FIRST LOOK: Glenn Howells’ Triangle for Kevin McCloud

I returned to Swindon last week to see how Kevin McCloud’s Triangle project, 42 units of CSH4 affordable housing, is shaping up. The first residents, most participants in a rent-to-buy scheme, have now moved in. I’ve had high hopes for this project since I saw the earliest CGIs and it’s looking very promising. The reality is remarkably close to those early renderings.

An extraordinary amount of attention has been lavished on every design detail both inside the units and in the public realm, and it shows. Located amidst railway cottages in the back streets of Swindon not far from the rail station, the terraces’ muted colours take their cue from nearby houses. A modern take on the chimney disguises an MHRV unit and gabion walls (preferred to rendered surfaces because they provide crevices for biodiversity) enclose the bin stores and are just high enough to screen the roofs of cars as you look down the terrace.

The roof is a mix of stock clay tiles in three different finishes, laid at random by the roofers. Careful attention to the exact dimensions and finish of the rain water pipes defines the party walls.

The triangular ‘common’ at the centre of the project will be key to its success. The public realm will be owned and maintained by a community development trust in which every resident has a part, and the hope is that this will encourage residents to actively look after it. At the apexes of the Triangle, are allotments - and a carpark;  no onstreet parking is permitted in the central space.

McCloud says delivering low carbon housing is easy: ‘It is easy to build an eco house. What is really hard is to convince people to change their lives and live more sustainably. That is partly down to the design of the building and the use of technologies such as mechanical ventilation which we have here or heat recovery, or air source heat pumps or low flow taps, all of which are pretty standard now. We’ve got two strategies: technology and landscape. If you want to do a car club and get people to walk more, cycle, use cars less, use the buses more, if you want people to grow vegetables and learn from each other, become more social, stay in a place and get to know their neighbours and feel happier, than all of that happens outside the front door and outside the back door. It is dependent on your spatial strategy and your masterplanning and the way you deal with landscape and public realm.’


TECHNOLOGY:

Each unit is equipped with a closed project intranet which will have real time information on bus schedules, seasonal gardening tasks (and recipes), and other community announcements.You might even use it to ask a neighbour for Calpol at 3 am. McCloud cites research that shows that you need to bring people the relevant information; they won’t necessarily go looking for it.

PUBLIC REALM:

Granite kerbs define the front gardens and frame the permeable paving of the parking spaces.

Espaliered fruit trees define the front walks. Tunbridge Wells-based landscape architects Studio Engleback are producing a residents’ manual, ‘How to look after what you’ve got,’ which will include gardening tips.

Jane Jacobs would approve: every kitchen window overlooks the central space.

The landscape architects are offering residents seeds to plant in front of their kitchen windows.

Two cycle racks mark every front door.

Simple details and wool carpets

Cork floors

Dropped window cills in the bedrooms

Tripled glazed door and window units

Ground level louvres provide controllable secure ventilation. The house can be fully ventilated by opening a hatch within the chimney. Operated by a switch on the landing,  it draws fresh air up through the whole house.

In the winter, the heating is overridden when the hatch is opened; to limit waste heat.  Filtered and tempered fresh air exchange is provided by the MVHR unit in the loft.

Only when I downloaded all my photos did I realise that I didn’t have a single one of the main ground floor living space - it was full of people and an organic lunch spread, though surprisingly comfortable even with forty people crowded about. As soon as the public realm is complete for decent photography, I’ll be writing about more about The Triangle in the AJ.  There is much much more to say. I am hopeful that the elegant simplicity of this project, in the best Habraken tradition, provides a ’support’ which residents will inhabit as they will.

Much of what is particularly remarkable you can’t actually see - the green infrastructure of the public realm. All this has been delivered for £100/square foot, in line with standard affordable housing budgets. That doesn’t account for the many extra hours put in by every member of the project team, but that should have its payback as Hab Oakus currently has five live projects in the pipeline.

