5 Jun 2013
Submitted by Stephen Smith
The Glass-House recently re-visited an 'old friend' for a very special hosted study tour: the Gamlingay Eco-Hub. This pioneering community centre was an early beneficiary of Glass-House project support in 2005 and was completed in 2012. Located on the edge of the village, the entrance frames a view to a new wind turbine, a keynote of the group’s ambition for 'greening the community.' It is already a remarkable journey; the opening of the building is a landmark moment with the promise of much more to come.
© Stephen Smith
By embedding the former community hall in the heart of the plan a continuity of associations and memory of community use on the site was established. The former hall was dark, constrained and difficult to navigate. New spaces are bright, warm and welcoming, reaching outwards to long views. Memorable features such as the 'Aalto-inspired timber-lined scoop' over the library area, which floods the space with light, are part of a barn-like vernacular that is non-institutional in character. Light and colour create a calming and inspiring atmosphere, the tactile timber lining of the volumes and purpose-made furniture gives a homely feel and consistency throughout.
© Stephen Smith
On the tour, our guide Bridget Smith, took us through the innovative approach to the integration of renewable energy sources – with the incredible result that they have no need for fossil fuel back-up at all. That such a laudable feat has been achieved is the result of a close collaboration between client and architect. The site is favourable in orientation for photovoltaic installations, located on the deep-plan roof. Open playing fields have permitted a generous ground source heat loop to be buried beneath them. The overall ‘greening’ of the project was a key strategic move for initial funding, not to mention removing the potential burden of on-costs for future energy bills.
Bridget, as the champion for the client team throughout, retains an infectious enthusiasm for sharing her team’s approach to chasing and securing funding and a real pride in the finished building. It is notable that some renewable options were not taken up: a sedum roof would have brought ecological benefits but would have had a on-cost on the weight of the structure needed to support it, not to mention attendant maintenance costs to factor in to overheads.
One overriding driver of the brief was to bring young people into a secure and welcoming community environment. Has this worked? Certainly early signs are positive and it really does feel as though the spaces provided have a multi-generational appeal; the clear volumes mean no hidden corners; clear sight lines and the large areas of glazing help with passive monitoring. Parents have the benefit of watching their children through the large glass screen doing dance classes while they search for a book in the library.
© Stephen Smith
It has taken around 10 years for the project to reach this stage from the initial brainstorming and 'what-if' stage. A second phase of building is programmed and the community centre is being hailed as an exemplar of its type. The key lessons and inspiration of the project are based around communication.
Perhaps the move to engage the community and to ask hard questions about how together they could bring about change helped to establish good foundations?
Perhaps persevering on several design iterations allowed an architectural language to develop that is uplifting and welcoming.
Perhaps the ambition for the Eco-hub to create a secure emotional boundary for all users and to make them part of the journey is also the basis from which it can continue to grow and flourish?
Stephen Smith is a Glass-House Enabler and an architect with Wright & Wright Architects.
24 May 2013
Submitted by Melissa Lacide
Two weeks ago, on Friday 10 May we visited sustainable building project The Davidson Building, home of Gateshead Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) for the first of our Hosted Study Tours, a new peer mentoring activity to enable Glass-House beneficiaries (and clients) to showcase their achievements while supporting other groups in their community led design journey.
The entrance to Gateshead CAB
Although the original Trustees and staff involved in the building project have since moved on, Alison Dunn (Chief Executive) and David Carr (Building and Finance Manager) provided an engaging and informative tour of their building, including a presentation about the different stages of the design process where they openly shared their learning, experience and knowledge about the trials, tribulations and successes of this project.
This community led design project has enabled Gateshead CAB to provide improved and increased services and facilities to communities in Gateshead, particularly those who are most in need. The new location of the building has provided a positive, unexpected and impact, enabling the organisation to form new relationships, reach other communities and access networks in the area.
The learning from this tour has been invaluable for all who attended and we left Gateshead feeling both inspired and fortunate to have been at The Davidson Building to celebrate their achievements. Below are a few of the photos we captured on the day.
In the basement space with Building and Finance Manager David Carr
David talks about the working office space for CAB staff
The focal point of the building, the inner, outdoor courtyard space
Exploring the sanctuary of the courtyard space
It's in the detail! Attendees investigate the finer details of the exterior of the Davidson building
1 Mar 2012
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
South Owlerton in Sheffield made a fantastic case study for us to visit on a Study Tour we ran as part of the Building Community programme – supporting communities to become ‘neighbourhood planning’ ready. A number of community groups came with us to hear from South Owlerton Area Regeneration (SOAR) and tour their huge array of projects including a library, a community centre, an enterprise centre, a park and street improvements.
SOAR was originally set up by community activists and has done a huge amount of work to try and make South Owlerton which suffered from multiple deprivation a better place to live.
