment.

 

self build benefits of architect

Eco-design

A house that has a minimal impact on the environment is something we should all be striving for.  Eco-houses run more efficiently, more cheaply, are healthier for their inhabitants, and create less problems such as damp and poor air quality.  Good design ensures that an eco-house need not cost more than a conventional one, and environmentally friendly features can be tailored to your lifestyle and the way you will use the house.  In fact, an energy-efficient house should eventually free up spare cash in the long term (perhaps for more home improvements!), so getting this right at the beginning can mean you reap the benefits in terms of savings for years to come.  An architect who specialises in eco-design like Clare Nash can help you to meet and surpass minimum energy requirements, such as the Fabric Energy Efficiency standards Graven Hill self-builders must adhere to.

 

Decision making

Decision making can be a daunting and energy-sapping aspect of the design process.  An architect can guide and inform you, as well as providing specialist services such as visualisations of your design options.  These can help you to decide what you really want, and persuade planners and investors of the merits of your proposal.  You can discuss all aspects of the project with your architect before you embark on it.  This will give you the time, foreplanning, information and expert insight to put your mind more at rest than if you had to make important decisions alone.  Even just an hour discussing your your plans with a professional can make a marked difference to your approach and peace of mind.

 

self build benefits of architect

Project management

Housebuilding is a risky business.  With so many things to think about, juggle, and schedule, having an architect to manage the process for you can greatly reduce your risk of going over budget and over time, and hopefully preserve some of your sanity during what will be an incredibly busy time!  When it comes to your home you are considerably emotionally invested, and having somebody who can take an objective overview can help to keep the project balanced and in perspective.

 

An architect such as Clare Nash can work with self-builders to bring out the best of their ideas, enthusiasm and motivation, as well as streamlining a complex and tiring process.  If you are an interested self-builder, or a potential one, please do get in touch with Clare Nash Architecture Ltd for a friendly chat and to see what we can do for you.

What can the UK learn about housing from examples around the world?

Katie Reilly takes inspiration from Chapter 5 of Clare’s book

vernacular housing bolivia

Centro Lak’a Uta in Bolivia: a case study in Clare’s book

The UK’s climate can be challenging to cope with due to the daily surprise of rain or shine (mostly rain!) but imagine building in an environment of extreme temperature differences, even between day and night!

In some parts of the world, ancient traditions are still practised and very much influence people’s everyday lives today, from religion to social norms. When considering designing a contemporary vernacular in areas of active rich cultural history such as those in Chapter 5 of ‘Contemporary Vernacular Design: How British housing can rediscover its soul’, it is important to take the time to understand what is important to these communities in terms of housing apart from the structure itself. What religious needs do they have? How are the communities living arrangements structured? Do they prefer to cook inside or outside? What are their social norms? e.g. the relationship between men and women or entertaining? What is their typical livelihood and does this affect their living arrangements? How do all these elements affect a community’s interaction with their housing?

While it is true that for the first time in history more than half of the world’s population live in urban environments, there is still a percentage that do not for a variety of reasons; their livelihood being one of them. As often found in traditional construction, structural and environmental techniques have been refined over many years to suit specific cultural and contextual needs. However, changing global dynamics like climate change and aspiring to Western ideals can put pressure on traditional ways of life, including housing. Therefore, in order for rural dwellers to retain their cultural heritage and practices their existing housing construction may need to be adapted and a new contemporary vernacular formed that better responds to evolving contexts consequence of these changing global demands.

vernacular house sago leaf bamboo

A vernacular house in Papua New Guinea with sago-leaf roof and bamboo walls

vernacular papua new guinea climate control

Clare’s book explores several case studies where time has been taken to identify the questions posed above and, in some cases, using this information to systematically analyse existing construction methods and materials. Elements in each case study that respond positively structurally and environmentally to their local climate, landscape and community needs have been have been highlighted. For example, adapting traditional adobe construction by adding steel formulates a contemporary vernacular that is better equipped in responding to earthquake prone areas thus supporting the future of its inhabitants. Understanding that certain materials like adobe can be interpreted as poorer can be difficult for outsiders to a community to comprehend as it has positive attributes for responding to extreme climates such as great strength and thermal mass. Therefore, how can a programme integrate a material thought of as such be translated into housing that is flexible in supporting more Western ideals and local ideas of wealth?

