George Wimpey North
Kendall Cross Holdings
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How The Staiths came to be is an old story now: celebrity fashion designer attacks UK housing industry for faceless design, and the object of the criticism rewards him with a commission. Wimpey met chutzpah with chutzpah, challenging Hemingway Design to work with its architect IDP on a huge site of 800 homes in a weak north-east housing market.
The procurement history means the resulting scheme faces sharper than usual scrutiny. Arriving at the initial phase, first impressions are disconcerting, with an uncomfortably wide entrance road that narrows as you drive further into the development. But this is a scheme fighting received wisdoms. It may never win some urban design arguments, but it is a beacon for how new communities could be helped to bond.
How do you get to meet your neighbours? Wait until someone invites you in for a drink? And wait and wait... Here, you can challenge your neighbour to a game of ping-pong, just one of several features intended to get people in touch. Private back gardens and sunny terraces screened with wattle bleed into communal pocket parks, some with barbecues. Landscaped communal bin stores challenge the concept that homebuyers are only interested in life contained within their own curtilage, and the ethos extends to some off-plot parking courts where strolling the 50m with heavy shopping is established as the price worth paying to make the streets more pedestrian-friendly. Owing to Gateshead Councilís trailblazing support, the scheme is also one of the first to go for Homezone status.
As with precedents for landscaped community amenity in the Span era, the proposal is that amenity is left to a residents assocation to choose how it is used.
The construction team has clearly been kept busy creating streets where two-storey semis butt up with three-storey townhouses and versions of the ďTynesideĒ flat, creating a broad mix of property within the same building line, something rarely seen today in England. The undulating rhythm of building height, asymmetrical roofs, random fenestration and contrasting finishes will not be to everyone's taste, but itís hard not to enjoy this scheme. Everyone talks about serendipity; only The Staiths has it.