Groups involved in neighbourhood planning may find these learning points from the day useful:
- Projects need leadership - Each neighbourhood in the area was designated a support worker throughout the regeneration. This really helped to drive projects
- Spend time and money on building quality - SOAR decided early on to spend a bit more money on their buildings to give them distinctive features, giving the area some character. Some residents were unsure about this and felt it would be better to ‘get more building for their money’ but with hindsight, they are pleased they made this decision as the buildings they now have are of high quality
- Speak to others! - In developing the SOAR Enterprise Centre, the group spoke to other Enterprise Centres in Yorkshire & Humber and this really helped to inform their design brief
- Involve young people in a positive way – Young people in South Owlerton were involved in developing local parks and instead of vandalising those parks, were encouraged with an artist to paint graffiti to decorate them
- Work together – We felt that much of the successful regeneration in this area was due to a close working relationship with the council and others
Many thanks to SOAR for hosting us, to Sarah Hollingworth from Architecture 00:/ for being the Enabler (providing architectural and urban design expertise on the day) and all the groups who came along.
28 Nov 2011
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
Last Thursday we led a group of local community members and support workers on a Neighbourhoods Study Tour around Stroud and Bristol.
The aim of the day was for groups to witness first hand how local people have made a positive and lasting impact on their neighbourhoods: physically, socially, environmentally and economically.
We visited two co-housing schemes, Springhill and Ashley Vale, and learnt about the work of Stroud Common Wealth (SCW), a social enterprise group who are gradually regenerating parts of Stroud by revitalising old buildings and setting up Community Land Trusts.
At each site, we were guided by a community member who had been involved in the project. We heard about the challenges encountered by groups and how they were overcome. It was so inspiring to meet people who have designed and built their own homes, and to find out how an unconventional approach has had such a positive impact on the lives of people living in these neighbourhoods.
The groups who came along on the tour left feeling motivated and inspired by our hosts and by each other!
We have three more Study Tours coming up before the end of March 2012 (see www.theglasshouse.org.uk/training-and-events for more info). The Glass-House can also create a tailored tour to suit your groups’ needs.
Get in touch if you’re interested.
3 Oct 2011
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
Last Wednesday, for the first of our Study Tours under the new Building Community Consortium programme, we took 6 groups based in London on a tour of 2 neighbourhoods to give them ideas and inspiration for their community led projects. These groups ranged from Transition Towns groups to co-operatives and people working to improve an open space, high street or garden. Olivia Tusinski of Architecture 00:/ came along to help facilitate and posed some excellent questions about how the design of neighbourhoods affects how people feel.
We spent the morning in Bonnington Square, Vauxhall hearing about all of the initiatives there that started up in the 80s and are ongoing. Vine Housing Co-Op and Bonnington Square Gardens Association are made up of local volunteers who continue to work to make their neighbourhood a great place to live. Residents here have been involved in developing and maintaining housing, a community centre and various open spaces. Our groups were particularly impressed with the Paradise Project. This initiative literally grew out of the Bonnington Square Garden – residents dug up the corners of the road (with the council’s permission!) and have planted along the roads to make the entire street greener. This has a calming effect on the whole neighbourhood, although our hosts did mention that some find the planting an obstruction so negotiation has had to take place to make sure that it remains accessible.
Touring Bonnington Square and The Paradise Project
We had our lunch at the Bonnington Café where local people cook fresh and healthy meals – so much of what makes this a thriving neighbourhood is thanks to residents' hard work.
We spent the afternoon in Dalston where the initiatives are much more recent. We had a tour of Gillet Square with Dominic Ellison of Hackney Co-operative Developments. We talked about just how many local voluntary, private and community organisations have come together to create a space for all kinds of people to use. The square is an incredibly flexible space and has hosted a huge range of events since it opened in 2006. We stopped off quickly at the Farm Shop which has been transformed by volunteers into a space for growing, cooking and eating and is using some innovative methods to demonstrate how farming can be done in the city. Our final stop was the Eastern Curve Garden which aims to be ‘A meeting place for people and plants’. There was some discussion in the group about how inclusive the garden was, but judging by the range of people we saw using it on our sunny day, it has managed to attract all kinds of local people.
All of the groups who came along found inspiration from the places and people we visited. They were particularly struck by the range of management styles we heard about, and were comforted to know that all of these appeared to be working. Both the Dalston and Vauxhall examples demonstrated how local people taking control and creating places and spaces that people genuinely want to look after and spend time in can have a dramatic impact on way a neighbourhood looks, feels and works!
Any community group can come along on our Study Tours for free. If you're interested, click here to see if we have any scheduled in your area or get in touch to see if we can arrange one especially for you.
