architecture

Building of the week: The Wintles

The Wintles is a sustainable housing development that I’ve heard lots about, but I was reminded of it recently and remembered that I’d never actually written about it on the blog. So let’s put that right.

The Living Villages Trust is an organisation that builds villages rather than housing developments, and the Wintles is their best known project. It’s a collection of 12 homes in the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle. Each house is built with natural materials, often reclaimed or locally sourced, in a hybrid of new and old techniques. They are well insulated and use very little heating, fitted with heat exchanges and solar panels and hot water. And they’re all different, creating visual interest.

They’re also designed for community. The layout of the development keeps cars at the perimeter of the site, with car ports round the back and front doors opening onto a shared green. Gardens are small, and instead residents have allotments and a shared orchard and woodland. This encourages a sense of neighbourliness, and so does the design of the houses themselves. They are oriented towards the sun to maximise heat and light, but are also made with sun-filled pockets and corners where people would naturally pause and spend time. And so would cats, I imagine.

This is very unusual. The vast majority of new developments in Britain are designed as units of private space, arranged to pack as many in as the developed can, and almost always prioritising cars over pedestrians. The houses themselves are either all the same or draw on a limited number of templates, making them cheaper to produce. The result is streets that feel generic and where neighbourhood interaction is minimal, whereas the Living Villages approach creates distinctive and welcoming places that people want to live in.

This doesn’t come cheap of course. Though they weren’t vastly expensive at the start, The Wintles is now highly desirable as a place to live. But placemaking doesn’t need to be a luxury. There are lessons from the neighbourhood design here (including A Pattern Language, for those who are fans of it) that can be applied anywhere. There’s a project in Hackney called 21st Century Streets that shows how urban areas can be reinvented, and I’ll write more about that when it’s a bit further along.

Not everybody will want to live in a modern village like The Wintles, nor will its aesthetics appeal to everybody. But there should be more developments striving for what The Wintles achieves. Sustainable housing can mean more than low energy buildings. It can include community, beauty, character, and place-making that stands the test of time.

  • For more, including image galleries and more experiments in village-making, see the Living Village Trust.

3 comments

  1. A great idea – but what about urban living? Here in Sheffield, a similar concept of keeping the cars (if any) out of the way and providing shared communal space as well as ground floor workspaces, but also with some private outdoor space, especially in the roof, is the ‘sky house’ – houses built vertically in blocks, one room per floor – see https://sky-house.co/developments/devonshire-quarter. Not sure just how energy efficient they are – but this would be a matter of build quality rather than build style – and building houses back-to-back in terraces saves energy anyway by reducing the area of outside walls. As confirmed urbanites, we may well consider living here when we are older and need to downsize.

    1. Yes, place-making is possibly even more important in an urban context where the landscape can feel much more impersonal. I’d be interested to see how the design principles in use at the Wintles could be applied to urban living.

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