Affordable housing project in UK is a demonstration of Radical Simplicity

Callaughtons Ash Front
© Architype / Richard Kiely

Architype demonstrates that simple forms and careful window choices are the way to build efficient, affordable homes.

Architype Architects has completed Callaughton Ash, an affordable housing project for the South Shropshire Housing Association, in the wonderfully named town of Much Wenlock. It has ten rental and two shared ownership units built to the Passivhaus standard, which is often thought to be too tough or expensive for social housing.

Radical Simplicty© Nick Grant
When I looked at it, I was reminded of a presentation by energy consultant Nick Grant of Elemental Solutions at a Passivhaus conference in Munich, where he discussed what he called Radical Simplicity. He made some points that have influenced my thinking about building, and I now look at buildings through this lens. I described parts of his philosophy:

Embrace the Box. Keep the design simple. "Passivhaus advocates are keen to point out that Passivhaus doesn't need to be a box, but if we are serious about delivering Passivhaus for all, we need to think inside the box and stop apologizing for houses that look like houses."

Watch the Windows. Windows are much more expensive than walls and are lovely things, but truly a case of where you can have too much of a good thing, causing "overheating in summer, heat loss in winter, reduced privacy, less space for storage and furniture and more glass to clean." Windows are such an important architectural and aesthetic element, and hard to do when you are limited by cost and the math of Passivhaus, especially when you are starting with a box; it takes a good eye to pull it off. But instead of treating a window as a wall, as so many modernists do, think of it as a picture frame around a carefully chosen view. Or, as Nick suggests, "size and position are dictated by views and daylight."

I thought of this when I saw the Architype project. The forms are basic, the windows are not too big. It seems to ooze Radical Simplicity.

Callaughtons Ash two houses© Architype / Richard Kiely

There are no jogs and bumps and coloured panels, just simple boxes with modest openings. As project architect, Paul Neep, explains in an article in Architects' Datafile, "In terms of orientation, with Passivhaus it's about creating a good balance between window size in order to make sure you get enough solar gain, and minimizing the heating risks during hot weather – that itself had quite a big impact on the design of the houses and how they look."

The design for the homes is the product of thorough community and client consultation, with special attention paid to the appearance of the properties, which sit comfortably within the rural local vernacular and are clad in locally sourced materials.

Callaughtons Ash from above© Architype / Richard Kiely

Investigating the local vernaculars of Shropshire, the development aims to sit comfortably in its rural surroundings, complimented by a natural palette of UK sourced materials. This includes clay roof tiles that have been quarried and made within 25 miles of the site, lime render provided by local company Lime Green and UK grown thermally modified hardwood cladding, promoting the Housing Associations aims for a cohesive circular economy in Shropshire.

Closeup of house cladding and roof© architype / Richard Kiely

The cladding is poplar, which is not particularly popular, but it is thermally modified, a relatively new method of "controlled pyrolysis process of wood being heated in absence of oxygen inducing some chemical changes to the chemical structures of cell wall components (lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose) in the wood in order to increase its durability."

Poplar is cheap and local, and Neep says, "Ultimately, what we were able to do was deliver a timber cladding that was much crisper in its detailing, more robust and less susceptible to movements and mould growth."

Single house alone© architype / Richard Kiely

It's a fascinating project because it's such a great demonstration of that idea of Radical Simplicity. Or as Passivhaus architect Bronwyn Barry says on Twitter, it is #BBB –Boxy But Beautiful.

Affordable housing project in UK is a demonstration of Radical Simplicity
Architype demonstrates that simple forms and careful window choices are the way to build efficient, affordable homes.

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