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GUNWHARF Architect: Lacey Hickie Caley Housebuilder: Midas Homes Landscape architect: Claire Foxford Social housing, once a byword for poorly designed sink estates, is trailblazing innovation in house building. The dramatic culture change, declared the judges, is being driven by private/public developments such as Gunwharf - a 2.3ha high-quality urban-renewal scheme in Devonport, Plymouth.

This new village of 99 low-rise homes proved to be a double winner with the judges (see the best large housing development category on page 50) for its bold yet sensitive architecture. Gunwharf creates a genuine sense of community, noted the panel, and is in sympathy with its surroundings - a rare achievement for social housing.

Gunwharf sits in a historic quarter of Devonport, so it was essential to weave the new urban townscape into the existing fabric of architecturally significant buildings. Much of its success stems from the contemporary use of vernacular materials - slate roofs, stone and timber cladding and crisp white render - which has created a modern neighbourhood with a distinctive yet reassuringly familiar character.

Simple but thoughtful landscaping softens the scheme's density, said the judges, and creates a collection of exceptional community spaces. The architect was congratulated for reworking the original undulating terrain into a gentle, pedestrianfriendly gradient leading to Devonport's shoreline.

The stylishly understated railings, individual planters and attractive mix of brick and cobble street surfacing were also commended.

At its 2005 annual conference, the Housing Corporation welcomed Gunwharf as 'an exemplar scheme, not just for the region but nationally'.

Its architectural merits have also been recognised by the government's adviser on architecture, urban design and public space, CABE, which has shortlisted the scheme for a Design for Life award.

The panel added to the accolades by declaring Gunwharf to be a paradigm of daring inner-city redevelopment that reinforces rather than weakens the fabric of the community.

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