Melton Hill, Woodbridge, Suffolk

Client: Active Urban Property Group, Cambridge

The overarching concept for this unique site is for large residential blocks within a garden or ‘villas in a park’ that take advantage of the river scene. The strength in this concept is that it replicates the wider context of Woodbridge. Pytches Road is characterised in the same way, albeit in a more conventional manner, our concept takes the principle of higher density and ‘garden’ to another level responding to the topography of the site and unique location close to the centre of Woodbridge.

Autonomous Urban Villa

‘The urban villa is often built in more suburban and even rural settings, where space that is less dynamic, but green, forms the context for the autonomous residential buildings.’

‘No definite distinction between front and back, no screening between publicly and more privately situated exterior space: the urban villa stands exposed to the public environment in all directions.’

‘A decisive factor for the interpretation as a solitaire (in our case in the form of an urban villa) is its urban presence: in other words, whether the building appears as an autonomous object. Naturally, in doing so it can be integrated into an urban planning concept, which allocates an entire urban block with a more or less stringent canon of regulations to a series of solitaires (urban villas)’ 1

1 ‘Floor Plan Manual Housing’ Edited by Oliver Heckmann and Friederike Schneider

The villas take the form of a family of canted brick cubes, boldly shaped with hidden concrete frames faced with coloured brick skins. Carefully positioned large openings are focused on views. The principle views identified include views of the river, views of the river across to Sutton Hoo, views across the town, views up Pytches Road, views of the listed building, and views of the proposed landscape within the site. Large openings set back within the footprint of the building create private terrace space for some of the units but are mainly an expression of the villa form and design intention. Where the openings are more conventional (still generous in scale) they will be expressed in an aluminium window frame, flush with the walls, with a bronze finish and solid brick sills.

The key device that organises the villas is the ‘landscape thoroughfare’ or central public realm running through the site. The idea of a generous pedestrian public route connecting the Melton Hill and Thoroughfare Road to a new public space at the bottom of the site with a link through to Deben road came from the first Public Workshop and has become a key feature of the scheme and informed all the areas of design development. Opening up this route has also opened up the view to the River Deben, which can now be enjoyed by the public and residents alike, and that one doesn’t currently exist anywhere along The Thoroughfare or Melton Hill.

The villas are located to optimise views across the river and countryside beyond. As a result the skewed orientation helps set up the character of spaces in between at ground level. The hierarchy of these spaces is defined through careful use of the topography and landscaping described by Huck Partnership (Landscape Architects) in more detail within the ‘Quality of Open Spaces’ section. Predominant red brick facades create a consistent aesthetic in keeping with the surroundings, however the Melton Hill street frontage blocks are faced in contrasting white and dark bricks creating a strong independent architectural identity in direct response to the street front setting. Smaller town houses closer to the river are clad with a more lightweight black timber in response to their smaller scale river side setting.

The villas are set in a ‘car-free’ landscape environment. The sloping sight enables parking to be part buried beneath the blocks hidden from view. This enables the scheme to create a calm atmosphere unique to the location, characterised by green space and animated only by people. The journey from the top of the sloped site starts from a public square, adjacent proposed community / coffee shop space with views through the site to the River Deben and ends with an open public boardwalk at the bottom of the site. Semi-private and private gardens interweave with the landscaped thoroughfare from top to bottom. The canted roofline of the villas provide both a dynamic roofline when viewed from afar but are also a reflection of the dynamic internal design layouts.

This approach is both bold and confident from design and developer perspective and represents a 21st century vision for place-making.