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32 Responses to “FIRST LOOK: Glenn Howells’ Triangle for Kevin McCloud”

  1. Brilliant article !! Nice to see a social housing project that embraces new design and doesn’t try to create a pastiche of local vernacular architecture or fall back on past housing projects.

  2. This project is not surrounded by railway cottages but was built in the heart of an established residential area. It has blighted the houses of three roads which back onto this estate. Where there was once a garden nursery surrounded by trees they now have these monstrosities looking right into their bedrooms. I don’t see you showiing that in your images!

  3. I take on board C Sorrensen comment. Was the development part of a move toward sustainable integrated urban development? From the comment, is this a case of taking away from, not adding to and missing the opportunity of making the overall urban environment sustainable.

    I know there can be a ‘not in backyard’ attitude to development and some want no development. Or is it a case that the local authority has the attitude of we know what is best for you?

    Was there proper consultation when the proposed development was put forward? Was this a case of profit before people and did the existing local community engage in the process and express their desires? Like all those developments giving themselves a green tag, it is what will be said about it in 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 years. Will it stand the test of time?

    If you have one dissenter now, how many will there be in the future?

    My motto is - Sustainability is all about people.

    Ian Cleland
    Urban Integration Working Group

  4. I live locally and have watched closely as these houses have been built. Firstly, I am amazed at how this development ever received planning permission. 42 houses crammed into a small area, built in a style that is totally out of keeping with the neighbouring area (1930’s bay windowed houses) and with the majority of the footprint being hard landscaped. This is a problem as the area floods in the Winter. All I can think is that the “kudos” of having a Kevin McLeod development in Swindon was too big an attraction not to turn down. The council have a long history of poor planning decisions within Swindon!

    The standard of construction is poor. There is a huge crack across the back wall of the houses on the southern edge which we have seen has just been filled in. Many of the windows dont fit properly and there are gaps in the gable ends.

    And apart from all that, these houses are just plain ugly. A blot on the landscape and if my house backed on to this development (which thankfully it doesnt), I would be furious.

  5. This ‘carbuncle on the landscape’ is most definitely not amongst railway cottages - all surrounding properties are red brick terraced and semi detatched houses. This is not a case of ‘not in my backyard’ and a case of the Council thinking it knows what is best and then taking no notice of the inconvenience and complaints raised by local people. The council and Kevin Macleod do not care about the problems that are being caused now and most certainly won’t after this site is completed and they all move on to their next ‘life wrecking’ development they will care even less!

    Having seen the way these houses have been put up, it is the last place I would want to live even if the houses were given free! Just another excuse for a council estate - lets see how eco-friendly this is in a couple of years time!

  6. I fail completely to understand, let alone concur with the negative posts attached to this article. The design of the houses and the whole ethos of community is something that can only be a good thing. To be perfectly frank, the houses around this area are old and not particularly attractive. This project, if anything, has brought colour, community, diversity, environmental ethics and a breath of fresh air to the whole area.
    If every house builder and every resident adopted this new approach to new housing developments, the world would be a better place. To finish, to state that you wouldn’t live in a house on this development is a great comment. It highlights the type of person that would not be welcome among the residents of the community. So much negativity. If the dissenters were to look around the houses and take in the spirit of the community, they would definitively feel a bit of jealousy.

  7. I am writing this looking at workmen building what looks like a patio on the top of the coach house. If this is, as rumoured, a communal roof top garden, anyone using this will be able to look into gardens and homes of Surrey Road and Ferndale Road and there would undoubtedly be noise. If this is part of community living, what about the existing community ?

  8. I live on this development, and I find it quite insulting when people call it a ‘Council Estate’. If they read into the details, they will find that the houses are to assist young people like myself and my fiance get onto the property ladder. I am sorry if they are ‘ugly’ but I love the 2 bed we are in. I cannot afford the high deposit required to buy a house so we are on a rent to home buy scheme.
    I would also like to ask the people in the ‘non-council estate’ house surrounding our properties to refrain from throwing nappies over the fences and putting them in the drains. Also loud music through out the night and yapping dogs doesn’t affect us as the windows and doors are triple glazed. We cannot hear it, HAHA!!

