A scheme designed to create sustainable housing and a vibrant community at an Edinburgh brownfield site has won a prestigious national design award for a Heriot-Watt student.
My aim is to bring in technological developments, like a combined heat and power generator and solar heating, along with integrated community living
31 year old Michael Bryan, a Sustainable Community Design student at Heriot-Watt's School of the Built Environment, won the Integrated Habitat Design Competition Award 2011, for a plan called ShrubhillWorks. This is a proposal for the redevelopment of a brown-field site on Leith Walk, once home to Edinburgh's bus and tram network. It would involve a combination of new build and the re-development of nineteenth and twentieth century buildings.
But as Michael explains, the buildings themselves would be only part of his vision for the new community.
"New housing projects today tend to focus on the energy reductions available through technological solutions. Whilst that's positive, the down side tends to be that it can actually encourage energy consumption because of reduced energy bills. What's actually needed is a change in people's lifestyle, which is what a project like this would encourage. An added benefit is that it could have very positive benefits for the local environment and biodiversity."
Too good to be true? Michael believes that innovative but relatively simple design features can make all the difference. The ShrubhillWorks proposals involve 122 affordable homes, shared communal facilities, a community education centre and sustainable transport connections. It also links urban and natural environments turning the site into a new hub of biodiversity.
Private facilities combined with communal living
"Our communities have tended to grow piecemeal, and to be redeveloped the same way. My aim is to bring in technological developments, like a combined heat and power generator and solar heating, along with integrated community living. These would range from making full use of available rainwater and environmental drainage systems like reed ponds to ensure clean drainage into the nearby Water of Leith, to cluster development of the houses, suitable for a range of household sizes and ages, with gardens and large communal open areas to encourage social cohesion and a strong sense of community.
The winning entry...would transform a run-down inner city site into a water-sensitive urban village with permaculture at its heart
"There would be areas for communal gardening, child-care, workshops and guest rooms, as well as providing private family space. The sense of community would be underpinned with a community and education centre, based in the old tram buildings, and this could be used to promote biodiversity programmes.
"It's about choice, not about telling people how to live. The houses would all have private facilities, but there's also an option for more communal living, whether it be laundry facilities, workshops or allotments."
Gary Grant, independent ecologist and masterplanner and Chair of IHDC Judges, said, "The winning entry integrates community, energy, materials, water, food and biodiversity. It would transform a run-down inner city site into a water-sensitive urban village with permaculture at its heart.
"Integration comes in the form of waste and wastewater treatment and rooftop gardens. The site includes plenty of wildlife habitat which links to the wider ecological network and species, including bats, birds and bees are catered for."
Imaginative & sustainable development
Michael used the Shrubhill site simply as an example of how urban brownfield sites could be developed imaginatively and sustainably, but he stresses he's happy to discuss applying his ideas there or on any other sites looking for a sustainable solution.