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Demonstration Project


A scheme of 14 affordable homes to rent

Canmore Place is a private social housing development in Kincardine O'Neil, Aberdeenshire. It caters to a variety of users - single disabled, old and young couples, and families with two, three or more children. The houses have are square in plan with a central service core. They have a flexible layout and are of two basic types.

One type was built as single storey with the option of developing further accommodation in the roof space and therefore has between two and four bedrooms. The ground floors can accommodate two or three bedrooms, with a large living room, kitchen, dining room (which can be converted into a third bedroom), and a large bathroom equipped for disabled users. The top floor can be used as storage or for two bedrooms and an extra bathroom.

Canmore Place - view from the road.The other type was developed as an experimental design specifically to accommodate post-occupancy participation and redesign by users. These houses – two in number – were square units with a central services ‘pod’ and a series of sliding partition walls designed so that occupants could potentially change the spatial layout and size of rooms in a number of ways. These two houses with pyramidal roofs enclosing an occasional living space were sited at the entrance to the development as a reference to gate houses.



Each house has a small backyard garden with a shed. There are two large common green areas, with benches and porches which seem to be very popular during the summer. The houses are use different cladding materials to the traditional stone houses in the area, but maintain fairly traditional proportions and roof pitch.

The external finishing of the walls is in wood, which had to be painted in green as a requirement of the planning authorities. Though often not perceived as a traditional cladding material in housing in the area, research done as part of the early development of the designs demonstrated that timber is in fact the most common wall cladding material in the area (1).

The roof was originally to be clad in profiled metal sheet. Again research demonstrated that this material is very much part of the rural building tradition of the area (1). This was however changed to shingles as a result of a participatory exercise with the local community. When new, shingles stand out as unusual and clearly made of wood. As expected, they changed colour with time and now look not dissimilar to slates. The architect, client, and the user of the house visited by the researchers were all of the opinion that the building users seem to be quite satisfied with the development, a conclusion perhaps reflected in the well maintained surroundings. According to the architect, people do not like the fact that the houses do not have masonry exterior walls, but they are quite happy with the interior layout.

The design chosen by the Affordable Rural Housing Research Team for the demonstration project was a small, flexible, adaptive house design, incorporating a number of advanced features for the experimental monitoring and post-occupancy evaluation of life-cycle homes in a rural, Scottish context. Whilst remaining responsive to place and the local environment in terms of materials and form, it is a simple, modular design which takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by standardisation and manufacture to provide maximum flexibility and adaptability to the widest range of user needs. The house is a response to the social system documented by the research which informed the design process. Its central premise is that design for life-cycle optimisation cannot be restricted to maximising a building's physical life, but must be sensitive to situational and social dynamics during the 'life-cycles' of its occupants. This flexibility is of particular importance in the rural social housing sector, with low housing stock and changing, unpredictable user demand from an ageing community.

The solution employs a compact, symmetrical, modular structure, allowing a high degree of design variability and flexibility of use. Room size and spatial organisation can easily be changed on an ongoing basis.

The initially generic design moved into the demonstration stage with the construction of 14 homes to rent The project was community based and concerned with the betterment of wider social and natural environments, as well as the immediate environment in the home. Research into support systems for people with dementia and community involvement in design and planning were central to the fourteen home scheme.

The solution employeed a compact, symmetrical, modular structure, allowing a high degree of design variability and flexibility of use. Room size and spatial organisation can easily be changed on an ongoing basis. The initially generic design is now moving into the demonstration stage as the core feature of the 'Scottish Rural House Demonstration Centre'. The Centre is community based and concerned with the betterment of wider social and natural environments, as well as the immediate environment in the home. Research into support systems for people with dementia and community involvement in design and planning are central to the fourteen home scheme which is at the core of the emerging Centre.

The home of the future must be able to respond to disparate and evolving human needs. This design was developed to standardise and optimise physical structure and its manufacture and building, whilst providing flexible open space to ensure that it can be adapted to meet the maximum range of foreseeable need. A cost saving and rationalisation strategy was the organisation of the structure around a central service core, around which circulation occurs.

Although designed in a number of modified forms, a leading design concept was the use of 'buffer spaces' around this core. The appropriateness of providing spaces of differential quality was confirmed in a number of empirical user studies. In this case northern hallway and storage spaces and a southern glazed space flank the central service core. The simple, square plan shape provides environmental advantages both in terms of heating requirements and minimising the use of construction materials.

The main provision for life-cycle flexibility lies in the ability of the modular structure to accommodate a whole series of different plan arrangements with the minimum of design changes. Simple, reusable, non-structural partitions can be placed to meet the needs of different people and people's changing needs. Thus, for example, subdivision of open plan space might be the response to the need for a second bedroom for visitors, or to the previously unforeseen need to accommodate a carer.

In one variant of the design the partitions are hinged and fully moveable, on a day to day basis if necessary. This potentially enabled the house to act as an experimental facility in the field of design participation, with residents able to change and refine their own homes in a design process that continues throughout building life and is assisted by environmental and occupant monitoring systems.

The designs were based around a 2.4m or a 2.7m modular grid with a service core designed to be manufactured. This core clears the maximum amount of surrounding space to optimise flexibility in design and use. It also provides rigid support for hinged partitions in experimental homes. The modular design and timber external wall panels facilitate future extension of the home, a feature which is unusual in the British context. The ability of the home to expand to meet changing needs is of great importance in remoter, crofting areas of rural Scotland in particular. In these areas of low housing stocks and very specific locational needs, families traditionally want their home to be able to adapt to meet changing personal and business needs. An innovative part of the design is the way in which it uses industrialised manufacturing techniques to complement and encourage local materials and skills and local economic systems, rather than replacing them.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of the house is its genesis from and response to evolving patterns of user need. The design attempts to address the evolving needs of clients, defined as direct users, housing managers and the wider rural community, not as a 'snapshot' at the point of initial occupation, but throughout the building life. Its flexibility allows the participatory design activity to be extended indefinitely, to include future occupants never envisaged at the start of the exercise.

Initial user studies sought to find ways of communicating the results of research within a more conventional architectural design process. The project was innovative in exploring the parallels between the disparate, but linked, research and design activities. The project team investigated a whole series of ways of allowing lay users to communicate preferences about the design of their home. These ranged from the use of drawn material and verbal description, to virtual reality simulation and experimental work in the 'real' built environment. The impact of built form and materials on the wider 'user group', that is the rural community on which new buildings on the countryside will impact, was explored through research which used computer simulations and other methods to address perceptions of rural buildings. Other studies investigated the true nature of vernacular architectures in this area of rural Scotland, challenging the cliché of a 'cottage aesthetic' which, whilst having little basis in local natural or social systems, is often imposed as the most appropriate rural architectural form.

The designs as built won a number of prestigious design awards.