Marmalade Lane Case Study
Looking at the Langley Sustainable Urban Extension which will have a very significant impact on the West Midlands and Sutton Coldfield in particular, it is helpful to benchmark with the best examples of community-led sustainable housing elsewhere in the Country. Only by doing this can we properly comprehend what is actually possible and compare with what is on offer. It’s a case of learning and by learning raising our expectations.
Marmalade Lane is Cambridge’s first co-housing development – instigated by Cambridge City Council, co-designed with a residents’ group and built by Mole Architects and developers Trivselhus and TOWN. Its 42 homes occupy just under one hectare at the easternmost edge of Orchard Park, a development of around 900 homes on the city’s northern fringe. Cohousing communities are created and run by their residents. Each household has a self-contained, private home as well as shared community space.
Arriving on Marmalade Lane – the name given not only to the overall development but also to a pedestrianised link running through it – the immediate impression is one of intimacy. The pavement and several flank walls at the entrance are covered in children’s scribbles in blue pink and yellow chalk.
Marmalade Lane comprises 42 homes – a mix of two- to five-bedroom terraced houses and one- and two-bed flats. Homes are arranged in terraces which front existing streets and create a new one so that the development looks out as well as in. The terraces enclose a shared garden with an open aspect to the south. Each household selected one of five ‘shell’ house or flat types, and made a floor-by-floor selection of plans, kitchen and bathroom fittings, and one of four external brick specifications. Wide and narrow house and ‘paired’ flat shells share a 7.8m-deep plan, allowing them to be distributed in any sequence along a terrace. “Homes have been tailored to individual requirements without the risks or complexity of self-build, while balancing personalisation with the harmony of a visually cohesive architectural style”, says the architect.
The houses were built using Trivselhus’s Climate Shield closed-panel timber-frame system, giving high levels of airtightness. Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems are installed in all homes. This is a very sustainable project with low emissions and running costs.
Various public sector-funded commissions unlocked the process. A scoping study in 2009, led by Hill’s consultancy C20 and funded by regeneration agency Cambridgeshire Horizons, tested the appetite for the ‘self-build’ approach and, with a range of stakeholders, developed a vision for the site. In 2011 the council-appointed consultancy Cambridge Architectural Research undertook further enabling work, spanning proof of concept and a schematic layout and design principles, working all the while to distil the priorities of an existing co-housing group into what eventually became a 60-page client brief.
The Great Hall, or common house – a popular feature of many co-housing schemes – sits at the heart of the neighbourhood. Entered through a generous lobby with seating, plants, and a noticeboard listing upcoming social events and meetings, the hall is a large open-plan space, brought together by a wood burner centrepiece, with an adjoining children’s play room and sizeable communal kitchen. Stone floors, timber-panelled walls, a double-height ceiling and a dual aspect create a warm and light-filled atmosphere reminiscent of a village hall. (Bunting and curtains of folded paper cranes also help).
Upstairs, past framed silk paintings made by the residents, are guest rooms which members can book for a small fee to cover costs, as well as a quiet meeting room, with balcony views across the common green, where a gym and shared workshop sit at the base of the apartment block.
Now, as owners of the common land, with responsibility for covering service charges, members sit on various committees, participate in the mandatory cleaning rota of the common house, opt in or out of its weekly meals, or volunteer to manage the shared workshop. “We’re like a small business”, director Jan Chadwick says, chuckling.
Co-housing is still rare in the UK, but with greater resources emerging from government, upfront enabling support and improved focus on broadening participation, we are hopefully on our way to seeing it as less of an exception, and more a new normal.
Marmalade Lane is a viable project that Birmingham can learn from and apply. The aim for large housing developments like Langley is not to comprehensively develop on a co-housing basis. This is simply not feasible. Rather to selectively develop co-housing and other innovative tenures as pockets of community excellence within the overall masterplan. These innovative approaches offer real potential for more community focused development in the West Midlands.
Thanks to: Olivia Tusinski / Architecture Today