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Homes that build communities

A good predictor of trends in the residential sector, the Housing Design Awards seminar offers a glimpse into the future of housing each year. Over the past 2 years schemes have indicated an increased focus on community and last year saw a strong uptake in better homes built by local councils. This year, the trend became the main theme of the event: Good Neighbours - exploring how good design can create social spaces and encourage social interaction.

Given this premise it comes as no surprise that Goldsmith Street by Mikhail Riches and Norfolk Council, recently awarded the Stirling Prize, won not only the government's 'Good Neighbour Award' but was also overall winner of the Housing Design Awards 2019. But there are more stories to tell and lessons learned to share than who was awarded what. It is worth taking a closer look at insights produced at the Housing Design Awards seminar itself which featured a line-up of forward thinking project teams and strong contenders for the awards.

Good design for happy communities

Sharing the story of Goldsmith Street, Annalie Riches explained how the 100% social housing project came to fruition through ‘enlightened’ client Norwich City Council senior housing development officer, Steven Turnbull. Steven wanted an aspirational scheme and was suitably inspired by Mikhail Riches’ design of terraced housing and turning the ginnel into a social space. This innovative use of the alleyway provides a safe place for younger children to play and maximises the opportunity for neighbours to socialise. This sentiment is backed up by the residents themselves.

In a video aired at the awards, residents, including children, shared their positive community experience of living in Goldsmith Street. Water fights, BBQs and the freedom for children to play while their parents sit, talk and relax has made this place a home that many say they never want to leave.

Co-housing: building homes with future neighbours

Another winner on the night, Marmalade Lane is Cambridge’s first co-housing project, designed by Mole Architects.

Designed in a similar style to Goldsmith Street, these terraced homes open out onto ‘people-friendly’ streets with shared spaces including a common house and garden. The development embraces the community. Sharing her positive experience of living in a community-focused scheme, Jan Chadwick, a resident from Marmalade Lane, explained that it took a lot of hard work to get there.

The land was designated in 2010 and what followed for the next six and a half years for Jan and her soon-to-be neighbours was a challenge. There were many months of workshops where those keen to be a part of a co-housing community delved deep to understand what their vision of community truly was. The open spaces seen in the scheme are a result of the residents not wanting a gated community. They wanted space to allow integration but not for it to be forced. On completion of the project, Meredith Bowles, of Mole Architects, described the “sense of immediate community” as “extraordinary.” It was recognised that there is a different way to build housing to create communities.

Read our interview with developer TOWN about the journey and challenges behind the scheme.

Healthy communities

What can’t be ignored about these projects is that in creating a contented community, health and wellbeing has been woven into the design too.

The materials used were chosen to enhance not only each home’s building performance but also the inhabitants’ wellbeing. Both Goldsmith Street and Marmalade Lane, though with brick exteriors, are constructed from timber-frame. Cross-laminated timber is used for the flats at Marmalade Lane. Known for its insulation qualities, timber can help to reduce energy bills by up to 90%. Studies have also shown that homes constructed from timber or with timber interiors can decrease occupants’ perception of stress.

Norwich City Council upgraded the Goldsmith Street project from a passive solar scheme to Passivhaus as it recognised its tenants were often struck by fuel poverty. It also recognised there are links to increased health benefits from living in passive homes due to improvements in air quality. Poor air quality, both indoor and outdoor, is a silent killer and building with timber can help to improve indoor air quality by moderating humidity.

Embracing ‘Good Neighbour’ values

This year’s Housing Design Awards unearthed a want for creating and building better connected communities. Each of the schemes showed how greater care and detail in the design of our homes and neighbourhoods can have a powerful and positive social impact.

Many of the measures taken by these schemes can be implemented across the country. More strategic and long-term thinking creates homes that people are proud to live in and neighbourhoods they want to be a part of. It won’t be an overnight change, but the lessons learned are there to be embraced.

Read our feature article on making healthy and affordable homes accessible at scale.

Find out more about the current housing trend.

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