Mole Architects designed Cambridge’s first cohousing development

Project: Marmalade Lane Cohousing, Orchard Park, Cambridge

Architects: Mole Architects, UK

Cambridge’s first cohousing development comprises 42 homes– a mix of two to five bedroom terraced houses and one and two bedroom apartments. The shared spaces and communal facilities, designed to foster community spirit and sustainable living, are integral to the development. These include extensive shared gardens as the focal space
of the community, with areas for growing food, play, socialising, quiet contemplation, and a flexible ‘common house’ with a play room, guest bedrooms, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and a large hall and kitchen for shared meals and parties. A separate workshop is located elsewhere on site. All residents are members of Cambridge Cohousing Ltd; have a stake in the common parts and contribute to the management of the community. Fulfilling the group’s aspiration for mixed, intergenerational living, the multi- national group includes families with young children, retired and young professional couples and single-person households of different ages.

The project is located in Orchard Park, an urban extension to north Cambridge built from the early 2000s. Orchard Park takes its name from the historic use of the site: the 19th century orchards in the area, and the proximity to the railway attracted the Chivers fruit distribution and marmalade-making business. The name ‘Marmalade Lane’ was chosen for the new car- free street running through the development to celebrate this history, and in admiration of the company’s ethos and practices, which included a profit-sharing scheme first implemented in 1891, co-operative values echoed by those of the cohousing communities.

The site, formerly known by its lot number of K1, was owned by Cambridge City Council. After sale of the site to a house builder fell through in the 2008 crash, the council agreed to work with the group to bring it forward for Cambridge’s first enabled cohousing scheme. A two-stage open developer competition, which established bidders’ design and delivery credentials before inviting financial offers, was held to find an innovative developer to translate project’s vision and brief into a deliverable scheme, with a design team led by Cambridge-based architects, were chosen in July 2015. The competition-winning design drew on the cient’s advocacy of street- based development to create a scheme that knits into the wider neighbourhood, while meeting cohousing’s need for private and shared spaces.

Homes are arranged in terraces which front the existing streets and create a new —Marmalade Lane—ensuring the development looks outwards as well as in. The terraces enclose the large shared garden with an open aspect to the south to maximize sunlight. The Common House faces south onto the garden, acting as a gateway between the public and cohousing realms and a focal ‘civic’ building for the cohousing community. The scheme includes communal waste stores and 146 cycle parking spaces, and car parking is kept to the periphery. As a custom-build development, each household selected one of five ‘shell’ house or flat types which they then configured through the floor-by-floor selection of floor plans, kitchen and bathroom fittings, and one of the four external brick specifications. Wide and narrow house and ‘paired’ flat shells share a 7.8m-deep plan, allowing them to be distributed in any sequence along a terrace. Homes have been tailored to individual requirements without the risks or complexity of self-build, while balancing personalisation with the harmony of a visually cohesive architectural style based on repeating wall and window proportions, porches and balconies.

The brick-clad houses have been built using Trivselhus’s climate shield closed panel timber frame system, which was precision-manufactured in southern Sweden. This ensures exceptional thermal efficiency and air tightness (and thus low energy bills for residents) and consistently high build quality, and permits configuration of floor plans to suit individual needs. Triple-glazed composite aluminium and timber windows and electrical ducting are factory-fitted, making for rapid construction on site, with a single house being able to be erected in two days. Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems in all homes ensure a comfortable internal environment, and air source-heat pumps provide low carbon electricity.

The Common House is at the physical and social heart of the cohousing community. An architectural one-off contrasting with the familiar rhythm of the terraces, this cross laminated timber structure includes a double-height ‘great hall’ overlooking a terrace and the shared garden, and communal facilities and three guest bedrooms which can be booked by the residents to avoid the wasted space of additional bedrooms in their individual homes. The Common House shares a lobby and lift access with 10 large, dual and triple aspect two bedroom apartments across three storeys, each with a south-west facing balcony or terrace overlooking the shared garden, and a triple aspect one-bedroom affordable flat.

Marmalade Lane has won the 2019 National Urban Design Awards (Public Sector), a RIBA East Award 2019 and RIBA National Award 2019.

Photo credit: David Butler

Client: TOWN and Trivselhus

Consultants: Elliott Wood (Structural, Civil); engineer Hoare Lea (M&E); Jamie Buchanan (Landscape); Co-create (Sustainability); Monaghans (Quantity Surveyor); Monaghans (Project management); Trivselhus AB (Timber panel system)

Contractor: Coulson Building Group

Site area: 0.97ha

Gross internal area: 4,300sq m

Density (dph): 42/ha

Cost of project: £8.3 million

Commissioner: Cambridge City Council