Mole Architecture – Passivhaus standard housing association homes in Norfolk
Contemporary vernacular housing schemes visited recently
Since the previous post on inspiring housing schemes
I have visited several more schemes. I find the visits very useful for my own projects as well as being inspiring schemes for my book
. All of the schemes are pioneering in various ways, which means they are testing new technologies, materials and methods of design. They are then real life examples of how well these new ideas work in practice. By interviewing the residents and architects I can find out what really worked and what didn’t. Recently I have visited a German straw bale co-housing development (all self built), an interesting housing scheme in central Paris, two certified passivhaus schemes in Norfolk which use local materials, a co-housing scheme near the lake district and another community oriented scheme in Wales complete with a green biodiverse roof.
This is a community self-build village in northern Germany. The majority of buildings are built using straw bales. They have managed to change German building regulations in favour of straw bale buildings. The people who live in this community also sign up to sharing duties such as vegetable growing, media and cooking. So in this way it has a lot in common with the co-housing schemes in this country such as Lancaster (see below).
This is a small development not far from the Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris. As with all of Edouard François’ work, the emphasis is on landscape and incorporating (even engulfing) buildings within it. Several tonnes of organic soil were added to the area to ensure the vines that have quickly covered the balconies grow strong and fast. The theme continues with greenhouse style bike sheds at each end of the development. There is much reference to context in terms of materials, even producing more local style housing to the edges of the development to ensure it fits in. It is somehow very French and very Parisian. Sadly as I visited in March, the leaves were not yet showing on the vines.
This is a housing association project in the small village of Burnham Overy Staithe in north Norfolk. Like many in this area of Norfolk, the village is 75% second home ownership and it was therefore important to ensure that local people could still afford to live there. The project manages to combine a very vernacular appearance of flint and brick with very high energy efficiency meeting Passivhaus standards. The design takes inspiration from local fishermen’s cottages and the housing sits very well in its surroundings. The tenants are also pleased to live in something that is of such high quality and does not look like social housing. The project has won many awards.
Mole Architects homes (on the right) ‘roofs across fields’
This is another housing association project in north Norfolk, that also meets Passivhaus standards. It sits on the edge of Fulmodeston, surrounded by fields. By drawing on local barn like forms and materials, the new housing is modern while retaining a regional identity. I was enthused to hear how the non-architect residents understood and liked this aesthetic as well. There are low fences between the gardens to encourage interaction and to create the feeling of ‘barns in the landscape’ rather than domestic closed board fence suburbia. A lovely thing about Norfolk is how the rows of houses peep out over the fields. Or, as Matt Wood of Ruralise calls it, ‘Roofs Across Fields’. A distinctive feature in the flat lands of Norfolk.
This will appear in my book because building co-operatively is a vernacular way of building. It is also a Passivhaus which is also a vernacular way of building as (in Elrond Burrell’s blog on the subject, it is responding to the climate we have today with the materials available locally. It is interesting to discover how well the buildings have turned out, how much the occupants love them and how all the technology has worked as designed. This is down to a lengthy design process, with much input at an early stage from the residents and the design team. Many developers are in a rush to produce housing and as their end user is unknown they do not take this time to get it right. The difference in the end product is obvious.
This development on the outskirts of Cardiff is set in an old farm yard. One of the existing outbuildings has been renovated and on the opposite side of the yard is the green turfed roof of 6 new-build dwellings, all achieving better than Sustainable Code for Homes Level 4 (when it still existed). This is a very unusual scheme for Cardiff and sits well in it’s context of an old farmyard (and thankfully looks entirely different from the suburbia on the other side). Open ended gardens and open garages ensure easy interaction between residents and I witnessed a lovely community unusual for such a recent development. The fabric first approach (high levels of insulation and reduced thermal bridging) combined with the MVHR and heat pumps ensure fresh air and an even temperature all year round.
Beautifully crafted timber buildings that sit against a mountain backdrop. This region is famous for progressive modern architecture with a regional identity. The buildings offer a wonderful indoor atmosphere due to the breathable timber construction and in the social housing, also due to the MVHR which ensures warm fresh air circulates continuously. Vorarlberg has a long history of high quality craftsmanship, the future of which looks sadly to be heading into decline. The pressure on young people to go to university and the reduction in fees in Austria, mean that less and less people are training in craft. I visited a ‘mehrfamilienhaus’ (a single built form divided into homes or flats). In this case it is was built by 2 brothers and the third brother took one of the flats in the second half of the building. This often happens due to land being passed down through families, who each want to build their own house on the land. I also visited a three-storey social housing project built using timber frame and larch cladding. The quality of the materials, the space, the views and the detailing were fabulous. As was the thermal efficiency and indoor fresh air climate created by the MVHR system. Social housing or not, I would bend over backwards to live in housing as high quality as this.
