Church Grove Residents Group consider the insides of their self-build houses and flats

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

The third evening of the Church Grove series of workshops was a session dedicated to the internal layouts. Again, there was a series of questions formed from the ‘Festival of Ideas’ and simulated into a Design Menu; a live document that records the design process and decisions made.

It is part of RUSS’ vision that the buildings are flexible and easily adapted to suit the users’ needs and that they should be built in a robust manner. For the exercise, the unit sizes for each flat were assumed to be greater than area standards in the London Plan so that flexibility for future proofing was facilitated. I was at the table dedicated to differing designs of a 3-bed shared flat/house on the site. The questions regarding this type of home were as follows:

1. How can the different functions required be accommodated in the common house facility?

We began the conversation by describing different experiences of shared flats. One of the most common complaints was that one bathroom and one kitchen between so many people often caused problems and social discord. Ensuites off each bedroom were considered, as well as private kitchenettes. However, it was felt that common areas have their place in communal lifestyles as well. A sauna/spa space was discussed, as well as a very large common kitchen.

2. How can the units have a good connection to private external space with views of greenery?

Because the house being discussed here was a 3-bed shared flat/house, a private garden shared between the residents was preferred, that would lead directly out of a common area. That way the line between external and internal could be blurred and still remain private.

3. What is the character and materiality of the internal space? Can this be different for each resident?

The way private spaces are used was debated extensively here. For example, Kareem Dayes felt strongly about having soundproof walls due to the fact that he would be playing musical instruments often and so preferred to set up his room as a music studio.

4. How can we ensure the units have flexible internal space, which can be adaptable to each residents’ needs?

Screens were offered up as a suggestion for flexible indoor space. It was also considered whether to incorporate a combination of private kitchenettes off some bedrooms as well as a large common kitchen, or if one large common kitchen with a collection of built-in separate and flexible working/cooking spaces would suit the residents.

5. Is it possible to have a varied ceiling height within one unit or split flats over two levels?

Each option was carefully thought over, with the idea of stacked flats above a common area being the most popular. Noise and privacy issues were raised, particularly for those residents living directly above the common areas.

Delving a little deeper into the design this time revealed some really great ideas, as well as prompting more discussions into flexible and adaptable ways to live together. One can now see a solid community-focused design being slowly teased out of what were at first only vague impressions of co-operative housing just a few weeks ago. All in all, another really good evening!