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The Research Project

Scottish Homes and Gordon District Council funded a research project at Robert Gordon University with the aim of designing more affordable houses by going back to first principles and challenging the nature of the house and all our assumptions about traditional rural and suburban housing. The grant (initially of £140,000) was acquired by the then Head of the School of Surveying at RGU - Seaton Baxter – and the project was led throughout by Martin Edge.

A site at Glenkindie in Aberdeenshire was chosen for the demonstration project once the work was complete. This site was later changed to one at Lumsden, which was found to be ‘landlocked’. Late in the research process another site was found at Canmore Place in Kincardine O’Neil, which was the one ultimately used for the development.

The project employed nine Research Assistants for different periods. These were four Quantity Surveyors, a Building Surveyor, two Enviromental Canmore Place - Backyard.Psychologists and two Architects.

The project began with no preconceptions as to the form and nature of affordable rural housing. For instance, radical changes in space standards were not ruled out. Another option which was pursued was the use of spaces with very different build qualities, such as very large conservatory spaces and part-build. Although concerned with building cost, the primary starting point for the project was the objective investigation of the needs and wants of potential users.

As with all social housing it is difficult to identify the group of actual occupants for a development early in the design stage. In most cases occupancy will change many times over the life of the building anyway, so it is important to be able to accommodate the needs of a wide range of potential users. Therefore the large amount of data collected and analysed by reference to potential user groups, which was then used in an iterative research-design process, was essentially part of a design participation exercise.

Amongst many other activiities in this project, environmental psychologists and other social scientists carried out what amounted to a series of early stage briefing processes, with potential users as clients. They explored the users’ desire for and use of space in the home at a very fundamental level. This and other data was then developed into a series of hypotheses for designers to work with in coming to potential solutions. These potential solutions were then tested by reference to the potential user group.

Designs were then exposed to a ‘Steering Group’ of institutional stakeholders, with members from the Scottish Government, local authority, insurance, construction industry and housing association sectors.

Designs were developed and refined over a long period by a number of designers, who through the project had access to many more resources to test social responses to their designs (as well as cost and technical aspects) than would normally be the case in a small housing project.

By the end of the successful project a series of quite well developed and tested designs was presented as part of the reporting to the client. One of these was a design for a modular, square timber framed house with a central, manufactured service core and a pyramidal roof within which was an occasional extra bedroom space. The design featured fully moveable, flexible partitions by means of which occupants could, to a certain extent, change room sizes and spatial layout easily and simply, on a daty to day basis if necessary.

Once the Canmore Place site was identified the RGU Team developed further variants of this design, specifically a terraced version with an upper half-storey which could either be fully fitted out or left as a part-build roof space for future development by occupants.

All the key features of the designs were developed through a process of consultation with user groups, as well as reference to the Steering Group and analysis of construction method and cost.