We’re delighted to publish this guest post by Iona Street resident, Michael Bryan. He is a part-time student currently undertaking a Masters in Sustainable Community Design at Heriot Watt University.
During the summer he entered a UK-wide design competition aimed at promoting biodiversity and sustainability within the built environment. The proposal he came up with involved the redevelopment of Edinburgh’s Shrubhill site on Leith Walk, including the now almost derelict Shrubhill House and the original Victorian Tram workshop buildings, as well as a reimaging the popular colony houses.
His design was awarded 1st prize on 18th October at an awards ceremony and exhibition held at the Museum of London.
Michael’s guest post is certainly timely. This week the council has just released a first draft of it’s Edinburgh Local Development Plan which proposes to relax planning controls on the green belt. If the council aims to make it easier for developers to build homes on green field sites on the outskirts of the city, what fate awaits brownfield sites like Shrubhill that have lain vacant for many years?
Scrubbing Up Shrubhill
The current prolonged downturn has seen a tranche of mothballed sites around many city and town centres, leaving gaping holes within streetscapes. Whilst some sites sit entirely empty, with mounds of topsoil gradually being overgrown with weeds, others contain whole derelict buildings derided by locals as an eyesore, a constant reminder of the cash strapped times we now find ourselves in.
I pass one such site on a daily basis: Shrubhill House (or ‘Big Society HQ’ as one intrepid individual recently rechristened its frontage) and its adjacent former Victorian era bus and tram depot buildings.
As a Masters student in Sustainable Community Design at Heriot Watt University, and as a resident of Leith, I began hatching my ideal plans for a new sustainable community on the site. The resulting concept was recently awarded 1st prize at this year’s UK-wide Integrated Habitats Design Competition.
Image 1. Re-developed Shrubhill House
My design would see the creation of 122 affordable homes, shared communal facilities and a community education centre through a combination of new-build and retro-fitting. A new sustainable transport connection would be created, linking urban and natural environments and turning the site into a new hub of biodiversity.
Image 2. Shrubhill House Rooftop Garden
The brief for the competition called upon entries to use an innovative approach in responding to the future challenges presented by climate change, resource depletion and loss of biodiversity. I began by undertaking an analysis of the surrounding areas existing building uses and density, transport networks and green spaces to determine how best to link any development with the local and wider community and nearby wildlife corridors.
By examining the regions climate I was able to incorporate sunlight, rainfall and prevailing winds into new buildings orientation and highlight any potential adaption for the sites existing buildings. Today’s new housing projects tend to focus on the energy reductions available through technological solutions.
Whilst valid, the negative result of this myopic approach is that it encourages energy consumption by facilitating reduced energy bills. It is clear that behavioural change to a more sustainable lifestyle also needs to be encouraged. To do this I incorporated a new housing model: Cohousing.
Image 3. New Shrubhill Colony Housing
Cohousing is a form of intentional community that attempts to bring together individuals and families through shared aims and activities and the integration of communal utilities and facilities, whilst maintaining self-contained accommodation and personal space. The scheme reduces material consumption and individual ownership by providing its residents with access to shared facilities including gardening, food production, laundry, childcare, communal dining space, workshops and guestrooms.
Cohousing’s scale also lends itself to the effective use of appropriate energy generation such as a district heating system, passive solar heating and natural ventilation.
A wastewater treatment system of large reed ponds would provide suitable grey water clean enough to be feed into the local Water of Leith waterway.
Image 4. On-site water treatment ponds
A transport strategy was also required. Here excellent public transport connections would be complemented by a community car club.
Minimal car parking will be provided in the peripheral areas of the site, with vehicle access reserved for emergencies and maintenance. The removal of cars from the site would allow biodiversity to mature and provide a safe environment for its younger inhabitants.
In addition, the nearby rail track would be transformed into a cycle path linked to the Edinburgh’s existing cycle route network and an extension to the Water of Leith’s wildlife corridor.
Image 5. Cycle/Walkway & Wildlife Corridor
The danger is that the longer a site is allowed to deteriorate, the lower the expectations are for any resultant development – something is better than nothing. But this in turn leads to a cycle of unsuitable unsustainable building resulting in more demolition and redesign in another generation.
This is a cycle we cannot afford, financially and environmentally.
You can see larger versions of all the images in this post on Flickr.com