6 Jul 2011
Submitted by Maja Luna Jorgensen
Maja and Hannah were invited to take part in an event arranged and run jointly by Architecture+Design Scotland (A+DS) and Centre for Local Economy Strategies (CLES) in Manchester. The event brought together council officers, practicing designers and representatives from Third Sector Organisations to build on the learning from a number of workshops A+DS and CLES have run on mixed use developments. The findings will be compiled in a report.
Setting the scene were Sarah Longlands (@sarahlongslands) and Neil McInroy (@nmcinroy) from CLES, and Diarmaid Lawlor from A+DS (@arcdessco). Here are some of the main points of their presentations and following discussions amongst participants, as well as our observations from the afternoon’s site visits to Openshaw, Ordsall, and MediaCity.
Incorporating a range of uses in the redevelopment of an area can be a strong contributor to good place making. Places with a broad mix of functions bring in a range of users, which can contribute to the resilience of that place. With a considered approach to the mix we can aim for a balanced, resilient environment that rests in itself physically, socially, and financially.
It is crucial that the integration of uses is a firm aim from the outset, and that it is followed through in the design of the physical spaces, linking up residential areas with the high street through cycle and pedestrian paths, considering multi-use of open spaces (parking lot as a community resource?) and creatively offering opportunities for people to meet and interact. Mixed use is not about proximity of functions, it’s thinking about how they can interact to create surplus – creative connections, ease of use, services people need.
Historically, the unique characteristics of a place have often been overlooked in the rush to create growth. However, there are plenty of examples of projects demonstrating that considered attention to the context - including working with people living there, understanding the history, and analysing the physical shape - contributes to generating positive outcomes. It is crucial that any kind of place strategy, whether anticipating growth or non-growth, is based on the context in which it operates and responds to available resources and qualities of the place.
The importance of strong, accountable leadership was considered a key ingredient, but who should lead processes of change? Should the public sector take the charge and set out a well-founded strategy and work to deliver it? Or should the public sector set a strategy and step aside to allow new ways of working and delivering projects, such as community organisations or social enterprises or multi-sector partnerships taking the lead?
Neil McInroy suggested seeing areas of change as a ‘petri-dish’: A place where we as influencers and stakeholders have the opportunity to set the conditions for things to grow organically. Changing the environment allows different things to grow. What are you going to grow today? And how do we create resilient, mixed-use places for the future?
A few snaps from the site visits:
High street facelift element of regeneration in Openshaw, Manchester
New homes being delivered in Ordsall, Manchester
The group examining public realm in the new MediaCity development in Salford
12 Nov 2010
Submitted by Hannah Gibbs
Last week we organised an inspirational study tour of eco-housing developments in the West Midlands for 4 community groups passionate about developing their own projects. The groups had different priorities for the day but all also a shared interest in creating energy efficient housing and learning more about how to lead their project. We also invited along Rob Annable of Axis Design, Birmingham, to help answer questions about more technical aspects of the refurbishments and building for a sustainable future.
The big message from the day was the importance of creating places where people love living in order make them more vibrant and sustainable. The groups who came along were also struck by the importance of careful management and maintenance of eco-features, and the need to adopt a long-term approach.
We started the day at Summerfield Eco Village in Birmingham. Here, three streets of Victorian terraces have been given a new lease of life through environmental improvements. The project was carried out by Family Housing Association between 2006 and 2008 in collaboration with other local partners.
Summerfield Eco Village - Each house in the scheme has had eco features installed (including solar panels, photovoltaic tiles, insulation and waste water recycling) to suit the specific property and the patterns of the people living there.
One of the most interesting parts of the story for us is how the project began – in this instance a group of residents raised their concerns with the housing association. Summerfield residents had noticed an increasingly transient population in their area. The streets were run down and dangerous because short-term tenants lacked a sense of pride and community spirit. The environmental improvements were made to try to tackle these problems and now, fuel bills in Summerfield have been reduced and residents can afford to remain living in the area so the turnover rate is much lower.
Now that residents feel more pride and ownership in the area and have been able to have an influence on the changes made, it's an attractive place to live. Residents have also gained a much greater appreciation of environmental issues, which shows how crucial it is to empower and collaborate with local people on the design process.
Our second visit was to Cross Street South in Wolverhampton - a new build development created in 2008 by The Bromford Group. Here, we saw the extent to which attention to detail in design can create a highly attractive and low energy development.
Cross Street South - The added extras which make this scheme special include on site allotments, a wetland area which is supplied by surface water and a wood chip boiler providing cheap heating and hot water.
The fantastic thing about visiting Summerfield and Cross Street South was seeing the effects of successful environmental initiatives for local communities. The ideas behind these initiatives have now become part of mainstream thinking in the UK, even if there is still some way to go in their application.
We're on the look out for self-build housing projects next year... any ideas?
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