Case Study: Living Villages
In 2015 we were invited to help bring an old farmstead back to life as the centre of a new community. Our insights led to a lasting client relationship, and a design scope encompassing housing, community buildings, and more.
Living Villages were founded to build places where people really want to live. Places full of nature, character, interest and bespoke designs that take cues from their vicinity, just like traditional villages. Sustainability and community is at the heart of their thinking, and they want to prove this approach isn’t at odds with providing affordable housing. They chose a former farm outside Truro, Cornwall, as the site to test this hypothesis.
Truro is one of the least affordable places to live in the UK, with average house price over 8 times the average salary, in part due to the high number of second homes in the area. Living Villages believe if they can prove an exemplary model of development here, it could be taken elsewhere for the benefit of communities across the UK in dire need of decent housing.
When Living Villages approached us, they already had outline planning permission for an education based community farm with a place to eat, a cook school and 155 new homes, at least 30% of which would be below market rates. The village would be set within a wider, enhanced landscape, with 80% of the land being gifted to the local community via a new charitable trust. As a testament to the energy and effort they had put into public communications, of just over 600 local people consulted, 542 had been in support of the scheme.
The client had a site, and a clear vision of how they wanted this future community to feel, but what form should it take? We were approached to help translate the client’s vision for a modern-day sustainable village development into tangible, architectural proposals across different scales.
Villages that have grown organically over time have a charm to their form that is hard to replicate from scratch. If their appearance is imitated, the results look contrived and pastiche . Rather than focusing on the outward form, we focused on the principles that underpin a village community, and then use these to inform the architecture.
Using our approach, we set out to understand what the essential qualities of village living were, and then to see how we could set about designing a framework into which inhabitants could define and adapt their own spaces.
Our design thinking encompassed a range of scales; from consideration of thresholds between gardens, to pathways through the entire village. We encapsulated thinking on four key areas: Home, Houses, Neighbourhood, and Growth in a booklet that clearly articulated not just initial design outcomes, but also the principles we used to approach the design. Click here to view the full booklet.
A summary of a selection of these proposals are shown below.
Outcome 1: Adaptive House Designs
Continuing the themes of user-centred design, and organic growth we designed a series of affordable houses around the concept of future adaptation. Rather than design a series of different looking houses at the outset, which would look contrived, we designed the house in a way that would encourage its owners to change it to suit their needs. Semi-enclosed spaces and latent structure to allow easy addition of extensions or rearranging internal walls, and a set of open-source plans provided would mean buyers could later modify their home in a number of different ways without the need for an architects involvement.
Outcome 2: Defining the Village Centre
At the heart of the site are several old farm buildings, which were to form the focal centre of the village. There were question marks around how best to work with these, what the programming and mix of uses should be, and how new buildings could compliment the existing architecture. Through a series of studies, we brought a range of ideas and insights to ensure an animated and successful village centre. We put forward the idea of a dedicated civic space, run by the community for the community in place of the former dairy. We looked at how to convert and extend the old farmhouse into a pub, and its interrelationship with the community hall and a new cook school building. We also studied from a visitor perspective how people would approach and move around the buildings in order to ensure intuitive flow.
Outcome 3: New Community Hall
Our community hall ideas were taken forward and granted planning permission in early 2016. The design was an understated, barn-like building with modern detailing sitting in the place of a former dairy. It houses a flexible main space that can cater to a variety of uses, and a secondary service space, with storage, toilets, and kitchen. The most striking feature of the hall is its large format sliding doors and walls, which allow it to open up almost fully for events, markets, and other uses in warmer months.
What our Client had to say.
'Living Villages have been enjoying a fruitful and thought provoking relationship with Kennedy Woods over the last couple of years. We’ve found Chris, Tom and the team to be full of ideas, to keep well to brief, to respond to critique constructively and importantly to fit well with our way of thinking and doing things.
They are professional in their approach, always do what they say they are going to do and do so with great spirit. This has produced some beautiful designs - we very much look forward to seeing the realisation of these ideas in built form over the life of the project.'
Vicky Garner - Project Lead, Living village
Watch this space.
This is a live project with the first phase of construction due to begin in 2019. Check back for updates as the project progresses.