Co-housing: Privacy and community combine in Stoke Newington new build
- Credit: Archant
What do you love about living in London? Chances are, one of the things you prize is the sense of anonymity, the urban convention where people pretend they can’t see into each other’s gardens or hear every word of their neighbours’ fights, despite being divided only by the thinnest partitions.
This cultural attitude is perhaps in part what accounts for a certain squeamishness around the concept of co-housing in London and – economics and planning issues aside – one of the reasons the practice hasn’t had much traction in the UK thus far.
Groups of like-minded people pooling their resources to buy land for housing is not a new idea but, aside from a few 1960s experiments, backed by local councils and designed by visionary architects, most London housing has been built by developers or, increasingly rarely, by local authorities.
But, with the housing market in its current state, people are becoming more open to different ways of building, and beginning to recognise that, packed like sardines into high density accommodation, their perceived urban anonymity is little more than a fiction.
Indeed, flip that same coin and Londoners will admit that something they hanker after is a strong sense of community.
A new co-housing development in Hackney could offer a model for the perfect balance between privacy and community, quality housing and affordability.
Copper Lane, a cluster of six houses in Stoke Newington, is built on a backland site, replacing a derelict nursery school behind a residential street.
Simon Henley, principal at Henley Halebrown Rorrison, the architects who worked on the project, believes that there is potential for the model to become an urban phenomenon.
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“There are co-funded housing developments that crop up from time to time but this is slightly different because there’s common spaces and common facilities.
“It’s really co-housing light as they are not committing to cooking meals for each other as in some of the developments in Holland for example.”
This is backed up by Cressida Hubbard, deputy director of an arts organisation, who lives in one of the houses with her two children.
She singles out the sense of community as a major draw to living in the development, but appreciates the architects’ incorporation of elements that provide privacy too.
“It’s a really nice way to live in a big city, where you can actually know your neighbours and there’s always somebody there to feed your cat or help you work the electrics.
“Right from the start the whole idea that it should be more than just a housing development done by friends was always there.
“The architects did a great job of thinking about how to design ways so that you can see people if you feel like it but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.
“All the houses have two entrances, one where you can go in through the communal gardens and see people – their front doors might be open if they’re pottering about. But you can also go round the back and enter your house that way without running into people.
“They also thought about how to angle windows so you don’t feel overlooked.”
Many of the communal elements are designed with practicality in mind, rather than any overtly philosophical motivation.
“Having things like a communal laundry room does make sense,” says Hubbard. “Why have a washing machine each in your space if you can have a couple you all share in a devoted room?”
The houses are individually designed and the layout is personalised to reflect the needs and preferences of the various residents – there are three single person households, two single parents and one “nuclear family” involved in the scheme says Henley.
Visual coherence is provided by the use of concrete, Douglas Fir pine and white plaster throughout and, as brand new builds, a lot of attention has been paid to efficiency.
“The houses themselves aren’t huge. They are quite a reasonable size but they’re very well planned,” says Henley.
“Lots of daylight, extremely well insulated, environmentally they are very high performance, and really very little energy to heat them – that’s not something you would get in an old house.”
But Henley believes that the most radical aspect of the scheme comes from its layout.
“The Isokon building in Hampstead is a precedent for co-housing in London but it’s a classic, linear building, so everyone lives in a row – the communal aspect comes from the shared dining room – whereas there’s a concentric plan to Copper Lane.
“If you think of sitting round a campfire, it’s a communal experience, people are facing each other, the warmth radiates out from the centre. It works at a metaphysical and a physiological level, whereas people living on a terrace or on a deck doesn’t engender that in the same way.”
Photography by Ioana Marinescu