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Marmalade Festival 2018: Alternative Housing Solutions for Oxford

This week we were at Marmalade engaging in all things housing, as the Festival explored this year’s theme on ‘place-based approaches to social change’.

Marmalade is a more informal, open-access, fringe event to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Both Oxford based, they run parallel to each other every year. What is great about Marmalade is that it is powered by it’s participants and engaged with by members of the local community (and wider) who are focussed on tackling social and environmental challenges.

Speaking about Co-housing examples at Community Led Housing Event

Transition by Design invited our director, Clare Nash, to speak about co-housing at their event on community-led housing on Wednesday 11th April. A few of the team have attended Marmalade events in previous years so it was great for Clare Nash Architecture to get involved this time too! In order to explain co-housing, Clare spoke about some project examples in her book ‘Contemporary Vernacular Design- How British Housing can Rediscover it’s Soul’; Sieben Linden, Germany and Copper Lane, London. A couple of key elements were; sharing of resources, higher quality housing and reduced loneliness.

Clare Nash speaking about ‘co-housing’ at Marmalade

Alternative Housing Models in Oxford

The event was intended for housing providers on the delivery of alternative housing models in Oxford. The two-hour session started off by discussing and identifying current barriers and challenges that housing providers face when thinking outside the box for housing typology. Following this, the conversation developed in smaller groups under the guidance of experts in the fields of planning, land, construction and custom-splitting; to think about any opportunities and ways we can work together to overcome some of these barriers. The workshop was quite fast-paced but with such varied experience in the room, it really got us thinking about more aspects to community-led housing than just the design of it.

Tricky problems – finance and land…

It was clear that a major sticking point when it comes to delivery of community-led housing is finance- we need a profession mindset shift here to make required financing more accessible. Also, thinking about this in the urban context of Oxford, another tricky element is land. The majority of Clare Nash Architecture’s projects are rural, so we do not usually have problems with people actually finding land. However, we do experience the challenges surrounding the viability of land for development etc. and these can be frustrating and cause project delays- not something we or our clients want to go through!

Clare and I really enjoyed discussing topics we believe will support more sustainable, affordable housing that will respond to the current quality of housing and it was a great opportunity to do so with other people who are passionate about making a difference!

More Marmalade events – Co-living and Co-housing

On day three of Marmalade, I attended Art Earth Tech’s workshop on ‘co-living’ where I learnt more about the differences behind terms like ‘co-housing’, ‘co-living’ etc. In brief, they explained co-living to be sharing your main living spaces e.g. kitchen, living, washing with smaller private areas; while co-housing is more about having your own private home with private amenities whilst still having some shared resources and spaces. Co-living isn’t a crazy new idea…many of us do it/have done it at university or in shared housing such as Housing of Multiple Occupation (HMO). However, in Oxford, these can often be of poor quality with little attention paid to the environmental benefits of shared living or integrating the community/residents into the design, maintenance or general running of the dwelling(s).

Penny, Tom and Naima from Art Earth Tech shared interesting information on their project including statistics on household environmental impact- some of which were astounding. Did you know that the average household produces 26 tons of waste greenhouse gases per year? To offset that in CO2 equivalent terms, we would need to plant 150 trees with a lifespan of 100 years each…that is a lot of trees!

In teams we spent an hour developing our ideal urban co-living community with each of the four groups coming up with something different including; a transition community of 100 young professionals living on their own for the first time, retrofitting an existing building for multi-generational residents under the cooperative or community land trust model for rent and a highbred co-housing, co-living self-sustaining community. The fact that every table came up with a different project just goes to show the opportunity for more types of housing like this and the varied social groups it could benefit.

Co-living design workshop at Marmalade

This was another fun session to get our thinking caps on and think both creatively and strategically about what a co-living community is, could be and make actionable and sustainable in an urban environment. I particularly enjoyed engaging with the variety of experience in the room which varied from super clued up on this topic to a new and tentative interest; in addition to meeting people with a shared interest in more sustainable, community orientated housing.

The rest of the festival was packed full of other ways to approach social and environmental change including; food waste, local volunteering and one planet living. Overall Marmalade was great and we are excited to continue the conversation on alternative housing models in Oxford (and wider), so that housing can be more sustainable. Sustainable in terms of affordability, energy efficiency and shared values, while simultaneously more communal with the residents and local community integral to the design process and ongoing maintenance of the residence.