Australia passive design

Passive design principles, as used by Lindsay Johnston in Australia

passive design principles shade tree

Something that is clear from Chapter 5’s case studies is the importance of the future of housing projects in areas such as those described. A housing programme would be an injustice to the community if it did not consider the building’s longevity and how it will impact the lives of its inhabitants. Arguably, some of the most successful projects are those that include the community in the building process as these widen participants’ skillset and allow a sense of ownership to develop, enabling locals to continue to construct the new housing vernacular in the future. Programmes like these can provide employment opportunities and integrate new housing types into their appropriate contexts.

Clare’s book inquires how British housing can rediscover its soul. The case studies explore how using vernacular techniques for environment and structure (like adobe, sun orientation and cross ventilation) over more western ones (such as brick/concrete and air conditioning units) can enrich housing in so many ways. Be it culturally, for well-being, reducing energy consumption and most importantly, encouraging people to live as they would like to. The book is not saying that in Britain we must build in adobe, avoid using modern technologies and live on zero energy (although low energy is something to strive for!); rather in taking the time to understand the context, the community, history and local traditions of a place, Britain too can enrich their housing design and make it locally relevant and nationally proud again.

by Katie Reilly

CNA team members get constructive in the woods!

This July, Clare, Katie and Julia took part in Studio in the Woods, a “long weekend of making” run by Piers Taylor, who wrote the foreword to Clare’s book.  The workshop took place close to the architecture world’s worst-kept secret, Piers’ Invisible Studio, nestled in a stunning Wiltshire forest, a stone’s throw from the city of Bath.  Over 4 days the 80 participants split into 5 groups that designed and built a series of structures throughout the woodland, all using locally sourced timber, and with the challenge of not using any screws!  The three CNA-ers were each in a different group, and so each gained a different experience and approach to making.  The main thing we had in common was that we all had a huge amount of fun, food, and fresh air!

 

studio in the woods erect architecture

studio in the woods erect architectur

Photograph by Amy Crellin

studio in the woods erect architectur

Clare’s group – The Accidental Stegosaurus

Clare joined the group led by Barbara Kaucky and Susanne Tutsch of Erect Architecture.  Inspired by two trees that had fallen into one another, the group constructed a walkway supported by criss-crossing timbers.  The result was a striking, yet also highly functional piece of art/architecture, that certainly impressed the visiting critics, Ted Cullinan, Niall McLaughlin and Peter Clegg!

 

studio in the woods measuring daylight studio in the woods measuring daylight studio in the woods measuring daylight

Katie’s group – The Sky Oculus

Katie was in a group overseen by one of the Studio in the Woods co-founders, Kate Darby, along with Gianni Botsford.  Their interest lies in something they call “constructed analysis”, using structure as a tool to measure something.  In this case, the group was measuring a patch of daylight in the canopy of the forest, in particular from Katie’s perspective!  Katie stood under an opening in the trees and directed the other group participants how to manoeuvre the supporting structural members into place (Katie is very good at project management!).  The result was not only a sensitive response to the forest surroundings, but also a new way of understanding the place.

 

studio in the woods construction studio in the woods construction studio in the woods construction

Julia’s group – The Sacred Tree

Julia’s group mentors were Fergus Feilden and Akos Juhasz.  The group found an old twisted tree – in fact, the oldest tree in the forest – that they wanted to celebrate, and also protect.  They did this through wrapping the tree in a screen of slender timbers that concealed and then revealed different elements of the tree as you moved around it.

 

studio in the woods gridshell

Gridshell by group led by Piers Taylor and Meredith Bowles

studio in the woods playful

Playful structures by group led by Je Ahn, Lee Ivett and Lynton Pepper

studio in the woods playful

It is so important that as architects we get out from behind our computer screens and use our hands to make things!  An understanding of construction is something that cannot be purely book-learnt, and it is about so much more than the practicalities of attaching some pieces of wood together.  Clare, Katie and Julia came away with the enjoyment and satisfaction of having made something, and went to work on Monday morning with fresh motivation and enthusiasm for what we do here at CNA!

CNA visits Brackley Town Hall restoration project

brackley town hall restoration

The first floor – where dances would have taken place!

