Housing to 2040 Voices: Adrian Stewart, DO architecture

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During the summer in 2019 A&DS and Scottish Government travelled to four locations across Scotland to review the delivery of recent affordable housing – built and planned. You can read more about the workshops here. We also spoke to people involved in the project from the resident to the client, the architect to the councillor.  Here are their stories.

Adrian Stewart, DO Architecture

Abbey Quarter Phase 3, on the site of the former Arnott’s department store in Paisley, is one of a number of new housing developments in the town intended to enhance the 24-hour residential presence in its urban centre. At the moment [November 2019] the buildings are fully formed and in the process of being fitted out internally.

The project will deliver 26 new two-bedroom social rented homes, ten of which are designed with additional amenity to accommodate an elderly population, including a lift serving all stories.

Dense Urban Environment

The very dense urban environment, combined with a compact site on a busy commercial street, required us to make careful placemaking moves. Our initial aspiration was to create a facade which was appropriate for its high-profile civic location on Smithhills Street, but also provided the ingredients for a good quality home, such as privacy and good quality internal and external spaces.

The approach we chose was to create a deep masonry screen that sits against the public pavement. This masonry screen then protects private outdoor balcony spaces serving each flat and provides a physical buffer zone between the public street and private home interior. Living spaces are located at the Smithhills Street side of the building, where there is heavy bus traffic, while bedrooms are at the rear courtyard side, which is quiet and much more private.

The building is deliberately double-fronted with a common stairwell that opens to both the bustling Smithhills Street and the more private and quiet rear courtyard, where, alongside 100% resident parking, shared green spaces are provided. Green space provision was an explicit requirement the client brief and local plan, rear courtyard around which recent and future housing phases will gravitate.

Neighbourhood Consultation

A consultation event took place during the planning application process, inviting comment from neighbouring properties. Co-hosted by Link Housing Association and ourselves at DO, it provided positive input to the developing design as well as ensuring that neighbours were fully abreast of the changes taking place next door to them and within their community.

One of the greatest challenges of this project was the physically very compact nature of the site, along with its position between two existing buildings. The fact that one of these, the Methodist Central Hall, is listed and historic certainly made this quite a challenging project. The limited size of the building also placed a financial pressure on the development, which would have been more financially viable with a greater density – however this was not permitted on this site.

Post Occupancy Evaluation

We plan to establish a feedback loop in the form of a Post Occupancy Evaluation once the building is handed over and occupied, and through the first year of occupation and during the rectification period. This is a critical element of continually striving to improve the way new housing is made and the methods by which we make it.

We expect to hear both positive and negative critique of these places for living, and we acknowledge – as most architects do – that making buildings is an iterative process requiring change and improvement, and encouraging us to learn from previous projects to make the next better.

Our take-away from this project is to ensure that we have a realistic understanding of the unique challenges when making new housing in a town centre context, where restricted space and access, noise and air pollution are factors. However, these challenges sharpen our focus on the core requirements of making very good quality and affordable new homes for people in town centres.

Read more about the Housing to 2040 Summer Workshops here.

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