Check out our other blogs on co-housing here: http://clarenasharchitecture.co.uk/portfolio/inspiring-housing-design-blogs/

Pastiche Free Zone

Contemporary Vernacular Architecture should never be about ‘Pastiche’, here’s why…

Pastiche free zone - Mole Architects

Above: Broadland Housing by Mole Architects

What is Pastiche?

There is much stigma around the term, but what exactly does ‘Pastiche’ mean? To put it simply, pastiche in Architecture refers to the imitation of style or character of other buildings. The term is not negative however it often has negative connotations, with the belief that the use of ‘pastiche’ within architecture produces unauthentic reproductions of the past.

Why do housebuilders use ‘Pastiche’?

There is something comforting about old things, this goes with old buildings too – it is a common fact that people like historic buildings. They have some sort of warmth about them (even if they can be very cold!), a sense of mystery and unknown, provoking us to use our imagination to conceive what was, how it was used and how it was built. Form, details, and embellishment presented within the architecture convey care and skill, speaking of another time and telling stories which teach us about our history, cultivating pride in our past and heritage. The problem is that:

 

British volume housebuilders offer their own warped version, at scale, arguing that we all like the ‘traditional’. But this is wrong…. We all like vernacular architecture because it speaks to us of our home, of our place or our people. But the same brick box applied numerous times whether you are in Norfolk or Devon has nothing to do with ‘traditional’. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

Not only this, but architects in Holland (FARO architekten) initiated a taste test to establish what people want from housing design:

 

The ‘Smaaktest’ 6 (taste test) …. discovered that both architects and ordinary people agreed that this new third way [Contemporary Vernacular Architecture] was better than a pastiche of the past or the complete disassociation found in Modernist design. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

Why housing design should learn from but not imitate the past

We can’t recreate the past

All these wonderful things about historic buildings however, cannot be authentically reproduced. We cannot truly recreate or replicate what has already been done, and attempts to do so can often end up as untruthful and unconvincing imitations of the past leading to a superficial echoing of historic character.

 

Contemporary architecture can learn from vernacular principles without resorting to pastiche, creating high-quality buildings that ‘fit’ in the same way that vernacular architecture does but reflecting a very different time. (quote from Clare’s book)

 

HHbR Copper Lane cohousing terrace

Above: Copper Lane by HHbR

Originality does not mean outlandish

It is true that it is almost impossible to design something completely unique that has not been done before. However, architecture does not insist on absolute newness or creating a bold statement, it just needs to have a sense of originality. We should always be learning from vernacular and historic architecture, and they should undoubtedly influence our judgement but should not impend our innovation and inspiration for new ideas and design. It is important to consider that one day, the building which we design will be old too, and in the future will represent and speak of our time today.

Lessons from our past

It is quite incredible what our ancestors have accomplished architecturally and we can learn a great deal from them. For many architects, it is hard to imagine a world without CAD, emails or even without a tape measure. Some of our greatest and oldest buildings, were built without any of these.

Clare’s Book

In Clare’s new book, ‘Contemporary Vernacular Design – How British housing can rediscover it’s soul’, she discusses how architecture ‘should learn from the past’, emphasising that successful contemporary vernacular does not use vernacular architecture for aesthetic inspiration only (as these can end up as naïve attempts to replicate originals), but also from the traditions used, whilst keeping in mind that new designs should deal with the kind of homes we need today, which will continue to evolve as our needs and available resources change.

CNA

At CNA we aim to learn from our surroundings and context, from the traditions, history and cultures to the physical environment (important views, materials and building methods used, textures, massing and landscape etc.), preserving our heritage where possible, however adapting designs to evolving ways of life and technologies.

Co-housing series 3: Working Together

Co-housing doesn’t have to mean living in each other’s pockets – it’s about the spirit of co-operation

HHbR Copper Lane cohousing terrace

The communal terrace at HHbR’s Copper Lane co-housing scheme

This is the third part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

A Whole More than the Sum of its Parts

1-6 Copper Lane in London, designed by Henley Halebrown Rorrison, blurs the boundary between co-housing and non-co-housing a little more.  By allowing residents to be flexible about the extent to which they want to share, this scheme is well-adapted to a contemporary urban lifestyle.  Trying to create the feel of a traditional village in the heart of a metropolis like London would not make sense; a housing development that can be occupied in various different ways is a much more suitable solution.

