Three Gardens, Elmswell, Suffolk

Project Winner


Riches Hawley Mikhail


Orwell Housing Association/p>


O Seaman & Son

Planning Authority

Mid-Suffolk District Council

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A mile north of the A14 between Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket is Elmswell. It’s a village where the company car driver taking advantage of East Anglia’s main business artery has put home ownership beyond those who work in the local economy, already shut out of the parish’s stock by Right to Buy. Orwell Housing Association working with the Parish Council commissioned an architectural competition for thirteen 2-bed and nine 3-bed houses and four 1-bed flats for local people. The winning design stresses both the rural and the communal. This begins with the landscaping treatment which mimics field patterns formed by ploughing, with a low-maintenance wildflower meadow and ‘Suffolk apples’-only orchard as amenity, both open to non-residents.

Houses are linked as threes and face north-south, the plots backing onto each other with a link of three 2-storeys paired with a link of 2-storeys so that low winter sun typical of the area’s flat landscape is not blocked off. These clusters have private gardens between their backs as in a more suburban location, although building lines are offset to improve privacy and light and give views. Ends of the blocks are wrapped in a high garden wall typical of the vernacular to separate the public and private. Canted elevations and monopitch roofs helping to soften the impact of their 3-storey interiors.

Detailing is contemporary with a focus on local materials and the impressive environmental specification has a distinct agricultural flavour. Heating and hot water is powered by burning the area’s trove of biomass, homes will be insulated with sheep’s wool, render panels will be sprayed hempcrete, a mixture of lime and one of the region’s oldest crops. Rain water is to be harvested for flushing toilets and, of course, watering cottage gardens. There is a sense throughout of a benign local ecology.

a sense throughout of a benign local ecology