Insight into a piece of local heritage

Clare, Jaina and Julia from Clare Nash Architecture Ltd got the chance to take a tour of Brackley Town Hall, which is currently undergoing restoration.  It was fantastic to see how a project team undertakes the extensive work necessary on a Grade II* listed building such as this, and how they have approached adapting a historic building for a modern context, while preserving its charm and character.  We visited every floor of the building, including the very top of the bell tower, affording us a wonderful view over Brackley and beyond!

We can’t wait to see it finished and opened as a rejuvenated community venue!

If you are interested in the restoration of Brackley Town Hall, please visit their fantastic blog to keep informed and updated.

brackley town hall restoration

The bell

brackley town hall restoration

The very top of the bell

brackley town hall restoration

View of Brackley from the top of the bell tower

August 18, 2017
CNA visits Brackley Town Hall restoration project

Emily Fisher: My Work Experience week at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd

Hi, my name is Emily and I go to Magdalen College School in Brackley. When we were told to find somewhere to do our work experience around January 2017, I wanted to find an architecture practice that would be willing to take me on for a week. Unfortunately, when I looked on the website that the school had given us, there were no small practices nearby. I also wanted a taster for what it would be like to work outside of an office, and in a more interactive way. I searched up architects in and around Brackley, and Clare Nash Architecture Ltd was one that came up commonly. I emailed Clare to see if she would be willing to provide me with some architectural work experience. Clare replied, and asked if I would like to have a short meeting with her in a local café, which I agreed to. After meeting Clare, I was very sure that I wanted to do my work experience with her, because I feel that the way her practice works will become a lot more common in the future, and I am generally interested in the type of architecture she does. After all the school paperwork had been done my work experience week was all set. A few days before I was due to start, Clare emailed me a plan of what we would be doing in the week. After briefly looking through I was very excited, as there was a large range of activities we would be doing.

 

 

 

Monday 10th July:

On Monday, I was quite nervous to go to the Oxfordshire Project networking meeting in Banbury, as I am usually quite shy, and not good around large groups of people I do not know. When we arrived at the café, I followed Clare through, and met a couple of other people at the event. After everyone had spent some time talking and socialising, we all went to sit down at the table that had been put together for us all. (The café had been closed off to the public so the meeting was private). Once we were all sat down, Melanie Greene, an Occupational Psychologist, stood up and gave a presentation, with a few activities, to us all, about our inner critic and our fearful child within us, and how we can master our mind, rather than let it master us. There were no other architects at the network meeting, but a range of different people in different professions, e.g. a performance developer, a stress relief therapist, a podiatrist, and a website designer.

Once Melanie Greene had finished her short presentation, we all had a banana and caramel pancake, which as a nice way to make the mood much more relaxed. When we had all finished eating, we went around the table, and people introduced themselves and their profession to everybody else. After people had all given a small speech about their job, the meeting was over. People started to leave, and others started to talk amongst themselves again. I spoke to a few different people, many of whom thought that I was about 4 years older than I am.

Next, we drove to a potential clients’ house in Croughton. The house was a fairly large 4-bedroom house built in the 1970’s, and the owners were looking to build a second-floor terrace and convert their loft space in some way. The clients also wanted to replace most, if not all the windows, as they were old and letting heat out of the house.

After this we both sat in the car and ate lunch, before heading over to Helmdon, where we visited an elderly couple, who were having trouble with some damp along their southern wall, (their bungalow was the second the builders had ever built, and they clearly did not know what they were doing).They were very sweet, and did not know what was causing the damp, or how to resolve the issue. Clare was very surprised to find that along the whole roof there were only two vents, one at each end, when usually they would be along the whole underside of the roof.

After this Clare dropped me back off at my house. Overall, I really enjoyed my first day of work experience at CNA, because I found it very interesting and educational. Also, Monday gave me a good insight into what it is like doing a variety of different things on a busy day.

Tuesday 11th July:

Architectural work experience

Visit to barn conversion/re-build

barn re-build project

Artists impression of finished dwelling

Clare picked me up from my house in the morning, before we drove over to pick up Jaina (who also works at CNA) from a park& ride near Oxford. Then we drove over to a client’s house, for a site visit, where there was a large barn being built. When I saw it, it was mainly just a steel frame with a floor and upper levels, but there were lots of pipes on the floor for the underfloor heating system. I found the site visit very interesting, as it was the first time I had seen a building mid-construction up close in real life.