Each home has two front doors: one private entrance and one accessed through the communal hall.  This places control in the residents’ hands and allows them to be as private or public as they want to be in the moment.  If you are feeling sociable, or lonely, you can seek interaction, but if you are having a bad day it isn’t forced upon you.

Copper Lane is an example of neighbourliness, rather than community.  Through cooperation a group of people benefit from lower living costs and higher quality spaces – especially the garden space.  At the same time they are not tied to the site and have the freedom to leave London and settle somewhere else, as many people like to do later in life.  This is a clever and elegant way of reconciling the typical urban “bubble” with co-housing ideals and principles.

HHbR Copper Lane private entrance

A private entrance at Copper Lane

 

Embracing Individuality

Ashley Vale cohousing

Ashley Vale Co-housing

The Yard at Ashley Vale, Bristol, provides a sharp contrast to the Copper Lane scheme.  It ticks multiple boxes for rejecting the conventional developer model of providing housing by being not only co-housing but also self-build.  There is no unifying style of housing, as each self-builder came up with their own design, leading to a cheerful mish-mash of form, colour and materials throughout the site.  The houses are also in different stages of completion, so the overall feeling is organic and natural.  It is plainly evident that those who choose to live here, even those who are not the original self-builders, really care about their environment and where they live.  Having common beliefs, such as those concerning environmental sustainability and sharing economy, does not mean that these residents want to live in duplicates of the same house.  Each home at Ashley Vale is truly an expression of identity and aspiration, a clear antidote to “brick box” developer housing.

Ashley Vale cohousing

A variety of forms and materials at Ashley Vale

Ashley Vale cohousing

 

I take great inspiration from these housing schemes and the people who have realised them.  21st century living does not have to be the prescribed format it often seems to be, and feelings of “home” can be created even in the least conventional of circumstances (with a little help from your friends!).

Co-housing series 2: Sharing Resources

Sharing resources creates both financial and environmental benefits in co-housing

 

White Design LILAC cohousing

White Design’s LILAC scheme

This is the second part of the Co-housing blog series, based on Clare’s book.  Read Part 1 here.

Mutual Home Ownership

This model refers to sharing resources of the financial kind, in that you can afford a better quality home, space and lifestyle than you could as an individual. LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community), designed by White Design, is, like Springhill, a co-housing scheme where many facilities are shared and a close-knit community has been created.  Residents set up a sophisticated Mutual Home Ownership Society (MHOS), into which they each pay a percentage of their net income to pay for a joint mortgage that covers the scheme as a whole.  The MHOS acts as a safety net for lower earners, meaning were their incomes to drop for some reason they would not have to leave the community.

Economic security is just as essential to a feeling of “home” as physical security, and this can be a greatly compelling reason for people to become involved in co-housing projects.

 

Saving Money with Reduced Space Requirements

Lancaster cohousing terraces

Eco Arc’s Lancaster Co-housing terrace arrangement

Co-housing means that residents’ requirements for their own homes are significantly reduced compared to conventional housing.  For example, in the Lancaster Co-housing scheme by Eco Arc shared facilities such as offices and guest bedrooms, and equipment such as washing machines and gardening tools, mean that the individual homes can be much smaller than average.  This is a great way of increasing density, improving thermal performance, and reducing costs.

The housing at Lancaster is arranged in terraces.  This is not only a typology that is popular locally, but also an energy- and space-efficient way of building.  The terraces also sit well within the levels of the landscape, meaning that many of the homes are “upside-down”, with kitchen and living areas upstairs, taking advantage of the spectacular views over the River Lune.  A side-effect of this arrangement is that you cannot tell who is at home as you walk along the level of the front entrances.  I imagine this affords the residents a little privacy and breathing space within such a close community where people are so involved in each other’s lives.

Sharing Equipment

By sharing tools, equipment, clothes, other not-very-often used items, residents not only reduce financial costs, but also their environmental impact (less waste).

Lancaster cohousing shared gardening tools

Shared gardening tools at Lancaster Co-housing

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….

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 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!

