Marmite architecture can enhance your life

by Ric BlenkharnBramhall Blenkharm

A house on the Sylvan development in Malton designed by Ric Blenkharn when it was newly-built in 2004.
A house on the Sylvan development in Malton designed by Ric Blenkharn when it was newly-built in 2004.

I have recently been asked to go back and design an extension to one of a group of four properties I designed some 15 years ago.

At the time the buildings raised considerable debate within Malton and certainly divided opinion. They were seen as radical and “out of keeping” by a number of residents but at the same time they were widely admired and received regional and national press coverage.

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The houses were a bold attempt by the developer to build something very different from those on offer from mainstream developers. Each has large double-height living areas with tall windows. These allow the canopies of trees to be framed by internal views. They also flood living areas with light. The rooms were desgned for a multiple range of uses

It was fascinating to return to see how the owners had used some of the spaces. Rooms were used as a work place, dressing room, children’s space and a home gym. It was great to hear that the owners loved the property and were excited at the range of opportunities the spaces gave.

They also mentioned that passers-by still stopped and stared at the houses. I see this in a positive light, in that such buildings have created debate yet are widely admired for their boldness and innovation. I often call such

buildings “Marmite Architecture, since they are not to everyone’s taste. Yet, they offer a taste of something that is not delivered by standard house building.

Sure, it is a risk to make a different contribution to the market place but as a practice we have seen that buildings designed in such a way really do offer both commercial value and a better way of living for owners.

We know that a number of smaller scale developers are finding that design and innovation has a part to play in the housing market. I recently met a local developer who has quite clearly gone the extra mile in both design and specification of properties. The demand for the homes has been significant

As with all schemes, innovation demands rigour throughout the design and planning process. Bringing something visually different to a planning authority can be difficult, as it is far easier to comprehend and approve something similar to properties in the vicinity.

It is more challenging to approve something a little different. Thankfully, we know that a number of local and regional planning see the potential for good architecture to make a positive impact in the regeneration of villages, towns and cities.

On a wider scale, the relatively recent development at Derwenthorpe in York offers a tremendous vision of how new housing can be designed to create pedestrian-friendly communities. Roads are seen as shared surfaces, which naturally help reduce speed.

Parking generally is contained within parking courts or under carports, so that cars do not dominate the street scene.

High levels of external landscaping are provided, with open recreation spaces linked by footpaths and cycle routes. The houses themselves have steeply-pitched roofs, so that roof spaces can be utilised as rooms.

There is nothing new in this type of architecture. It has been prevalent across Europe and particularly Scandinavia for several decades.

Yet for Yorkshire, Derwenthorpe is seen as a radical game-changing development.

It shows that Marmite is an acquired taste, but I believe it is well worth trying.