This is high density housing at its very best, demonstrating that volume house-builders can deliver high quality architecture – and that as a result they can improve their own bottom line. The whole scheme is about relationships: between architect and developer/contractor/client; between three very different firms of architects – Feilden Clegg Bradley, Maccreanor Lavington and Alison Brooks Architects; and between private and public external spaces, providing a new model for outside-inside life with interior rooftop spaces, internal courtyards and large semi-public community gardens.
On a brownfield site in Cambridge – formerly owned by the military - beautifully thought-through houses at a density of 47 homes to the hectare (65 if you discount the generous amenity spaces). The planners, led by the remarkable Peter Studdert, have been extraordinarily imaginative. How often do planners use their powers to withhold permission unless the developers use good architects to produce fine architecture? What other authority would have allowed terraces at first and second floor level (instead of gardens), rather than banning them on grounds of over-looking? In addition there is common land where children safely play as if in some idyllic throwback to the 1950s. Houses and flats have good-sized, well-proportioned rooms with views out ranging from urban to rural pasture. There is plenty of variety in the house-plans too, from the understated simplicity of the FCBS layouts, to the highly complex plans of Maccreanor Lavington with their two staircases and their ambiguous inside-outside spaces; and the scissor plan stairs in some of the Alison Brooks houses. The detailing too varies with the architect, producing a different aesthetic in each. These are traditional houses but with a twist. Much of the construction was fabricated off site to increase speed of construction, reduce waste, and to improve site safety and environmental performance.
The judges were asked to consider Phase 1 of the scheme – filling the northern and western parts of the site – since then Countryside have sold on to Redeham Homes to complete the scheme and to date at least the new developers and their architects have remained broadly faithful both to the Feilden Clegg Bradley masterplan and to their detailed design guidelines. Inevitably cost-cutting has meant the internal spec of the social housing is not up to the standards of the private housing but it does benefit from the same amenities, especially in the form of the delightful new and mature landscaping developed and enhanced by landscape architect Andrew Grant, who deserves joint credit along with the three firms of architects. Together they have created a place that is both singular and cohesive – so much so in fact that it is hard to tell where one architect's designs stop and those of another start; where landscaping ends and architecture begins.
This is a Span-type housing for the 21st century, a post-Thatcherite development that is not afraid of communal aspirations and aesthetics. There is plenty of individuality in the flexible house plans (mews garages have often been turned into studios or offices, even granny annexes); there is privacy on (most of) the terraces and balconies; but there are village greens and strips of common land, cars are tamed not banned – this is architecture that treats adults as grown-ups and children as people with different needs: for stimuli for play which does not involved sitting into front of a screen or a games console, and which involves interaction with other young people, not with Bill Gates and his protégés.
The Stirling judges awarded it the prize as the one scheme they felt could push things forward in a very ordinary way: an exhilarating project which adhered to the tenets of modernism, one that reinstates values that were lost from housing in the latter part of the 20th century. delivering light and fresh air at high density; Accordia, they felt, marked a paradigm shift in British housing, sending a message to an industry that has for too long been anti-design and to politicians who have regarded houses as targets to be achieved, that good housing does matter as the place where people's lives and their attitudes to society are shaped. Accordia, like all the best architecture, creates its own context and is already a place that appears always to have been there. The values of Accordia are those British cities need more of: a subtly controlling masterplan, a collaborative approach and an eye for both the detail and the big picture in the landscape and the architecture.