From a distance, the differences are relatively subtle. Located at the heart of the Orchard Park housing estate near the northern boundary of Cambridge, in the UK, Marmalade Lane meets the scale and texture of its context with three- and four-storey brick buildings. But up close, another kind of experience emerges. While the surrounding neighbourhood unfolds in a suburban web of cul-de-sacs and surface parking, Marmalade Lane is organized in a clear and permeable network of pedestrian-only passages, met by a pleasantly varied and fine-grained interplay of frontages that underscore a sense of place. Inside, an entirely different model of community stands apart from its surroundings.
Designed by local firm Mole Architects for developers TOWN, Trivselhus and K1 Cohousing, the Marmalade Lane co-housing development consists of 42 homes in a range of one- to five-bedroom layouts, alongside a generous central green space with shared garden plots.
Rows of family-oriented terraced homes surround a modestly scaled apartment building, where the central “common house” offers a play room, guest bedrooms, laundry facilities, meeting rooms, and a large hall and kitchen for shared meals and parties. Here, K1 Cohousing’s “aspiration for mixed, intergenerational living” is realized, with a mix of residents that “includes families with young children, retired and young professional couples and single-person households of different ages.”
With gardens and quiet laneways clustered at the centre of the site to create a relaxed and child-friendly environment, the ambiance of a playground is woven through the fabric of the site. By contrast, the community also presents a distinctly urban face to its surroundings. On Topper Street, tightly packed row-houses meet the street with a series deftly varied frontages, creating a sense of street-level rhythm.
The impressive social program is complemented by a fairly rigorous green building ethos. Built in accordance with Passivhaus principles – and nearing the Passivhaus standard – the timber-framed Marmalade Lane was constructed with triple-glazed windows, as well as highly efficient mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) systems, and air source-heat pumps to provide low-carbon electricity.
Compared to the surrounding Orchard Park neighbourhood – which was built in the early 2000s – Marmalade Lane presents a more urban, pedestrian-friendly, and architecturally ambitious model of development. But why did it turn out so differently?
The project’s city-owned site was initially slated to be developed as a more predictable suburban community – until the financial crash of 2008-2009. At the time, no traditional developers were willing to take on the project, which allowed the devalued land to be allocated for co-housing instead. A decade later, there’s Marmalade Lane.
The circumstances inspire reflection. If a collapse of the financial market – and housing values – can unlock new civic ambitions, it augurs uncomfortably for city-building ambitions in economic boom times.