Co-design process moves forward to consider architectural character

Church Grove Diary – June 2016 – by Kim Sparks, RUSS Volunteer

On the first evening of June (and a frigid evening it was), RUSS Church Grove residents and the RUSS volunteers made our way to the Crofton Park library for a second evening workshop. This one was called character, materiality and feel. This means that the treatment of the façade was considered and discussed. It is RUSS’ vision that the buildings need to be simple to build, adaptable, economical and not demanding skilled work such as brick laying and plastering. Also that the design of the development needs to consider its relationship with the neighbouring conservation area.

To help the residents achieve this, questions taken from the ‘Festival of Ideas’ day were collected and simulated into a Design Menu; a live document that records the design process and decisions made. The questions were then put up for further discussion.

Like last time, we were put into groups in a ‘World Café’ setup and set to tackle each question. I was assigned to the children’s table – only to find that no children had turned up. One parent told me that their child was at home baking cookies because they had felt like it was winter. Fair enough! I instead sat on the edge of another table and listened to the discussions in regards to the questions. It was a very interesting and lively debate. The questions went as follows:

1. How can the desire for large windows be balanced with the need for privacy?

External versus internal shutters were weighed up. It was generally established between everyone that external shutters are more effective at shading and keeping the interior cool than interior shutters, where solar gain may get trapped between the glass and the shutters. Plants for shading as well as for privacy were also discussed. The idea was a popular one because it was agreed that shading plants can perform several tasks and look beautiful also.

2. How can the new housing achieve a balance between making its own mark, and being sensitive to the neighbouring conservation area?

The treatment of facades on the building block was debated: should it tie in with the Church Grove character or should it stand out as something different? Vertical and horizontal elements were discussed, as well as a mixture of the two. Privacy was also discussed here, as everyone agreed that the Church Grove residents should not feel that their privacy was sacrificed by views from the new building into existing house windows.

3. What materials are both sustainable and self-buildable?

We then all studied a table with images of materials. The vertical axis of the table described materials that were easier and then more difficult to build with from the top down. The horizontal axis described materials that were less sustainable to more sustainable from the left to the right. As was partially expected, there was a general preference to the area at the top right of the page; materials that were easy to build with and sustainable. These included timber, stone and tiles. Interestingly, it was generally agreed that if the Passivhaus certification were achieved within the development, reclaimed materials were not to be included because of perceived difficulties concerning airtightness.

4. How can the design be coherent and allow for some individual expression?

Hundertwasser would have liked this conversation because facades that celebrate self-expression was a very popular idea, as well as the rights to design one’s own façade. One resident accepted that this would be difficult to achieve but why not aim for the stars and maybe hit the outer planets! It was also acknowledged that balancing the ease of construction with individual expression is a key challenge.

5. How can the landscape and trees be integrated into the character of the building?

The residents unanimously agreed that designing and incorporating the landscape into the building was a top priority and that the landscape should be protected as much as possible because of the importance of nature being made accessible to families and children. Individual ownership of certain pockets of landscape was discussed and the question of how to combine individual and community ownership. Semi-private areas where one can plant flowers or grow food was a popular idea.

The questions brought up lots of interesting ideas and debates and everyone had something to contribute to the table, which was really great to see. I’m sure everyone agrees that we’re looking forward to the next evening of discussion on the residents’ future homes.