  9. In reply to Russell’s comments on 3rd August;

    I would much rather live in my 1930s house than one of these “modern” houses. Mine has been here for nearly 80 years and still looks good. I am willing to wager, if I were still alive to see it, that the McLeod development will be knocked down in 80 years time because it would be deemed a slum.

    And, thank you, I like to think that I am environmentally aware and I dont need to live in a house made of ticky tacky to prove it.

  10. I live in one of these homes. I would like to say that I love my new home. I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given to have a brand new house and to participate in the communal garden and the community as a whole. It is a shame that the residents of the properties around us cannot give the people of the estate a chance. It is not our fault these houses were built so why take it out on us. The roof garden mentioned is for the resident of the top floor flat only not a communal garden. Instead of throwing rubbish over the fences, letting your dogs bark all night, having loud parties, blocking the entrance with your cars, vans etc and shouting at us when we are trying to get in and out of the site, try acting like human beings and accepting us as new members of the wider community.

  11. I wonder why when I contacted Greensquare housing, after receiving a letter offering me the opportunity to buy one of these ‘wonderful’ houses, I was told that I had received it because and I quote ‘You must be on the Council waiting list’. This gives the impression that many homes on the Triangle site are for council occupancy and that Greensquare wasted a lot of their time writing to people who already own their own home.

    At least the new residents were given the option of living in a house that was overlooked by those around them. The existing residents did not have that option and are now subjected to being overlooked by houses that are built a good 18 inches higher than theirs and devalue their properties. We also have to put with all night lighting from the Triangle which light up the rear rooms of our properties making sleeping in them near impossible. On the upside our electricity bills should be a lot lower.

    Although these houses were built as being eco-friendly the light pollution has increased ten fold. It may be that the dogs in surrounding roads wouldn’t bark at night if people on the Triangle were not moving in at such late hours!

    Could it also be that a rogue van that parks illegally on the grass verge of Northern Road is owned by a Triangle resident as it has only appeared since this site was inhabited? Perhaps if things like this could be addressed it might help with local resident relations?

  12. In regards to Russell Byroms comments 3rd August regarding the old and unattractive houses in the surrounding area. I would love to fast forward 75 years and then take a look at the communal areas of the new site. Based on the other low cost areas of Swindon I will see over grown grass, rubbish and old mattresses in the communal areas, that’s if the houses are still standing! The 1930’s houses are beautiful and stylish in comparison.

    In my opinion, from the road, the taller block of flats in the development look like the compound that Osama Bin Laden was found in.

    Good luck sticking a wardrobe and a double bed in those tiny new build bedrooms Russell, my bay window has more room than that!

  13. As ever, the word ‘affordable’ proves to be shorthand for, ’something nobody would actually want if they had the slightest choice in the matter’.

  14. As a resident I have to agree with Russell, the surrounding houses do not look good. They most certainly are not all red bricked houses and the ones that back onto my house need a lot of work done to them especially the paint jobs and old horrible lean too’s. I will also point out that even though our house backs onto another house, it is too far away to see anything, we most certainly can’t see into the windows.

    In reply to S Smith, from the outside the houses look deceptively small, the room sizes are in fact a lot bigger than standard new builds, not only can I fit my furniture in but I have had to buy more to fill the space. And yes I did pay for this myself, not with benefits.

    As for this being a new ‘council estate’ I think you are wrong, this is down to rumours being spread. The Triangle is classed as social housing, which (in this case) means the houses are aimed at young families trying to get onto the housing ladder. Not everyone can come up with the £40,000 for a deposit need to buy a house these days. We are all paying for the properties, which might I add are worth quite a bit more that other houses in the area and quite a few of the houses have already been bought.

