Research & Development
In evolving our concept we’ve
invested three years in research & development.
1. GLOBAL RESEARCH
From Stockholm to Seattle, we have visited recognised exemplars of new housing. We’ve seen some great projects. However we’ve observed a tendency to concentrate on one or two key aspects such as sustainability or desirability while ignoring other issues or even worse: sacrificing them to optimise the key aspect. For instance, some developments concentrate on environmental sustainability, but their technical appearance and complex gadgetry has made them difficult to sell and expensive to build, whilst quickly becoming dated. With others, a desirable village feel has been created but the historic forms compromise the potential for many desirable aspects of modern living.
Two projects that stood out for us were Hammerby Sjöstad in Stockholm and Danielson Grove in Seattle. The former is recognised as Europe’s leading sustainable city quarter and has an incredible array of green infrastructure (bio-mass CHP, energy-from-waste plant, vacuum waste system; even the buses run on bio-gas). However, this infrastructure sits discretely in the background; what impresses is the beautiful, liveable environment.
Danielson Grove was the first pocket neighbourhood designed and developed by the architect, Ross Chapin. It is an innovative site layout with the houses grouped around a shared green space.
At the head of the green space there is a ‘commons building’ for the general use of residents. The whole effect is to engender a sense of community and ownership and to prioritise people above cars and technology.
While very different in scale and density to each other, these two neighbourhoods meet the challenges of our age, without losing sight of the fact we build for people, and that the environments we create must always be delightful places to live. So we asked both Stellan Fryxell (masterplanner and architect of Hammerby Sjöstad) and Ross Chapin to contribute to the development of our concept.
2. A NEIGHBOURHOOD TEMPLATE
In order to establish the type of development
we want to be part of, we developed a template for an ideal village.
Working with socio-economic consultants Hunt Dobson Stringer and internationally renowned environmental engineers, Buro Happold, we developed a model for an exemplar village. We aimed to re-create all the features people love about traditional villages, while benefiting from the intelligent use of modern infrastructure and construction methods.
It would have a town centre with shops and essential services, a church, a medical centre, hotel and leisure facilities. Within the village there would be jobs and the village would have good links to local employment centres. Everyone would live within a five minute walk of a park and easy reach of schools and playing fields. Neighbourhoods would be arranged in ‘pockets’ of fifteen to thirty houses, around a common green space where children can play safely. These greens would contain a small ‘commons building’: a shared facility for residents providing a place to meet, hold coffee mornings, and so on: the focus of the community. Pockets would be linked together in a ‘tapestry of streets’ all with a human-scale.
This may sound like an idyllic image from days gone by, but under-pinning it is cutting edge thinking on green infrastructure. Our team worked out ways in which such a village could be zero carbon, self-sufficient in terms of water and turn waste into a valuable resource to mention but three of the environmental strategies.
3. A DIFFERENT WAY OF BUILDING
We have reviewed over forty suppliers of houses, each using an element of factory fabrication to improve quality and deliverability. We have visited their headquarters, sales rooms, factories and finished homes. We have assembled a highly developed supply-chain offering unparalleled performance and quality at a competitive price. These houses can meet all UK building regulations, NHBC and mortgage lenders requirements.
Factory-made components are constructed on site by skilled craftsmen with internal finishes applied in temperature and moisture controlled conditions. This results in much higher quality and faster, more predictable construction. Our homes are super-insulated and exceptionally well-sealed so the finished home loses very little heat. The controlled production process means materials can be sourced sustainably and the reduction in waste is both cost effective and good for the environment. Economies of scale mean innovation can be cost effective.
The system is highly flexible, so designs can be specific to their local context.
4. FOCUS GROUPS
Our approach is simple: we look at the place and we listen to the community. In each location we will employ a number of techniques to find out what people want including focus groups, ‘Enquiry by Design’ and surveys. As part of our R & D we piloted this process. We held four focus groups: school leavers; first-time buyers; families and retired couples. We asked them what was important in choosing a location for their home; what was important in choosing the house itself; what the house should look like inside and out; their preferences for car parking; what amenities are important to them and their attitude towards sustainability. The results were telling. In choosing a location people are looking for a sense of community, good services and schools, parks and play-spaces for their kids. There was a strong preference for houses in green settings and which promoted a sense
In our trial focus groups, the most important criteria in choosing a location in which to live were (in order of preference): a safe neighbourhood; a strong community feeling; central to shops; near good schools/college; good transport links (public and private); suitable peers for family; private, not built up; small garden; south facing garden; access to a hospital.
5. DESIGN DEVELOPMENT
We chose the South-East of England as the context in which to develop detailed designs for six homes. We employed Clague architects to prepare a full package for costing. Clague have extensive experience of single-family housing and have designed and delivered some of the best developments we have found in the region. We set them an exacting brief: all homes to meet Lifetime Homes Standard and Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4 as well as the Kent Design Code and Building Regulations. Most importantly the houses had to be delightful; places where we would want to live in ourselves.
This detailed design package has informed in-depth discussions with our supply chain on how best to deliver our quality product at a competitive price.