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Work begins on HHbR's London co-housing scheme

[FIRST LOOK + PLANS] Construction has started on this £1.6 million ‘co-housing’ scheme on a backland plot, in Stoke Newington, London, designed by Henley Halebrown Rorrison (HHbR).

The 795m2 Springdale Gardens project is laid out as a cluster, with a central space under which is a number of communal facilities, including a workshop and laundry room, shared by the surrounding six households.

The plot is being dug out by 1.2m creating a sunken lower ground floor. The quartet of three-storey homes will be clad in untreated vertical timber boards and the two two-storey houses in brick.  

Simon Henley, principal at the practice said: ‘The philosophy is to reduce the household’s collective impact on the environment in the construction of their homes and in their daily lives. The performance of the building fabric - insulation, air tightness, and heat recovery ventilation - plays a vital role without resorting to expensive and unproven technology. The only renewables are solar thermal panels.’

The development, which features a shared food-producing garden, is due to complete before the end of the year (2013).

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Comment by Sally Lewis

This scheme could inspire a sprinkling of housing gems across London’s inner suburbs. There are plenty of small pockets of land, locked inside irregular shaped perimeter blocks, which simply need vision and excellently responsive design to be transformed into perfectly appropriate sites for more and better homes.

Sitting among the gardens of Victorian terrace houses in Hackney, the co-housing scheme bears no resemblance to the faceless housing development so feared by those with a backyard. With their mass broken down by varied roof treatments and a sensitive combination of brick and timber cladding, the cluster of buildings creates the impression of something interesting, but unobtrusive, happening at the bottom of the garden.

The arrangement of building form celebrates the centre of the site, creating a communal area that will be the heartbeat of the project. This will be tested by the residents’ genuine commitment to neighbourliness. If goodwill runs out, there are no private gardens to escape to, although the arrangement of windows and openings in carefully minimizes overlooking and protects privacy within the home.  

This is a scheme to watch. But with all the crisp architecture and emphasis on co-housing, where are the people? With the end users identified, surely this is a wonderful opportunity to explore the real personality of the place. The illustrations are devoid of human activity, and we are presented with pure architecture. A minor hiccup in a scheme that beckons so bravely into the future.

Sally Lewis is founding director of Stitch, a member of the Newham Design Review Panel, and author of ‘Front to back : a design agenda for urban housing’.

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