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.’
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.
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
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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Filed under: Eco-projects