Building in the green belt: 2

The challenge of building in the green belt is typological: we may know that we want to live there, but in what sort of dwelling? The promise of living at the city edge is space: traditionally this has meant houses; detached or semi-detached, each with a private garden. The price of this model is low density and its corollaries:  inefficient land use, hard-to-reach diffuse public transport, car dependency and its associated health impacts. But if higher density is the answer, what is the best higher density model? Terraced housing offers many advantages. Density can be moderately high. Every dwelling has identity and presence; a front door at street level. Every dwelling can have a garden (or two; one at front, one at back).

Typically, terrace back gardens remain fenced off from each other; however, in some places you see recognition of the potential of a connecting space within a terrace block interior: the image above shows a planted connecting passage in Middlesborough. Similar examples are found in Japan: Haruki Murakami describes such a space in his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I think these spaces have further potential. The massing below describes a hybrid typology of terraced houses and point block towers (although slender, at one dwelling per floor). Together, these types enclose a block whose interior features a large, shared but secure garden for residents of all age groups.

Below is a part plan at ground level:

The shared garden is fringed by the private gardens of terrace houses but is also overlooked by the point block dwellings; for these blocks, the shared garden offers a park-like setting in the style of post-war modern housing, only in miniature, and without the radical ground plane permeability of that era: in effect, the proposal also hybridises models of land enclosure; some is private, some is shared but only for residents, some is public (street; pocket park).

Some figures. The plot is 1.3 ha; the built area is 3,545 m2, or 27% of the plot; a relatively low figure. Interior gardens, private and shared together, are 33.5% of the plot; the shared garden is 15%. Front gardens, footpaths and public open spaces together take 27% of the plot. The density is 274 hr/ha, and apartment dwellings provide 13.5% of the habitable room count; most residents here live in houses.

If most residents live in houses, and this type is doing most of the ‘work’ in terms of density, why provide towers at all? One reason is that household sizes vary, and it seems odd to confine smaller households to city centres; why shouldn’t single people or couples also live ‘in the countryside’? At the same time, one or two bedroom ‘houses’ are a difficult typology; these are implicitly one or two storey dwellings with diminished presence on a street and lower density. Duplex stacking offers a partial answer but the advantages of flatted development – with the right plan – are light and views. The freehand perspective above shows how the point blocks in the hybrid massing take full advantage of long views within the block, as well as having sufficient height to give distant views. Each floor in one of these blocks is a single ‘360 degree’ two bedroom dwelling, as shown in the plan below.

The roofs of the point blocks are planned as resident gardens, screened by the facades. A similar approach is taken with the houses to the corners of the block. Here, the interior angle makes it impossible to plan a garden at ground level for every dwelling; instead, the roofs of the houses are used as gardens as shown below.

You might have spotted that no car parking is provided. In the next post, I’ll sketch an approach to urban design, street layouts and transport that can complement this typology.


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