October 12, 2015
At the RIBA Role Models launch event at Portland Place, London, June 2015
Why an RIBA Role Model?
I became interested in becoming an RIBA role model for two reasons. One, because I am a female architect and I have noticed for some years that there are very few of us! And two, because I studied Part 2 part time, a route that is not well publicised but makes studying architecture more feasible and less daunting financially.
Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile
The only female architect in the office
I was fortunate to work in a roughly 50/50 male/female office for 5 years (after previously working for a practice of 14 staff where the only other female was the receptionist) and really enjoyed having female senior architects to look up to. Previously all my architectural role models were male (and most still are). There is nothing wrong with that. I have received a lot of support from everyone in the industry whether male or female. To me, it is a wonderful place to be, full of highly intelligent creative, witty people. But when you are sat in a boardroom with 10 other men, all of them at least 10 years your senior, but you are the architect and expected to chair the meeting, it is rather nice to have support from a female colleague who understands what that is like. Women, even those with high intelligence, lots of qualifications and experience, suffer from imposter syndrome (when you wonder when people might find out that you don’t really know what you are doing!). They talk themselves down, where men would usually talk themselves up. This can lead to higher stress levels and high levels of conscientiousness. The first one is unhelpful but can be relieved from feeling you are not alone, the latter one is a highly valued skill in any employee.
None of this of course, has prevented me from being an architect and starting my own practice. I am passionate about architecture and can’t imagine doing anything else. This is what has got me through, but also I have been very fortunate in the quality of experience I have had. I have never experienced sexism directly, but unfortunately know of many others who have.
While writing my book I have had the privilege of meeting some of my architect heroes which has been fabulous, but perhaps disappointing that more couldn’t have been female heroes on my bucket list.
Why do women drop out of architecture school?
I also have the privilege of teaching technology to architecture BA students. At BA level there are roughly 50% female students, this drops off to 20-30% at Part 2 level and even less qualify at Part 3. It made me think that something is happening in that year out that is putting off female students, but not male ones. I hope by being a role model I can encourage more female students to continue to pursue architecture which is a wonderful career.
Architecture has to be long hours and inflexible?
Architecture is famous for long hours and inflexible working patterns. However I have been fortunate to see another side to that. While working at a large practice and studying for Part 2, I worked 3 days in the office term time and 5 in the holidays. I was running 3 jobs on site, the experience of which fed into my course (technology was no bother whatsoever). It was usual for me to check emails when at university and if there was anything urgent from the builder, I could ring the office to send things for me. It made me realise that flexible working was possible in architecture. I was also famous in the office for leaving on time. It was rare for me to work late unless there was a very important deadline. I was concerned this would make me appear uncommitted. But I knew that my life outside of architecture (triathlon, gardening, gigs) left me refreshed for the following day. Because I wanted my life so much, I was very efficient in the day times to ensure I could have both – architecture and a life.
It is now part of my practice culture that people work flexibly for me. In the winter I enjoy a run or a trip to the allotment in the afternoon in daylight and work in the dark evenings to catch up. Why shouldn’t my employees also be able to do this?
Part 2 Part Time
As I have mentioned above, studying part time gave me the opportunity to gain really valuable experience while studying. I studied for an extra year (Part 2 is 3 or 4 years studied part time, I chose 3), but I went straight through to Part 3 as I already had enough experience, so it actually saved me a year of practical experience. It also meant that when I lost my job in the recession, I had enough experience to set up my own practice, something that would not have been possible for me, had I studied Part 2 full time. Because I worked full time in the university holidays, my salary was enough that I could pay all of my living expenses and pay my own university fees. University fees are much cheaper when you study part time, even taking into account the cost of the extra year. I therefore only have a small student loan from when I studied my BA full time. This may not be the right route for everyone but at least if more people know about it, they have a choice and at least financial reasons should not put them off architecture.