    I am absolutely disgusted at the way the ‘locals’ have been behaving towards us, I can’t imagine what you expect to gain out of this behaviour. You may not have had the choice for us to be here but we are, wouldn’t it be more sensible to try and get along with us?

    If you had tried to get on with us from the start it would be a lot better for all of us, instead of rumours, you could have had facts. A lot of us are very proud of our new homes, I am sure we would have been pleased to have shown you around, this may have helped you understand that we cannot see into your homes and that we are not bad people.

  15. Firstly I am not too sure what houses can be seen from the site but certainly those in the immediate surrounding roads are brick built semis and terraced houses and yes they may be old but they will still be here long after the new houses are gone as they were built to last. I am also at a loss to understand how people on the triangle site can not see into the surrounding houses, when from the surrounding houses the centre of the site can be seen through the windows of the triangle houses.

    Reliable sources confirm that a substantial number of the houses on the site have been given to those on council lists for the homeless or potentially homeless, certainly not the key workers, doctors, nurses and teachers that a certain minor tv celebrity promised when getting his planning permission passed. I for one am therefore not surprised that surrounding residents are unhappy about what they have now been expected by some to welcome with open arms.

    I am also at a loss to understand how it can possibly be that the small houses on the site, built the way they have been can be worth around £160,000 or more, just what many of the surrounding properties are worth now, reduced in value by the new site.

  16. I certainly dont agree with the apparent animosity shown by the established residents to the new residents of the Triangle. Its not their fault, they have chosen to live in new housing that has become available.

    I do blame the developers and the local council for not listening to, and more importantly, acting upon the many concerns that were raised by local exisiting residents. It seems to me that the council bent over backwards to allow this development simply because of Kevin McCleod.

  17. The comments from existing residents of the nearby estate seem very prejudiced and unwelcoming towards the new residents. Many of the comments on the houses are factually incorrect but then the people writing them don’t seem all that switched on or to have looked into the matter.
    People, your view from your house may have been better before but the population is increasing guys and there is a housing shortage. Unless you chose not to have kids or to have 2 maximum so as not to add to the growth of the population then you really don’t have any right to complain about new housing which clearly aims to have minimal environmental and visual impact in my professional opinion. Would you have preferred a tower block? You’ve added to the population and you’re descendants will need homes too. If not in your back yard then they would have been built in someone else’s. This seems little more than jealousy and nimbyism.
    Congratulations to everyone who participated in realising this project, I think you should be very proud despite what the few small minded locals say.

  18. Jill,
    Instead of believing everything you are told, maybe you should find out the answers for yourself. Yes this is social housing, but social housing does not mean homeless people or ex cons. In this case it just means key workers and people trying to get onto the property ladder. Originally I was looking into a shared ownership house, I was told I had to register for a council house and with the housing association, as it was I earned far too much to get a house through either of these but it meant that I was reccommended for other suitable schemes. Yes I was on the council housing list, but I wouldn’t have got one. As you said yourself the council offered you the opportunity to buy a house. This suggests that people are paying their own way, especially when the houses are valued higher than most in the area, especially the 4 beds which are quite a bit over £200,000. There are 7, 4 bed houses on the Triangle, all except one has two children only, I doubt very much that the council would allow that, they are well know for their over crowding. Also, a very high percentage of the residents came from rented accommodation in surrounding streets and their kids were already attending ferndale school. and not forgetting the fact that were are on the doorstep of Pinhurst, not the most desirable area.

    As for the Triangle de-valuing the surrounding houses, it is well know that the receission has greatly affected the housing market, all houses in Swindon have been affected. I don’t think that you can justify blaming us solely for that one.

    I am guessing that your reliable source is the local MP that has always been against this development. If so, don’t be supprised when he changes his mind about us, 42 properties contain a lot of voters!

