Elderberry Walk

Bristol,UK. 2018

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2018
  • Clients: HAB housing

Elderberry Walk is an exemplar housing development for suburban Bristol, demonstrating how high social, environmental and ecological aspirations can be achieved at low cost. It has been driven by doing simple things well – making streets where front doors face front doors, with a logical easily understood layout, where car parking is integrated and not dominant. At its heart is the Green Lane, a landscaped street with wildlife swales and incidental play. A minimum number of flexible house and apartment types repeat, and flex where the street geometry responds to the angles of the site, creating special corner houses.

Elderberry Walk is an exemplar housing development for suburban Bristol, demonstrating how high social, environmental and ecological aspirations can be achieved at low cost.

The site is on the edge of Bristol, between the low-density 1930s council-built suburb of Southmead and a corridor of green spaces that arcs along a low ridge from west to east across the city. The gentle slope to the south offers expansive views from the higher part of the site.

Local shops, including a small supermarket, are 350m to the south, together with a primary school. Major local employers are the hospital, approximately 20 minutes’ walk, and the aircraft works at Filton to the north. Despite its low density suburban location, the site is well served by buses on a main road a short walk across a park to the north, and a planned railway station 10 minutes’ walk to the north will improve access to Bristol city centre and further afield.

There is intense demand for housing in Bristol, where house prices have recently risen at a rate only exceeded by London, Oxford and Cambridge. Social housing is in especially short supply, and Elderberry Walk provides a high proportion of homes for affordable rent. Different tenures are evenly distributed throughout the masterplan, and the development is tenure-blind.

Almost all of the existing houses in Southmead are three-bedroom semis. A broader range of dwelling types is now needed, especially smaller homes for downsizers and younger people. In response, 75% of homes at Elderberry Walk are one or two bed, and have been designed to be occupied as comfortably by sharers as by a small family or couple.

The surrounding streets have a pleasant character defined by pebble-dashed houses in a cottage style. This character is hardly distinctive, however: similar estates can be found throughout the UK. Elderberry Walk responds to this context by using roughcast render and brick with contemporary detailing and privet hedges, but seeks to introduce a greater density of interest and picks up on distinctive features of the wider city like the rows of gabled terraces stepping down sloping streets.

The street layout is simple and legible. A ‘loop street’ taking much of the parking and traffic runs along the north and east sides, connecting the existing streets. Within this, a cross of smaller one-way streets divides the site into four blocks. Careful attention has been paid to front-back conditions: front doors face front doors, and long runs of back garden fences are avoided.

Landscape is central to the design. The site is bisected by the Green Lane, a 20m-wide street that connects the local green space of Elderberry Walk to the rest of Southmead. This space works hard, combining wildlife swales and informal children’s play with a narrow shared-surface track providing vehicle access to the houses. Within Elderberry Walk itself, new paths and improved habitats within ancient hedgerows encourage use by people and wildlife. Trees planted by schoolchildren in the 1970s are retained to form a semi-wild woodland glade. Larger areas of shared landscape are positioned around the apartment buildings: a triangle bounded by the rear gardens of the largest block forms a community garden and shallow swale basin.

All ground floor apartments and houses have gardens; the larger houses line the existing streets and their front gardens mirror those of the 1940s semi-detached houses opposite.

A minimum number of unit types work hard to produce a variety of street types and dwellings. The typical plot width, at 6.075 m, is more generous than typical and allows greater flexibility in internal layout as well as shallower plans. Houses have been conceived as shell and core, with custom build options for room subdivision offered to off-plan buyers. The three-storey mansion block apartment type allows all units to be dual aspect for daylight, ventilation and views while ensuring plenty of front doors along the street. The houses are simple, ensuring that internal walls align and storage is incorporated where it is needed. The focus on simplicity and repetition allows money to be put into higher floor to ceilings and welcoming thresholds.

Where the street geometry shifts to accommodate the angles of the site, the house types respond, creating special, unusual corner houses. Parking is either within front gardens or carefully integrated into the street design – there are no parking courts or car parks, which experience has shown do not work in this location.

Many of the houses have a generous porch with vertical, enclosed storage for two bikes, right by the front door where they’re easy to get out and put away, encouraging daily use. Along the Green Street, a balcony is supported by the porch, and bins and recycling are either integrated into the porch or a screened area within larger front gardens.

The buildings have been designed with a fabric-first approach to energy conservation, achieving Passivhaus-equivalent CfSH level 5-6 for the fabric and level 4 for energy. Integrated solar roof tiles will reduce the anticipated CO2 emissions by a minimum of 20%, with the potential for increased coverage should additional grant funding become available.

There has been a comprehensive programme of community involvement, led by the housing association United Communities. This involved regular meetings with residents’ associations and local organisations and councillors, and door knocking and questionnaires. Two drop-in events were held, one on site and the other at a local shop. The on-site event was given a festival feel with community play, children’s entertainment and local speakers. The project team also manned a stall at the Southmead Festival, and the presentation boards were left on display at the local library, community centre, and drop-in centre

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