The Old-Fashioned Village Green Transforms, Via Adpatation

Sometimes the greenest building isn’t the one with the most bells and whistles, but the one that will last the longest. Bearing that in mind, the United Kingdom‘s Designing for Adaptable Futures competition asks architecture and design students to imagine structures that “extend the life of our built environment.” One of two joint first place prizes this year went to Jeffrey Adjei, a student at University for the Creative Arts Canterbury, for a design known as New Addington’s Village Green [PDF].

The Village Green proposal was conceived of as an ultra-adaptable bit of city infrastructure for New Addington, an area on the outskirts of London. The proposal encapsulates a number of ideas about how to construct transient social structures for public space that evolves as the community itself evolves, in tune with its needs.

New Addington's Village Green

image via Designing for Adaptable Futures

The proposal is based largely around Walter Segal’s concept of self-build. Segal, a Swiss-born architect who developed his career in England, originated the self-building protocol as a means for owner-builders and their communities to quickly construct structures using traditional timber-framing methods. By focusing on lightweight, eco-friendly wood — as opposed to “wet trades” like bricklaying and plastering — this system allows unskilled laborers to create ecologically sound dwellings in short order.

In keeping with this inherently community-based method of building, Adjei’s New Village proposes a number of adaptable community structures centered around a community commons, or village green. These structures include a timber-framed mobile library (using cart structures similar to London’s “Peddle Pubs,” or beer carts); a fiberglass, modular skate park that can change venues as needed; and temporary staging that can be broken into a variety of configurations, meeting the needs of different types of outdoor events.

New Addington's Village Green

image via Designing for Adaptable Futures

That staging can also be fitted with screens to become more of an enclosed building, allowing for quiet spaces, classes and other community activities. Pop in the planting trays into those pre-cut spaces on the roof, and you’ve got an instant green roof. Leave a few of them open and slide in insulated glass lenses, and you’ve got some skylights. Fit in some cable tray lighting and a timber-frame floor with some insulation, resting on a temporary plinth (in case the whole thing needs to be moved), and you’ve got a structure that can serve a wide variety of community needs.

We like this “LEGO Land” type of approach to adaptable community space, which seems very much in keeping with Segal’s vision of architecture that serves people (rather than acting as a kind of monument to the architect). We also like the concept of a kind of village commons that can move as the community moves, placing itself at the center of wherever that community winds up (rather than being supplanted by suburbia). Apparently, the judges of this contest did too.

But probably the most intriguing part of this proposal is the fact that it relies on the input of non-profit organizations to decide on the best uses for these structures through a continual building process, which seems a viable way of meeting the needs of the community as it changes.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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