    I know the design of the properties are not to everyones taste, and a lot of you objected to them being built in the first place. But we are here, we are not going anywhere just because the locals want to drive us out with their appalling behaviour. The builders have gone now, maybe its just time to accept us and stop the hate campaign.

  19. I find it interesting that you feel that our non-acceptance of this site is down to the local MP who is actually only a local councillor! We are an existing community which has been here for a large number of years and objected to this site because of the effect it would have on that community.

    The fact that the builders and your eco-friendly tv celebrity have left surrounding houses without completed fencing and with an access route to their houses unfinished has done little to help and only added to the ill feeling.

    Surely the price of houses that are not substantially built, have very little land and only one parking space each are only pushed up because of the ‘tv’ hype surrounding them. How interesting it will be to see what value is placed on them in years to come when we can see how well they have stood up to some british winds and weather.

    Yes you have now moved into the site and we have to put up with what we have, it doesn’t mean that we have to shut up and be happy though.

  20. Jill,

    I understand you are unhappy with the development but why take it out on us (the residants) it was the council that gave the planning permission not us, and as for an effect on your community i have not once in my 23 years of walking, cycling or driving along northern and ferndale road have i ever seen any sign of a friendly community, i was brought up in pinehurst and i felt safer in and around there. what does that say for your ‘community’.
    As for the house lasting the test of time, i am prity sure that they would not have been built if they were not going to last?
    And as for not wanting us here why park in our visitors parking bays, its a bit of a joke, we’re not good enough but our parking bays are?
    We are here and no amount of shouting or moaning is going to resolve it.

    On a brighter note it was nice to finally meet all of my new naighbours and get to now a few of you.

  21. As a resident of Northern Road it saddens me to read so many negative comments - people need to learn to live and let live.
    Disruption while the development was underway was minimal in my experience, the main issue being damage to the road, and this has now been rectified.
    The houses do look different - I’m not sure they would be to my taste but for young families struggling to get onto the housing ladder and provide a community environment I am sure they meet the brief.
    If the stories of people throwing rubbish etc are correct then that is unacceptable behaviour. No doubt it will calm down quite quickly. People have short memories. As the last post says the development is “here and no amount of shouting and moaning is going to resolve it”, so please just give it a chance!

  22. I think what kevin and his team has tried to do is very admirable, it needs thinking and innovation to tackle many of the pressing issues facing society.

    Thats not to say in this case he has necessarily succeeded and the previous testaments seem to question that.

    Having watched the documentary it seems the project was fundamentaly unsustainable in not being deliverable within a financially viable framework. Critical to the concept of sustainable development is balancing the three pillars of social, enviornmental and economic concern.

    Maybe the project could have been more innovative in how to secure funding. perhaps using many of the concepts being considered in the green deal and other capital leverage or offset mechanisms to acheive this viability could have been piloted? surely this is a critical part to providing affordable,desirable and sustainable homes?

    Surely a key issue is actually integarting the existing community with the development and visa versa it would have been nice to see this more holistically approached which is something not often addresses in current mass market housing delivery.

    We could have seen carbon management of the community not just CSH4 for the triangle- retrofitting of loft insulation? or renewables?, integrated communal space and facilities for existing and new residents.

    Whilst architecturally i see little extra merit or value in these homes compared to a mass market home I do fully applaud what Kevin has tried to do.

    Maybe next time it needs some more innovation in what is really important to get right and how modern sustainable homes could be delivered in a completely different way with radically different thinking

  23. TMM

    Perhaps residents of Howse Gardens should be given the same information. Just how many of the houses surrounding this estate have been collecting rubbish from their gardens that has been thrown over in to theirs - I agree totally un-acceptable behaviour!

  24. My only complaint about this development is that it doesn’t go far enough. Given that it’s so close to the rail station and within walking distance of the city centre, could it not have been built as a car-free development? This would have headed off some of the complaints of existing residents about traffic and provided a genuinely innovative and sustainable development. Sustainability isn’t just about what materials you use - it’s about the lifestyle a design engenders - and every house on this development has a parking space, which would seem to be an acknowledgement that everyone will have a car…. not very “green”!