Here is a link to my RIBA Role Model Profile
August 2, 2015
Barns Permitted Development
RIBA news shows Barns Permitted Development guidance for conversion to dwellings has had further clarification on what exactly is ‘undesirable’. Previously, this was undefined giving councils the right to refuse all kinds of applications because it found the proposed development ‘undesirable’. I have not found this to be a problem so far with any councils that I have worked with. But the need for this clarification shows that some councils are not of the view that barns should be converted to homes. However, one South Northants council officer did say to me “It seems the government wants barns to be converted into dwellings”, so perhaps more councils will be taking this viewpoint in future. It does also seem that overall, it is looking favourable for barn conversions to dwellings for the foreseeable future. The government has taken the time to produce this guidance, which it wouldn’t have done if this was a short term trial. However what happens following the election is as always, unpredictable.
For more on Barn Permitted Development see the following blog posts:
A recent barn conversion to dwelling project that received planning permission see here
If you would like to know more about the change in law for permitted development barn conversion to dwellings, then please see my blog here
March 20, 2015
The training that leads to becoming an architect
As many of you will know, I have experienced a huge surge in workload over the last year. Because of this I have employed an architectural assistant, Lucy Holland. She is working on a variety of architectural tasks with me from Pinterest to building control drawings, all in a days work at a small architectural practice! I thought you may be interested in the the training that leads to becoming an architect and the sort of useful experience Lucy has gained before working with me.
Lucy Holland on one of many architectural projects she has worked on
I am in my final year of Masters in Architecture at Oxford Brookes University (Part 2) and have previously had a range of practice experience in North Devon, Bristol, London and Rome. I have worked on residential, education and healthcare buildings and enjoy the challenge of creating bespoke projects for individual clients.
I grew up on a working farm, which has helped with my knowledge of rural buildings and I am used to surveying and creating proposals for listed houses and agricultural buildings. In my first year of masters I specialised in vernacular architecture and regeneration, which helped my knowledge of adaptive reuse of existing buildings.
Working in Rome was a great experience that helped me to learn Italian and gave me the opportunity to work on beautiful Agritourism projects that re-appropriated farm buildings into new diversified uses.
Working in London gave me a great insight into working on large-scale high-rise residential projects and how to effectively use space on restricted sites.
Outside of studies and work I enjoy playing netball, keeping active and travelling whenever possible!
March 5, 2015
25th January 2015
A little bird told me recently (having attended a high up planning meeting) that the general feeling is that the new permitted development law that came in for barn conversions to dwellings in March 2014 may go out with a change of government. So it would be a good idea if you are thinking of converting a barn into a dwelling to get planning permission in the next few months. However you may not wish to start work in the near future due to other commitments, organising funding etc. But once you have planning permission you could do a small amount of work (this could just be some foundations or repairing stonework) which will secure the planning permission indefinitely. You can then carry on with the rest of the work at a later stage. Do be aware that any building work will need to be signed off by building control and leaving it too long (not signed off) may mean having to redo this work as the regulations may have changed.
If you would like to know more about the change in law for permitted development barn conversion to dwellings, then please see my blog here
My free barn conversions guide may also be of interest: Free Advice
January 25, 2015
Lovely windows set in to a local larch shingled facade
Over the past few months I have visited four inspiring housing schemes in Europe. I had hoped to find the time to write about all of these inspiring housing schemes individually that I have visited for my book recently, but here is a quick summary:
Saegezahn timber eco home
Useful dry open, space with slatted doors for ventilation
I visited Lake Constance area in September to look at several houses designed by the architect Alexander Ilg of Saegezahn (means Saw Tooth). He trained as a carpenter and became a master craftsman before becoming an architect. He specialises in highly crafted timber structure and timber clad buildings with breathable walls and all materials sourced locally. To ensure the Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery system works perfectly he installs it himself. MVHR ensures fresh warm air in the house at all times of day, this coupled with the breathable timber walls that regulate humidity, creates a very healthy environment. The homes I visited all represent a local contemporary vernacular (albeit that they are sat amongst catalogue homes). The residents were all over the moon with their homes.
High level landscaping for wheelchair users
I then travelled to Sweden to visit a care home facility with a difference. Designed by Kjellgren Kaminsky Architects, these homes are designed as a set of 6 to house disabled people who want to live independent lives. They were keen that their homes fitted in with the vernacular wooden and brick houses around them and that it did not shriek institution. The materials of dark brick and metal roof fit in really well with the surroundings and the quality of the spaces inside was superb. They really had thought of everything that a disabled person needs while still providing a very homely atmosphere inside. I know how difficult this is to achieve having worked on healthcare projects myself.
