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Design at the Heart of House-Building

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Case study 3: Ogilvie Homes / Mactaggart & Mickel Ltd / Stewart Milne Homes - The Drum, Bo'ness, Falkirk

3.62 This case study is of a masterplanned land development process that was led by a private landowner rather than by a local authority or a developer, as illustrated in the previous 2 case studies respectively, and involved 3 house-builders. The format of this case study therefore differs slightly from the rest, with the description of the land development process being presented first, followed by a section on the house-building companies involved, and ending with the analysis of the product and its relation to the process - with a particular focus on Phases 1 and 2 of this development.

Demonstration project: The Drum, Bo'ness, Falkirk

3.63 The Drum is a development on a green field site on the south eastern edge of the small town of Bo'ness, in Falkirk.

Background

3.64 The landowner, Grange Estate with masterplanner, Alan Jeffrey, developed the initial Masterplan in 1999 demonstrating six phases of development. The landowner is an architect and former Royal Fine Arts Commission for Scotland Commissioner with a strong interest in raising design standards. The valuer, Steven Tolson, played an important role in liaising with developers for the initial phases and provided guidance on the use of urban design frameworks. Grange Estate appointed Cadell_ from Phase 2 as urban designers and project managers. From Phase 2, the masterplan was taken a stage further through the detailed Urban Design Frameworks produced by Grange Estate/Cadell_. The masterplan was a constant throughout all the phases.

3.65 Mactaggart and Mickel were selected to develop Phase 1 with Austin Smith Lord after a selection process led by Grange Estates. From Phase 2 onwards a preferred list of architects was issued to all developers prior to the competition stage. In Phase 2, Ogilvie chose Vernon Monaghan Architects as their partner and submitted a combined design and financial bid in response to the landowner's brief. Phase 3 was by Stewart Milne with Malcolm Fraser Architects and Phases 4-6 (not yet built) by Mactaggart & Mickel with JM Architects.

Main features of the process

3.66 The Drum is an example of how house design and place are interconnected. It exemplifies how the buildings relate to the street, the hierarchy of streets and lanes, and landscape design, with a sense of safety within a hierarchy of spaces: public, semi-public and private. The developer wanted to use courtyards with hard surfaces and buildings hard onto that. This meant that in each phase, bespoke designs have been developed. In Phase 1, Mactaggart & Mickel made use of existing house types but then external consultants modified these to respond to the masterplan and aspirations of Grange Estate. The entrance to the site is marked by 3 storey flats forming a gateway, the main street snakes with parking tucked behind the houses in courts. The attitude to roads and parking has evolved through each phase and each has a slightly different response to the masterplan.

3.67 Originally the landowner retained its role as feu superior and asked the developer to enforce feuing conditions on buyers. These landowner rights disappeared through the change in legislation in 2005, but during the process they were in force and the landowners approved all materials used. In addition the landowners specified the landscape architects to be used. Any changes to the originally approved scheme continue to be scrutinised by Grange Estate/Cadell_.

3.68 In the Ogilvie's Phase 2, houses were grouped around small courtyards. The concept of courtyards etc was promoted by the landowner and their urban designer, Cadell_. The indicative layout was provided with the Urban Design Brief. Two developers chose to closely follow the indicative layout, and Ogilvie Homes were eventually chosen as preferred developer. A Deed of Conditions is intended to maintain the principles of the design. Although there have been some individual extensions and new garages, the overall urban design is strong enough to cope with these. In Phase 3, a "home zone" has been introduced with less definition between surfaces to create a central courtyard. The final phase which will be developed down a hillside to the north side uses the contours of the site to give views to the Forth beyond. New house types, including some with a bridge access, have been developed by Mactaggart and Mickel to respond to this topography.

3.69 The phases of the development have individual identities but the overall framework of the masterplan, designated open space and control of materials give a unity.

