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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.