Growing a community spirit

02 Dec 2011

In Swindon, a new form of sustainable housing is sought, whilst architects see inspiration in Victorian methods

Before Glenn Howells Architects instigated efforts to build a sustainable, community-friendly, housing development, these 42-acre premises were no more than a vacant, flooded lot; a blemish on the Swindon landscape. But they sought not just to beautify a former patch of wasteland, but to lay there a micro-sized neighbourhood, where the residents are not only amicably at harmony with their surroundings, but with their fellow co-habitants, occupying this environmental estate.

The method for this ambitious objective fell to Luke Engleback, a Chartered Landscape Architect with over 25 years experience; he was put chiefly in charge of achieving a seamless utilisation of external spaces, such as: communal gardens, open-plan conjoining private gardens and centralised public gatherings. By way of this patchwork of greenery, complimenting both the overall vista, and the project’s architecture, residents were unconsciously being encouraged to engage with their environment.

Glenn Howells Architects have sought to achieve a relatively common goal, whilst drawing inspiration from an unconventionally familiar set of methods. Put in the words of the firm’s representatives: “What sets it apart from contemporary residential projects is the unashamed reliance on historic precedents, notably the successes of the Victorian era, to build a positive neighbourhood spirit through its modern artisan housing and landscape.” Old fashioned in theme, the overall facade of this residential haven again seeks to impose a contemporary feel onto traditional designs.

Embedded in an area of 1930’s housing, not far from the Great Western Railway - settings that hint at the motivation for a reserved appearance - GHA has devised a contemporary answer to the traditional railway cottage, in a sympathetic stock to those living across its bordering frontiers. These 42 properties, however, of one and two bedroom capacity, make use of technologies firmly rooted in the latest technological times. All incorporate modernised heating and cooling strategies, with an impetus on maintaining minimal energy requirements; the choice of Hemcrete casting, to construct their walls, offers thermal inertia, negating the effects of drastic temperature peeks.

Conscientious building, and living, is rooted firmly at the heart of this scaled Swindon suburb. Carbon-friendly methods of transportation – cycling, walking – are openly encouraged, whilst those with vehicles are ‘merely accommodated’, with parking spaces determinedly provided in a fashion not detrimental to the larger streetscape.

A self-reliant source of fruit and vegetables is intended to those who proactively participate in the various horticultural affairs. Instructing on how to suitably utilise the orchard and kitchen gardens, GHA have produced a cookery book, ‘Grow 2 Eat - an edible landscape manual’, to tempt the cultivation of organic produce; for these efforts they were rewarded at the 2011 Landscape Institute Awards, taking the top prize in the Communications & Presentation category.

Tom Aston

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