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National recognition for two housing schemes

The Grodians scheme, next to the Baptist Church at Quoys, is one of two Richard Gibson Architects schemes to feature in a national exhibition. Photo courtesy of Hjaltland Housing Association

TWO HOUSING schemes designed by local firm Richard Gibson Architects on behalf of Hjaltland Housing in recent years are featuring in a Scotland-wide “Best of the Best” exhibition launched earlier this week.

The Grodians and Vadil developments in Lerwick were both singled out for the quality of their design by Architecture and Design Scotland (A+DS).

It ties in with the 2016 “year of innovation, architecture and design” and showcases award-winning projects from the past five years.

A+DS’s the “Best of the Best” exhibition was launched in Glasgow on Tuesday and will tour around 20 venues throughout Scotland between now and November 2016.

The Grodians project was previously recognised by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) back in 2011.

Richard Gibson Architects director Nick Brett said: “It is heartening that island-generated projects undertaken by a Shetland-based architect and local contractors have been selected for the exhibition celebrating the Year of Architecture.

The Vadil scheme at the Co-op roundabout has also won plaudits for its design. Photo courtesy of Hjaltland Housing Association

“We are pleased that the design ability of a small practice such as ours is recognised at national level. It needs to be appreciated that using an architect helps make places and buildings have a quality and usability that can transcend the utilitarian.”

Hjaltland Housing’s head of investment and asset management Paul Leask explained a bit about the thinking that goes into the association’s schemes.

He said it was always challenging to provide “really nice or excellent places to live” because of budgetary constraints, but Hjaltland seeks to avoid a Wimpy Homes-style approach of cramming generic homes onto sites.

“I’ve always thought that in order for a scheme to be truly sustainable then people need to want to live there,” Leask said. “It can’t just be a number of houses plonked down in an area and immediately you’ve got a community.”

He said the UK-wide principle of creating “home zones” had been applied to the Grodians scheme, designed by architect Adrian Wishart, with measures put in place to ensure vehicles must slow down and the provision of trees, bushes and paths.

In addition its timber-clad schemes use a painted finish, which Hjaltland finds to be cheaper to maintain than dried wood or render, and also offering the advantage that “every 6-8 years that scheme looks brand new again”.

“I don’t think we’ll ever build a scheme like Grodians on the basis that cost is something we have to consider,” he continued. “We try to provide the best we can for the resources, and it’s getting more and more onerous in terms of the [demands] from utility companies, roads departments, all the rest of it.”

Vadil, meanwhile, had initially been intended as a car-free scheme – but local residents felt that would put too much pressure on parking in the area, adjacent to the Co-op roundabout in Lerwick.

Leask said that award-winning scheme managed to create a “street-scape that follows the contours and steps down around the corner”.

“It was a challenging terrace to build, but I think Richard [Gibson] got the design pretty bang-on, and it looks really good.”

Hjaltland is currently working on various small housing schemes in and around Lerwick and is also working with the SIC on plans to develop a large site at Staney Hill.