Once we had left the site, we drove back to the park and ride and got the bus into Oxford, where we went to a small café/ restaurant, and took the only seat which had a plug next to it because Clare needed to plug in her laptop (At this point it really started to rain and we were very glad we were inside). We ordered a bite to eat for lunch, and I shared a lovely pizza with Jaina. After we had finished our food, I used Clare’s laptop to finish a presentation for her, after some instruction from Jaina, I successfully managed to move and place photos on different slides for Clare. As I had not used InDesign before, it took me a little while to get the hang of things, but once I understood it, it was simple enough.

I enjoyed Tuesday just as much as Monday, even though we did less, because I learnt a few new skills, and experienced what it is like to work outside of an office, but doing less practical work.

Architectural work experience underfloor heating

Underfloor heating pipes on top of the insulation before screed is laid

Wednesday 12th July :

I was looking forward to today because we were going to Oxford Brookes University to work with the rest of the team. Again, Clare picked me up in the morning, and drove us to Kings Sutton train station, where we caught the train into Oxford. After getting off the train we got the bus to Brookes. At first, we went into the Abercrombie building, as this is where Clare usually works with her team, however the room was freezing cold and very desolate, as there had just been a new floor put in. Once Katie and Julia had arrived, we decided to go back to the Forum, where we sat in a work pod. I listened whilst Clare’s team had their meeting and caught up with each other once Jaina had arrived.  They spoke about some old barns that they are converting in Helmdon, and showed/edited floor plans to the client’s request. After this Julia left, and the rest of us went to have lunch.

After lunch, we went back up to the work pods. I used Clare’s laptop again to finish the presentation on InDesign for the Syresham Gems talk she was doing that evening, unfortunately I was unable to go. I found this quite relaxing, because I got into a rhythm of placing, adjusting and labelling photos easily. Around 4 we left Brookes to return to Brackley.

I also enjoyed Wednesday because it was very different to the two previous days, and was purely calm and easy going all day.

Thursday 13th July:

On Thursday, Clare had to pick me up earlier than usual, because we had to drive over to west Wycombe for another Oxfordshire Project networking meeting. I was a lot less nervous for this meeting than I was on Monday (though mainly because it wasn’t my first day), and really enjoyed it, as the people were very friendly and interesting. There was a quick presentation about motivation and mindset, before we all had a bacon sandwich, or fruit salad, and I introduced myself. This time I got to introduce myself and talk a little bit about how I have found working at CNA (I just said that I have so far enjoyed myself and have found it a good experience). Once everyone had talked about their company and a bit of their background, we were left to talk amongst ourselves and some people started leaving. We left just after 12:00, and drove home. Clare had an appointment so dropped me off and I spent the afternoon writing up this blog to put on her website. This was good as it meant I got a small taster of what it is like to work from home in the day time.

 

Friday 14th July:

Today Clare and I decided to meet up in a café in the morning in Brackley, as we had to upload the blog to the website and a potential client wanted to meet Clare. Also, one of my teachers was coming to meet Clare and I in the café, and see how my week had been.

We spent about an hour working on the blog and uploading it onto her website with a few pictures of the site visits. This was fun, as I found out how Clare changes fonts and titles on her website, and how she uploads information to it.

Once my teacher arrived, we had a quick chat about what I had done, and then he spoke to Clare for a while about what she does and for some advice on what he could do with his budget in the way of barn conversions near villages. Once he had left, we worked on the blog a bit more, and then the lady who was meeting Clare arrived. They had a long conversation about economic housing like passive houses and other more efficient systems. Then Clare had to send a couple of emails, before we left and went to get some lunch.

After Clare had gotten her lunch, we walked up to the town park where we sat and ate lunch for a bit. Then Clare gave me a short tutorial on how to use Vector works, which was very interesting because I had never seen or used the programme before. Next, we walked back to Clare’s, and made a quick stop before driving to a small barn conversion/extension just next to Helmdon. The site visit was very nice, as it was completely different to the previous site visit, even though they were both barns. This barn was much smaller and sweeter than the other one. We stayed here for around and hour and a half, after which we left to drive home.

Barn conversion and re-build

Showing new steel frame for re-build part of barn conversion

I found Friday very interesting, because I learned a new skill, and could understand what was happening on the construction site better than on Tuesday, because it was smaller so much easier to see what was going on.