  25. Jon,

    All though we all have parking spaces they are not all used. I personally need my car for work and personal life.

    Jill,

    Come round and pay the street a visit all of us will not make you feel unwelcome unless you act in an unwelcome way, when you do come round you will see that it is not just anouther council estate, there are people from all walks of life and believe it ofr not we all take pride in the street, please do not judge untill you have witnessed.

  26. This is amazing……. For once these social housing houses look nice and design has been thought about. I hope Kevin McCloud does more projects like this!

  27. Looks like an interesting an invotive design solution to a very challenging site. Well Done Kevin its a relief that someone has departed away from the norm, I used to be a housing layout architect so know the challenges around producing high density sustainable and profitable developments. My only reservation is for the private owners on the development who with no doubt will need to become accustom to how the underbelly live and more importantly behave, having living next to the great unwashed and unchallenged they to me are the weakest link as to whether this is a sucessful development and environment to live in.

  28. Wow, I’ve sat here reading this amazing article followed by what I can only think of simple jealously?

    Surely regeneration is what is required for a old town? A town needs to grow with the times and this means new homes for the ever growing numbers of people within said towns. But from the looks of the residents that surround this fantastic development that its a case of you can’t teach a old dog new tricks!

    Sadly the residents of the triangle can I suggest submitting complaints to the police, surely this sort of behaviour consists of breach of the peace? Nappies in gardens? Loud music? Surely the old residents surrounding the development are simply devaluing the area themselves with there own actions!?!

    I live in aberdeen, scotland - would I like to see this in the area where I live, which I may add was found to be the most expensive road in the uk (rubislaw) yes I would welcome any scheme that will help first time buyers into a somewhat difficult time to buy. The old dears that are moaning probably have no mortgage as they grew up there/house handed on threw generations/bought when houses cost next to nothing, however these people paid nothing in comparison to what we must pay for today so I think you should shut up and make friends with each other cause sadly they scheme is there to stay, these houses will out last us altogether. Who will be laughing then? You? No you just have more grey hairs and stress marks from not enjoying what you have!

    And remember people treat others how you wish to be treated yourself, seriously what happened to love thy neighbour?!

  29. thanks for sharing! This looks like a fantastic development which I am sure will sit very well with the residents..

  30. What a success this project has been.
    I wish the same could happen on Land we own at Bottesford Nottinghamshire NG13 0DS.
    Melton Borough Council are impossible to deal with.
    The village need more affordable Housing of this type.

  31. It makes me so sad to read these posts. I recently visited the Triangle to see the development for myself and was very impressed with what I found there. The development is well designed with a real human factor - a welcome change from the faceless developments of previous decades.

    I was particularly heartened to find that almost a year after the development had been completed, the communal garden was well kept and tidy, that the veg plots had obviously been looked after and that the residents seemed to be forming a real community within the triangle. This is the result of giving people a home that they can feel proud of, not leaving them with the feeling that they have been shoved in a corner out of the way. I totally disagree with the earlier comment that affordable means something nobody would want if they had any choice in the matter. This is an ignorant comment - compare these houses to the poor standard of newbuilds sold by big housing developers in the UK, at vastly inflated prices to unsuspecting purchasers who trust the ‘brand name’. Kevin McCleod has created a development model that should be adopted up and down the country. The challenge now is for long-term residents in existing communities to become more accepting and for new residents to reach out and welcome ‘outsiders’ in. Britain is a country in need of healing - there’s no better place to start than in small developments like these all around the country.

    Well done Kevin & co and the new residents of the Triangle.

  32. I agree with earlier post about the stupid negative comments, they seem to have ignored the people who live there and have posted to say how they like the houses and like living threre, if only there were not ignorant locals living in their poorly built ‘cottages’ nearby, then,I imagine it would be much better.

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