A Look at Elderberry Walk Southmead

THE DESIGN

The houses at Elderberry walk in Southmead look, Well, kind of ordinary. And that was the plan. We didn’t want to build something with lots of eco bells and whistles, or that looked like it subscribed to the latest architectural fad. We wanted to build good-quality homes that suited the locality; that were perfect for Swindon.

We’ve recreated that famous British housing type, the terrace. We’ve updated it, and made it contemporary. The open plan ground floors are flexible, spacious and light – and we’ve raised the ceiling height so that every living room has a view of the sky. There are nods to the local area: the proportions echo the nearby Victorian railway cottages; and the colours – each Elderberry house is a different pastel shade – reflect the facades of the houses in the neighbouring streets. And whilst we’ve worked hard to make every penny count, we’ve built to the budget any housebuilder would spend.

GREEN HOMES

We wanted the buildings themselves to do the hard work. So rather than attaching fancy eco wizardry, we’ve gone back to basics and explored the best and most sustainable materials to build with. Our houses are made from Hemcrete, a relatively new material that’s made from the woody bit of the hemp plant for the walls. No, you can’t roll it in a Rizla, before you ask…

MATERIALS

Hemcrete is brilliant. It’s grown locally, and keeps your house super warm in winter as it retains heat. And to make sure it doesn’t get too hot in summer, those funny chimneys at the top of each house aren’t chimneys at all but something called cowls, essentially air vents. You can open them up, and heat is pulled up through the centre of the house via the staircase (called stack ventilation, taking advantage of the fact that heat rises naturally) and out the top.

We’ve used cork flooring inside, a beautiful, durable NATURAL product that absorbs sound, provides thermal insulation, and is warm and comfortable under foot. Since it’s resistant to bacteria and fungus, and doesn’t absorb dust, it’s ideal for people who suffer from allergies or asthma.

And you can use it in the home without having to cut down any trees – cork can be harvested from the same tree for a period of around two hundred years. Oh yes, and we’ve used low VOC paints to limit exposure to nasty chemicals, and natural wool fibre carpets in the bedrooms.

HEATING

We’ve used triple glazing, and invested in heating systems called air-source heat pumps. These replace your traditional gas boiler extracting heat from the outside air and pumping it to underfloor heating downstairs, or radiators upstairs – it works on the same principle as a fridge, except that a fridge extracts hot air from the inside instead.

And because our Elderberry Walk Southmead home are airtight, meaning we’ve sealed up all those nooks and crannies, we’ve installed a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) system to ensure fresh air is pumped into the house everyday. It sits in the loft, and while it delivers fresh air it also captures and reuses heat from the home, making sure nothing goes to waste.

WATER

We harvest rainwater from the roofs of every Elderberry Walk house – and even use some to flush the toilets. Most of it goes into water butts in every garden or central tanks under the village green for watering communal gardens and plants.

THE SHIMMY

What’s a shimmy? It’s our new invention! A simple touchscreen panel that’s the size of a small laptop screen and sits inside every home. It’s a virtual noticeboard. You can leave messages for the entire community there, for example if you want to borrow some garden tools, you need someone to babysit, or you want to tell the neighbours about the Saturday vegetable market that locals have already started.

You can also access live bus timetable information so you’re not waiting in the cold, or book a car from the on-site car club. And you can even see how much electricity you’re using. Watch how the figures increase when you put the kettle on!

THE VILLAGE GREEN

The Triangle takes its name from the central triangular green that every house overlooks. It’s the village green, if you like – a green oasis where kids can play and parents can look out of their windows and make sure everything is OK.

We could have crammed more houses on there. But we didn’t want to. Instead, with our landscape architect Studio Engleback, we’ve created a place for people to meet, socialise – or simply just to enjoy the view.

AN EDIBLE LANDSCAPE

The Triangle is fruity all year round. We’ve planted apples, pears, plums, old-fashioned quince (quinces arrived in England back in 1275 – try roasting them and add lashings of cream, yum!) right through to figs, morello cherries, walnuts, hazelnuts, kiwis, even passion fruits, and our favourite, mulberries. We’ve put them in front and back gardens, as well as in the communal spaces. Best of all, something will be in season whatever the time of year, so rich pickings are guaranteed.

We’ve also got two kitchen gardens (with polytunnels to keep out the wind and rain while harnessing the heat of the sun) so residents can grow whatever else they fancy. In fact, a few months in and the locals have set up a Saturday market stall.

BIODIVERSITY

What’s this mean? Put simply, that we’ve planted lots of things to attract all manner of wildlife. We’ve created hedges that you’re more likely to find on a farm in the middle of the countryside than in deepest Swindon, which include hawthorn, blackthorn, and wild rose. These attract birds, birds eat the caterpillars, and caterpillars eat the aphids – what we have is a very happy eco-system, rather than just paving or a square patch of lawn.

WATERING YOUR PLANTS

No more using mains water to give these lovely plants a soak. Each Elderberry Walk house has a rainwater harvesting system – when it rains, water from every roof is collected in tanks under the central green and used to water the plants. Perfect for those hot summers and hosepipe bans – when they, ahem, arrive. Mark our words, they will…

FLOODING

Along with dry, sunny spells come some very wet ones, too. With global warming, flooding is now a day-to-day risk and was already an issue on this site. So we’ve made some nifty moves to ensure it’s no longer a problem at the Triangle.

Car parking is on porous paving, so instead of water running off and having nowhere to go, it soaks down into the ground. And when we get a deluge, the large green swales (full of willow tress which love the wet ground) take the brunt and simply flood with water, which then recedes over a few days as the ground sucks it up.

CARS AND BIKES
It’s the 21st century. We know most people have at least one car, but our hope is that we can encourage people to keep it at that.

Do you really need a second car? Could you manage without it? Do you even need a car at all? The pedestrian is king at the Triangle.

We think that’s only right in a residential development. Our central location means it’s a short walk to town, and an even quicker cycle. But if you do need a car, we’ve teamed up with Goco to provide Swindon’s first-ever car club. Sign up, and pay as you hire – you can start with as little as a 30-minute trip.