Overall, I really enjoyed my whole week of work experience at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd, and found it very insightful. It was a very good experience, and really helped me confirm what I would like to do in the future. I would recommend her company to other people both clients and future work experience students, because it was very interesting to see how Clare and her team work together outside of an office. I am wholly grateful to Clare for putting up with me all week, and would like to say a big thank you to her for allowing me to do my Year 10 work experience week with her and the company.

 

 

July 17, 2017

CNA visit to Straw Bale House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Recently Clare Nash Architecture Ltd. (CNA) visited the famous Straw Bale House in North London designed by Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till. With sustainability and eco design at the centre of CNA’s design approach, we were excited to be given a tour by Jeremy himself who explained how their pioneering project came about.

The team met outside the house-come- office’s tall wicker gates at the very end of Stock Orchard Street in London. With the railway on one side and Victorian terraces on the other, a building on gabion stilts with sand bags on one elevation is not quite what you would expect to find at the end of the road!

Luckily it was a dry (if a little chilly!) day as the tour started outside, with Jeremy explaining how the design concept for the Straw Bale House was developed through Sarah and him sharing stories, before any drawings were even started. Once the design was established through drawings the next challenge was getting it through planning, which was perhaps aided by one of Jeremy’s anecdotes involving a party for local residents. The building is well known for being the first straw bale house to be granted planning permission in the UK, however there are many other materials at play here including sandbags and stone gabions which certainly challenged ideas on conventional building materials at the time. The talk outside lasted for about an hour discussing structure and sustainability.

Turning the corner around the house it was a pleasant surprise to find their garden, a surprisingly green and spacious area for central London. As lovers of fresh vegetables, it was great to see what crops they were growing in their garden and to hear the clucking of chickens too! Mid-construction decisions led to only having a back door which is now the front door and works well as it encourages you to walk through the garden before entering the house.

Walking inside and up the stairs I was not sure what to expect of a space which is both living and office, shared and private. However, the top of the stairs greeted us with a warm open plan living space that was cleverly divided into functional spaces; making sense of the unusual floor layout which was organised around an organically shaped larder inspired by Malawi cooking ovens. The use of natural wood and exposed white painted steelwork could have had a cool industrial feel to it but was complimented by splashes of warm orange furnishings and large amounts of glass allowing natural light to flood the space enhancing the feeling of homeliness. One of my favourite areas was the kitchen which was again homely and quirky too as each item seemed carefully considered, perhaps handcrafted, all the way down to the papier mache lampshade suspended over the table.

A fairly large group were on the tour with us but after admiring the first floor, we ascended the (perhaps not quite building regs approved!) staircase into the tower. Lining the stairs were shelves and shelves of books which seemed to change in levels of architectural relevance the further up you went. So at the bottom were architectural text books while at the top, nearing Jeremy’s office, were fiction books and novels. Having a library like this might get tiring in reality but as a visitor it was a very charming idea!

On our way out we popped into Sarah Wigglesworth’s attached (Quilted) office where she was working. It was an impressive space, both organised and bright and surprisingly quiet despite being on the railway track side- the sandbags must be doing their job!

Although the project is known for having challenged ideas of structure and materials in terms of sustainability, it was very interesting to hear Jeremey Till say that the construction methods and material composition are actually not that sustainable in the context of what is possible today. Technology has moved on since the house was originally built; even the double glazing is no longer as efficient as it could be!  Nonetheless, the choice and composition of the interior materials and spaces has a certain quality to it that, while you could probably Google ‘Sarah Wigglesworth House’ or something similar; would just not be the same as experiencing in reality.

 

 

 

5 Designs that Challenge our British Perceptions of “Home”

While researching abroad, Clare discovered that no matter what culture you live in, our needs from a home are quite similar. However British perceptions of home are known to be fairly conservative, especially in comparison with more contemporary living styles seen in Europe.

Clare speaking about how the front garden can be the garden and other inspiring housing schemes that challenge British perceptions of home:

Below are 5 case studies taken from Clare’s book highlighting some interesting challenges to these views, with better quality housing as the result.

 

Last year, the RIBA ran an exhibition called “At Home in Britain: Designing the House of Tomorrow”, that explored how three common types of home (cottages, terraces and flats) can be reimagined for modern living.  The challenge of updating these familiar housing types involves a response not only to a housing crisis, but also a crisis of identity.  Home is not just where we are, but who we are.

