Scotland’s Housing Expo Case Study

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Project Data
Location Braes of Balvonie, Milton of Leys, Inverness
Date Completed August 2010

Introduction

Scotland’s Housing Expo in 2010 was the first of its kind in the UK.
It demonstrates a creative response to the desire for innovation and
encouraged the exploration of new housing standards for sustainable
design, innovative construction, energy efficiency and the use of low
Carbon and renewable systems and technologies.

Background

Prompted by the Scottish Government’s desire to bring the Finnish model
of a Housing Expo to Scotland, Highland Council initiated the project with
the active support of the Scottish Government, Sust. – the Government’s
Sustainability in Architecture Programme, Forestry Commission Scotland,
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS), Highlands and
Islands Enterprise, Highland Birchwoods, Homes for Scotland and
Inverness Architectural Association. Highland Housing Alliance (HHA)
were responsible for the implementation with Cadell2 (now known as
AREA) as their appointed masterplanners.

Inverness is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe, but in the rush to
accommodate rapid expansion, ideas such as creating a strong sense of
place and community have been sadly neglected. The 4 hectare site at
Balvonie, Braes is located next to a planned new local centre in Milton of
Leys. The Expo is a first phase of 55 homes on the site, with 45 further
houses scheduled in a second phase on the same site.

Approach

The aim of the Expo was to stimulate and showcase imaginative new
approaches to 21st Century housing, allows a comparison between the
standard house builders product, as is evident within the immediate area,
and housing with properly planned community infrastructure. Cadell2
established an urban design proposal setting a strong spatial vision and
placemaking agenda for the site. A broad range of house sizes, formats
and tenures was set to create a diverse community.

Cadell2’s (now known as AREA) Urban Design Framework contained a Design Code that formed the brief for an RIAS design competition held in 2007. Intense interest in the competition inspired participation by leading architects in Scotland. Each of the successful architects were asked to form a plot development team with a developer or a Housing Association, to purchase a plot and finance construction, however this financial model did not survive the economic downturn and the Highland Housing Association had to step up as developer.

The distinctive design of the masterplan is inspired by the character of the
immediate landscape; by the moor and forest edge, by the elevated shelf of
18th century pasture, and by the wooded dens and burns cutting through
the steep slopes below. This has led to sheltering buildings, to bridges
and causeways leading to them, to new water channels, to newly planted
tree lines. All of this reflects analysis of the wider landscape structures and
patterns. Elements of the existing landscape are carefully preserved: a walled drinking trough, drystane dykes, surviving fragments of moorland,
native forest. Inspired by settlements in the rugged landscapes of the
Highlands, the housing layout of the Expo makes sheltered streets by
using buildings as a buffer against the wet and windy local climate.

The streets and housing layout are inspired by the sociable qualities of
settlements in the Highlands such as crofting communities with their
nearby common grazing areas where farming work was shared in winter
time, or Hirta, St Kilda where an island parliament was held outdoors on
the streets.

A series of innovative urban design strategies have been used in the Expo,
geared towards a more social, healthy and sustainable lifestyle; and a safer, sheltered and inspiring residential environment. It seeks to create a sense of community, designed by collaboration between the masterplanners and the plot architects.

Process

Development of Project Idea

Selection and purchase of site

Masterplan and Design Code

Feb – May 2007
Design Competition for Plots

Exhibition of entries at Inverness 6 Cities event
Touring Exhibition of Expo Project
2007
Planning Consent Granted

2007-2008
Architecture – design development
Masterplan plot co-ordination
Infrastructure, Streetscape and Landscape Detail Design

Event organization

Construction on site

August 2010
Expo Event

Westbrook Report

Houses occupied or sold

Housing Expo publication

Expo legacy – Influence on others

Result

The whole process of creating this ambitious project for the first time in
the UK involved a significant learning curve for everyone, including the
architects. The result was the creation of 52 diverse, unique and visionary
interpretations of future living, all set in an overall vision for community
living.

The key objective of the Expo was to showcase innovative, sustainable
housing and place-making to a wide audience to help change attitudes
towards house and place design. Since the event, a number of studies and
reviews have commenced with a view to collecting both anecdotal and
formal feedback on the impact that the research has had in this respect.

In Use

At the start of 2011, people were beginning to move into the houses,
turning Scotland’s first Housing Expo into the Braes of Balvonie – a
community in what Wayne Hemmingway has described as the best
housing development in the UK.

“We have established what it means to deliver an Expo and the level
of interest amongst the general public exceeded expectation” Susan Torrance, Chief Executive HHA.

Key Lessons

The Expo successfully opened to the public in August 2010 attracting
over 34,000 visitors in one month. Feedback confirmed that there is an
appetite amongst the public and the industry to explore and advance
innovation in placemaking, streetscape design and sustainable housing.

The Urban Design objectives of the masterplan have been largely realised
in the Expo. Some elements of the planned public realm and architecture
were missing or omitted in the run-up to August 2010 due to time constraints, however, the majority of these elements were completed after the public event.

The Expo has demonstrated aspirations for creating well-designed, energyefficient and sustainable communities by building a permanent community in Inverness. The completed phase 1 allows a direct comparison with the standard house builders product, evident in the surrounding area.

Locally sourced materials were incorporated in the streetscape including:
natural Caithness paving; reclaimed granite setts; Nairn gravel retained in
Bodpave; reclaimed hardwood railway sleepers; Scottish glacial boulders
and Scottish larch in the walls; boardwalks; reclaimed granite streetscape
seating and swale storm barriers.

The HHA has 24 private houses to sell in order to repay the bank and
release The Scottish Government guarantee – no small feat in the financial
climate of 2011. A post Expo focus group review highlighted some of the
key lessons learned from the Expo:

  • we need to find ways to fund innovation and to encourage use of local materials which may be more expensive, but local manufacturers also need to undertake product development to compete with continental imports;
  • the same message is true for the promotion and use of Scottish timber, a cause which in some ways prompted the Expo, but which needs concentrated research and development work;
  • the financial equation does not add up at the moment and developers are being asked to fund higher than current building regulation requirements with no added value for a post 2010 Building Standard Regulations house.

Additionally, one point raised in relation to the success or otherwise of
such an event is the need for a true champion to promote it.

Download: Scotland’s Housing Expo Case Study

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