The materials and form sits well with the surrounding Swedish timber homes and woodland
These two homes sit well in the village context, you could not be sure they hadn’t been there for years
The materials and forms represent a white farmhouse and barn vernacular
In October I travelled to the Isle of Skye and nearby Plockton. My main reason for visiting was to look at a housing scheme in Plockton by Rural Design based on the typical white farmhouse and barn vernacular of the region. This worked very well and created a very positive entrance to Plockton. The positioning of the homes was really well thought out, as were the materials used. Another smaller scheme by the same architect in Plockton itself, blends so well, that you could walk by and not know it hadn’t been there for years. Again the residents were very pleased with the quality of space and light. One resident didn’t even turn her heating on in the winter! While in the area I couldn’t resist visiting Neil and Mary at Dualchas architects and also one of the homes designed by the project architect Daniel Bär (recently moved to their Glasgow office) called Cliff House. Dualchas place real emphasis on designing buildings of the place, creating modest simple buildings that provide surprising amounts of space and light inside and using materials that represent a modern vernacular. The appearance of these two architecture practices on the island 15 years ago has really lifted the quality of house building. It is not that people did not want this kind of quality before, it is just that they didn’t know they could have it. Now they can.
Dualchas Architects – Cliff House. The house sits low into the landscape, not disturbing any views
Dualchas – Cliff House materials fit well into the landscape
Dualchas Cliff House – fab view!
Narrow streets to slow traffic and create a village feel
In Holland in November I visited a large housing scheme of nearly 500 houses, part of a completely new development of some 11,000 homes. I interviewed Faro Architekten who oversaw the design and implementation of the scheme. The emphasis was on creating a rural atmosphere and this has been achieved by incorporating the typical Dutch Polder landscape (fields split by canals and foot bridges) into the housing. They were keen not to create another housing area dominated by one architectural design. Instead narrow streets and randomly placed housing designs give the area a village feel. The narrow streets have another advantage of slowing traffic and increasing visibility by making parking impossible. This means that children can play safely in the streets. Car parking is achieved by small car parks for 20 cars dotted around. Not one of the residents I interviewed complained about any parking difficulties (unlike new housing schemes in Britain). The build is also of very high quality with beautiful brickwork and very thickly insulated walls.
Faro Architekten, Biesland Housing – Typical Dutch Polder landscape
Faro Architekten Biesland Housing – Open spaces in the development create a rural atmosphere
I still have many more housing schemes to visit though most of these will be in the UK. It has been a very inspiring time for me so far and I enjoy putting these new ideas into my work and teaching.
December 21, 2014
There have now been eleven areas identified by councils for self build and custom build sites these are listed on the governments website here
If you are interested in a self-build or custom-build plot here is your chance to respond to the consultation. The Consultation closes on 18th December 2014 so place your responses here
For more information on the right to build and what Cherwell District Council are planning have a look at my previous post here
December 7, 2014
The Green Build Home Improvement Fund is back this Wednesday 10.11.14! Save lots of money on insulation and other energy efficiency improvements for your home. For more details on how to apply see here
December 7, 2014
The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (HIF) will return at the end of this month (November 2014) providing a further £100m of subsidies for householders wanting to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Sadly the initial £120m fund was used up very quickly (see my previous post about this) and many homeowners lost out. But it is good it is returning and on the previous scheme homeowners were entitled to claim up to £7600 on energy efficiency measures such as insulation, but we will have to wait and see what the new system offers. Here is a link to my post about what was previously offered. I will keep you posted with any new developments!
Here is a link to the Telegraph article on the subject.
November 15, 2014
The right to self-build is very political at present. Nick Boles is putting council’s under pressure to provide self build land for people who need to and want to build their own homes. In a quote from the Guardian newspaper:
So far, 60 councils across the UK have made 5,000 serviced plots available for people wanting to build their own homes.
This is good news for people frustrated with the lack of decent housing but unable to afford a plot of land. It is an antidote to the dominance of large housing developers in this country, if this has an effect it will be really nice to see pockets of interesting housing developments in the UK that will surely offer something better than identikit red brick. A really good example of where this has worked well is at Ashley Vale in Bristol (picture above and blog post here)
A local council to me, Cherwell District Council has also recently bought an old ministry of defence site, just south of Bicester which will be sold as self-build plots. How much you self-build will be up to you. You can have a serviced plot or the shell will be built for you. If you are interested further information on self build, Cherwell District Council is available here.
September 16, 2014