As our lifestyles change, so do our perceptions of “home”.  In her new book, Contemporary Vernacular Design, How British Housing can Rediscover its Soul, Clare Nash investigates a number of housing designs that take a familiar concept or design feature and adapt or update it to meet current needs and desires.

So what are British perceptions of home and how do the below housing schemes challenge them?

Open-ended gardens

Why does a garden have to be enclosed on all sides?

Gillard Associates’ Great House Farm is a terrace of homes with open-ended gardens, joined by a communal green space beyond.  The chance encounters and easy interactions created by removing a barrier have generated a lovely sense of community.

Why do garages all have to be individual and accessed by separate drives?

This requirement for privacy and ownership by the British public creates the unattractive sea of tarmac we see in most new-build housing schemes today. But it needn’t be like this. The open and shared garages at this housing scheme, offer opportunities for people to get to know each other, to strengthen the community, something we know reduces crime and improves happiness and wellbeing. It also provides more efficient use of space, something badly needed with our growing population.

challenging British perceptions of Home

Gillard Associates’ Great House Farm

The front garden is the garden

Outdoor space is often considered secondary to the indoor space of the “home”, and many modern forms of housing do not have the option of a garden, especially in urban environments.  Mole Architects’ Broadland houses in Fulmodeston only have front gardens, with little “sentinel” bike sheds acting as gatehouses facing the street.  Bringing the main outdoor space to the front of the house is a simple and subtle way of not only respecting traditional local house layouts, but also challenging any distrust or reclusiveness that could damage the social aspects of the scheme.

contemporary vernacular housing

Mole Architects’ Broadland Housing in Fulmodeston

broadland housing gatehouse

Communal green space improves security & combats loneliness

Patel Taylor have used outdoor space in their Courtyard Housing in Barking as a way of overcoming the stigma associated with bungalows, especially for the elderly.  Each house has its own south-facing private courtyard – a small space for the residents to stamp their own identity on and enjoy.  In the centre of the scheme is also a communal green space, visible from the private courtyards and resident’s living rooms.  This combats loneliness and brings a sense of space to an area of quite high density. It also increases security due to easy surveillance opportunities.

patel taylor courtyard housing

Patel Taylor’s Courtyard Housing

Challenging traditional housing form

Faced with the challenge of designing something urban yet homely, Mæ Architects took the concept of the typical semi-detached house and tinkered with it in their housing scheme “The Guts” in Manchester.  To achieve density and room for parking, the houses are turned 90 degrees, spanning the length rather than the width of the plots.  These create the ‘back to back’ terraces seen below, themselves providing not only parking but also roof terraces. Not usually a feature of social housing, the roof terraces add something special, normally only possible for the self-builder. A direct result of thinking outside of the box and challenging British traditions.

Mae The Guts

Mæ Architects’ “The Guts”

No more plastic chimneys please

Our over the top conservatism has sadly created a world where planners require chimneys and developers provide plastic ones, a huge waste of resources and only adding to the superficial nature of new-build box homes that litter the edges of suburbia. We are missing an opportunity to improve well-being. At “the Triangle” in Swindon, Glenn Howells Architects took the instantly familiar typical terraced house and gave it a huge eco-upgrade.  The chimneys are used to reduce overheating and provide fresh air using the chimney for passive stack ventilation (where heat rises and causes the air to circulate). There is no doubt that real chimneys (not plastic) do improve the appearance of homes, particularly terraces, but it is daft to include them purely for aesthetic reasons. The Triangle scheme offers the benefits aesthetics and improved health. One of the residents interviewed for Clare’s book said that his asthma had almost disappeared living in a fresh air environment.

In addition, a low-impact, high-performance building fabric (Tradical Hemcrete® and lime render), combined with enlarged windows and ceiling heights, has produced a recipe for terraces with a “classic” appearance and a high level of comfort and satisfaction.  Outdoor space is again a major factor in the success of the scheme.  The landscaping strategy by Studio Engleback includes sustainable drainage, water harvesting and food production, raising the value of the housing both financial and social terms.

The Triangle Glenn Howells

Glenn Howells Architects’ “The Triangle”

All these schemes have used familiar representations of “home” as their starting points, but reinterpreted them through a contemporary lens.  This is the essence of Contemporary Vernacular architecture, and something the team at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd hope to see much more of in the future!