Constraints and barriers overcome

3.70 The masterplanner and the Phase 2 design team had to engage in protracted negotiations with the planning department to convince them of the merits of the scheme. The developer refined the proposals to accommodate the planning officers' comments but the layout was further altered in response to comments by the Planning Committee who refused to give approval to an apartment block that was proposed as a landmark building at the entrance to the development. The apartment block was eventually removed and replaced with a further courtyard of 2 storey housing which the developer believes dilutes the effectiveness of their design solution for the site, as it would have acted as a "gateway marker" for the wider Drum Development. More problematic discussions took place with the Roads Department, who were unhappy with the proposed scheme as it did not accord with their Roads Guidelines and indeed the layout had to be compromised to achieve a solution which they would accept, both at the design stage and at Roads adoption stage.

3.71 The courtyards in Phase 2, which are not adopted, are designed to "self-police" but disputes may develop where people do not agree how to use the shared space. The developers note that standard designs with cul-de-sacs, a small number of people passing through and no through routes are popular with customers. The courtyards in the bespoke development at The Drum conform to these principles and are successful.

3.72 There were difficulties in engineering because of the slope and this affected the land value. The layout of roads, trying to avoid cars parked everywhere, is a positive aspect of The Drum. The developers noted that the main drive in was intended to be all hard landscaping with inset trees, but they were forced to put in what is seen as a pointless 2m wide strip of grass. Roads also insisted on bollards at each crossroads, which are thought to be functionless.

3.73 The developers note that a number of areas, which could have been constraints to development, were avoided by working with an enlightened landowner who invested time and money into ensuring that the quality of development achieved at "Drum" took priority over commercial aspects.

Characteristics and practices of the developers involved in The Drum

3.74 The characteristics and practices of Mactaggart & Mickel and Stewart Milne Homes have been detailed in case studies 10 and 8 respectively. This section therefore provides details only on Ogilvie Homes.

3.75 Ogilvie Homes's HQ is located in Stirling, and it is most active in Central Scotland. In 2005/06 it completed 200 homes. In terms of volume of production, it delivers mid market and then starter homes.

History of Ogilvie Homes

3.76 Ogilvie was founded as a construction company that has now grown to be one of the leading construction companies in Scotland. Activity has now diversified and Ogilvie Group has a number of subsidiaries that undertake the following: residential development (Ogilvie Homes); building large and small scale (Ogilvie Construction); commercial and mixed use regeneration (Ogilvie Group Developments); a car leasing business (Ogilvie Fleet); and an IT company (Ogilvie Communication).

Integration of design into Ogilvie Homes's structure

3.77 Oglivie use external consultants where the specific site demands a particular solution. In other cases they use their own house types, which they have developed over a number of years and which are still popular and successful homes. The Managing Director is an architect and their in-house team includes 4 quantity surveyors, 2 building technicians, 2 structural engineers and 3 town planners. Other consultants are bought in for urban sites, affordable housing or for competitions - such as the Drum. In the last 12 months these have included 6 architects and 2 landscape architects, flood engineers and traffic engineers.

Ogilvie Homes' approach to design

3.78 Ogilvie have a range of standard house types, which were developed a number of years ago, and which have stood the test of time. They are now working with an external consultant to develop a new range but prefer simple forms without add-on elements. They do not consider bespoke design to be essentially better, but it may be an appropriate solution to a specific site. They would rarely ask an external consultant to change the elevation of standard products, rather they would use standard products throughout with all design being done internally, or commission external consultants to develop bespoke designs and follow through all stages of the process.

Key lessons from Ogilvie Homes's approach to the design process

3.79 The in-house architect is normally involved in the early viability exercise, when a land bid is involved, as are in-house QS and engineers. Planners are used predominantly for land purchase. The focus for design is different when a land bid is involved, as there is more emphasis on cost. Masterplans, such as New Gorbals / Crown Street can aid developers.

Relationship between design process and product: The Drum

Key data on The Drum

Phase 1 : Mactaggart & Mickel

  • site area: 6.5 hectares (16 acres)
  • no of housing units: 244
  • density: 37.5 units/hectare (15.25 units/acre)
  • no. of different house types: 8

Phase 2 : Ogilvie Homes

  • site area: (3.44 hectares) 8.5acres
  • no of housing units: 97
  • density: (28.2 units/hectare) 11.4 units/acre
  • no. of different house types: There are 4 basic house types in the range, some of which had variations to increase the number to 9 styles.

