Charles Holland Architects

Co-living in the Countryside is a collaboration between Charles Holland Architects, artist  Verity-Jane Keefe, urban designer  Joseph Zeal-Henry and the Quality of Life Foundation.

“The birdsong and the light. The edge of town, of the Downs, of suburbia. Full of potential for simple housing that can be extended if they need, adapted but most importantly lived in.”  - Verity-Jane Keefe

In the drive to make cities more liveable, the issue of rural housing has been under-addressed. New rural housing is reliant on a single, dominant model. Dependent on limited developable land and a monopoly by volume housebuilders, the result is the ubiquitous cul-de-sac of single-family units.

We urgently need to develop new models to respond to the key challenges of contemporary rural living and to address questions of governance, funding, delivery and design.

Our submission responds to the brief for co-living and proposes a new rural housing typology. This model allows for shared spaces, flexible and adaptable house types and an approach based on mutual,
cooperative governance.

Alfriston is one of the oldest villages in East Sussex. It has a population of 2,410, half of whom are aged over 65. Only 10% are aged under 15 and over 95% are white British. With high home ownership and limited renting, the main measure of deprivation is that of the barrier to housing. Our proposal explores ways to widen housing provision and encourage a more diverse population.

King’s Ride, on the western edge of Alfriston, is one of a number of sites allocated for new housing by the South Downs National Park Authority.

It represents both a specific situation within the context of Alfriston and a typical one for new rural housing – a small area of brown-field land on the edge of an existing settlement.

The proposal is based on a simple, timber-framed construction method that allows for flexible and variable house types. These can be mixed and combined with shared components such as kitchen/dining, homeworking, workshop and child-care spaces. For instance, two small flats can share a single kitchen/dining room; larger units can share homeworking spaces; one unit can be left empty for friends, relatives and carers to stay in; and there might be an additional space to be used as a crèche.

The main blocks of houses are arranged like a horseshoe around the perimeter of the site. A small, garden space extends each home outside onto a shared allotment and community garden. The existing brick barn is retained to provide workshops and communal room.

The roof offers an important space for additional accommodation. This landscape can be added to create extra bedrooms, study rooms and workspaces.

The scheme combines aspects of anarchistic self-determination with a community-based governance model, allowing for individuals to coexist together and for residents to share resources, skills and spaces. The site is conceived as one of a number across East Sussex, owned and run by a community housing association. Each site has a steering group connected to a board of governors which looks after all sites. Individual units are rented with profits re-cycled through a central pool. The cost of improvements, adaptations and maintenance are allocated centrally.

The proposal has integrated quality of life principles and has been assessed according to the Quality of Life Foundation Framework.

Video Credit: Verity-Jane Keefe

Governance Diagram Credit: Joseph Zeal Henry

Co-living in the Countryside, The Davidson Prize 2022