A Contemporary Vernacular Housing Development Design

Clare speaking about how vernacular architecture can inspire good quality modern housing design using interesting case studies from her book:

As Clare has spent so much time researching what makes a great housing scheme for her book, the team was excited to have the opportunity to have a go at designing a contemporary vernacular housing scheme ourselves!  Earlier this year Clare Nash Architecture Ltd (CNA) was approached by a developer looking to build eight houses on the site of an old farmyard in Cambridgeshire.  The intention was that young families looking to move out of the city could settle down here.  Although the extent of CNA’s involvement was just to produce a quick sketch scheme, it was a terrific chance to design collaboratively and apply some of the principles of contemporary vernacular design.

contemporary vernacular housing development

Overview of proposal

Daylighting, visibility and privacy

Daylight is top priority for any architect, and in a scheme based around a courtyard such as this one, it is important to make sure that everyone gets their fair share.  Some occupants benefit from south-facing gardens, so in the interest of fairness it is important to be creative with the shape of the other homes so at least part of their gardens benefit from bright sunlight.

The CNA team liked the idea of openable walls, like the Tekapo Shed by C Nott Architects in New Zealand, so that the building can adapt to the weather, and play with the boundary between inside and outside.  We experimented with a few ways of using glazing to maximise natural lighting, yet maintaining a sense of privacy.  We were keen to achieve a “Goldilocks” level of visibility, not so little that residents don’t interact with each other and don’t feel secure, and not so much that they feel encroached upon and under surveillance.

contemporary vernacular housing corner window

Corner window idea

contemporary vernacular housing angled shutters

Angled shutters idea

“Bang for your buck”

Creating value for money is not synonymous with scrimping on the quality of materials and craftsmanship; it can often be a matter of thoughtful and careful design. Embracing the industrial nature of the site and keeping to a tight material palette is a good way of creating a striking aesthetic, yet at the same time keeping costs down.  Another feature that increases the appeal and value of the proposal is that each house is unique in some way, yet they all have a coherent identity and it is clear they belong to the same scheme.  This affords each house a sense of individuality, allows future occupants a choice of features in their homes, and enhances the character of the development, making it stand out from the rows of “cookie cutter” houses we have become used to seeing.

contemporary vernacular housing sketch plan

Each house would have a feature that makes it unique

Material palette

Identity and character are ways in which a neighbourhood defines itself within its context, and also how it can set itself apart and be distinctive. Brick, dark timber, and clay tiles are traditional, inexpensive materials used a lot in this part of the world.  They are also easy to reclaim and reuse, and to update for use with a more contemporary aesthetic.  This simple material palette set out our intentions for the scheme: a friendly, familiar character that offers the benefits of a modern lifestyle in a rural setting.

contemporary vernacular housing green courtyard sketch

View into the internal courtyard space

Access and movement around the site

How people move around a housing scheme is a crucial design element.  This is one of the greatest contributing factors to the sense of community within the scheme, as circulation dictates how people interact with one another.  The scheme is based around a central green courtyard, which is distinctly public.  Trees ensure that houses facing each other do not directly overlook each other, and shade the shared space below.  This courtyard is a pedestrian area, although there is room for cars to drive up to the house entrances if this is necessary, cars would usually be parked in garages close to the site entrance.  The houses each have their own private back gardens, and these can be accessed through alleyways leading off the main square, signalling the transition between public and private outdoor space.

housing scheme sketch alleyway

Central alleyways idea

housing scheme sketch alleyway

Possibility of live/work

The dream of settling down in the countryside becomes dampened somewhat if you still have to commute to the city to work.  The possibility of working remotely has meant that “non-office” ways of working are becoming more usual (just as we do at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd!).  The housing scheme we proposed offers offices along with the houses to create a live/work scenario, in anticipation of the lifestyle that suits young families today.

open garages with offices above

Garages with space for offices above

“Sense of place”

The notion of “sense of place” is a key theme running through Clare’s book and was a key factor for her in choosing case studies.  Although it can be difficult to define, a strong sense of place is the result of a strong identity, relationship to surroundings, and ultimately the behaviour of a place’s inhabitants.  An absence of this sense leads to an eerie, quite uncomfortable feeling – the opposite of “home”.  At the end of the day, it is people and communities who create a “sense of place”, but this does not absolve architecture and design of responsibility for this!  Working on even short projects such as this, and helping to research the case studies in Clare’s book, has brought home how even the smallest of design decisions can have a huge impact on how people behave, and their mental wellbeing.