Key features that make The Drum a good product according to the developers

3.80 Mactaggart and Mickel (Phases 1 & 4) do not consider that their responsibility ends when the house is sold. As they have had a continuing presence on the site, they have actively encouraged social events and have been pleased to see that some of the first buyers who have purchased a starter home are interested in moving to a larger home in the next phase because of the growing sense of community.

3.81 The site location, which initially was seen as carrying some risk, has now become a popular location because of its proximity to the motorway and to the local shops in Bo'ness and as such the houses are selling well.

3.82 The development achieved a sense of place using standard designs that were modified. The key to this was a focus on streetscape rather than on individual houses, with housing units being grouped to create tighter streets and more formal street layouts, e.g. through providing a higher-rise symmetrical gateway to the development, reducing front gardens to bring houses closer and to reinforce the idea of a tree-lined avenue, etc. Changes to standard house types responded to the relationship between the house and the street, such as introducing feature windows in gable ends. Variety has been provided through the use of different render colours, which is not the usual practice of the developer. A path network and planting inside the blocks have been provided to encourage the use of the rear car parks. Access to such car parks in Phase 1 is through roofed pends to maintain the sense of enclosure on the street.

3.83 This development, while not having a significantly high density nevertheless is more "joined up" relative to more traditional volume house-building forms. The careful positioning of houses enables spaces to be tighter (less than 18m overlook) than conventional layouts. In Phase 2, where the buildings sit hard against the footpath, all habitable rooms are set to the rear, to the garden side, to avoid issues of overlooking and privacy and this was agreed with the Planning Department.

3.84 The courtyard housing was found to be very popular with customers. This less conventional form produces a closer relationship between dwellings than traditional forms.

3.85 Some of the houses in Phase 2 had living spaces with fully glazed gables. Ogilvie Homes note that these houses were very popular as they gave a greater sense of space and produced higher levels of natural light.

Effect of the design process on the product according to the developers

3.86 The influence of the landowner has been a key driver in the quality of the project in demanding a high quality of urban design and houses that respond to the context. This has helped the developers because it has eased the route through planning to some degree.

3.87 For Ogilvie Homes (Phase 2) the interest was in trying out a new form of courtyard house type, but balanced by more traditional forms such as terraced and detached houses. They had to develop a whole new range of house types specifically for this site with windows looking onto linked gardens and courts. Designing courts on a sloping site was not easy and was exacerbated by the need for accessibility.

3.88 Mactaggart & Mickel note that they were able to make use of a number of standard layouts and prefer, wherever possible, to keep the number of house types to a minimum. On this site, the external consultants were able to modify standard products at key points to give character and respond to views.

3.89 After some 4 years of occupation, the scheme has matured well. Landscape undertaken by Ogilvie has been maintained and encouraged occupiers to add to the planting framework with their own personal ideas. The original colours and details have been maintained by all the occupiers demonstrating an understanding by residents of the original design objectives.

Figure 3.16 The Drum - Cadell 2 masterplan

image of Figure 3.16 The Drum - Cadell2 masterplan

Source: Source: Cadell 2

Figure 3.17 Elevation of Mactaggart & Mickel standard flats

image of Figure 3.17 Elevation of Mactaggart &Mickel standard flats

Source: Mactaggart & Mickel Ltd

Figure 3.18 The Drum - Mactaggart & Mickel adapted standard type for Phase 1

image of Figure 3.18 The Drum - Mactaggart & Mickel adapted standard type for Phase 1

Source: Mactaggart & Mickel Ltd

Figure 3.19 The Drum - Adapted gable end at entrance to Mactaggart & Mickel's Phase 1

image of Figure 3.19 The Drum - Adapted gable end at entrance to Mactaggart & Mickel's Phase 1

Source: Mactaggart & Mickel Ltd

Figure 3.20 The Drum - Phase 2 Ogilvie Homes courtyard houses

image of Figure 3.20 The Drum - Phase 2 Ogilvie Homes courtyard houses

Source: Research Team

Figure 3.21 The Drum - Phase 3 Stewart Milne Homes

image of Figure 3.21 The Drum - Phase 3 Stewart Milne Homes

Source: Research Team