A development of nine contemporary homes near Gosport, Hampshire, have been arranged around a historic military facility to offer expansive bay views. Jack Wooler visited this meticulously-designed scheme
Approaching these striking new buildings from a distance, David Craddock, director at project developer Elite Homes, takes a moment to look at the grey-profiled metal clad exteriors of the nine completed homes of Ordnance Yard. They’re “intended to reflect the historic naval setting, and create a unique and breathtaking environment,” he says.
“Having something architecturally different,” says David, as well as “challenging what was there, really makes them stand out.” What was there is one of the more unique aspects of this development. The modern, almost trapezoid-shaped homes designed by John Pardey Architects, are juxtaposed with the historic site they rest in, now restored and revitalised by the developer.
Part of what was formerly the Priddy’s Hard Ministry of Defence (MoD) Ordnance Depot, the brick walls retained between six of the homes were once blast defences for a series of shell filling and emptying rooms constructed between 1880 and 1915.
What connects these contrasting historical elements and the homes’ modern design however is a distinctly naval air to the development, with all the dwellings – six three-level sitting in bays between the walls, and a further three two-storey properties – right by the water, an inlet off Portsmouth Harbour, and looking out to the Solent beyond.
Looking back towards this expansive view – which includes Portsmouth’s Spinnaker tower – he explains that the team are not stopping here. The Ordnance Yard is in fact acting as the catalyst for a £30m joint venture between the developer and Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust to regenerate the wider MoD site in Gosport. Elite Homes has an entire new peninsula in mind.
Planning permission was already granted here, in 2007, for the demolition of six shell filling rooms and the associated structure, plus the construction of nine new homes and the required access, parking and ancillary structures. This before work was abandoned by the site’s previous developer, however.
It was not the easiest site to pick up where they left off. The ‘mudlands’ the homes now reside upon are a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as a Special Protection area for birds, and a Wetland site of International Importance (under the International Convention on the Conservation of Wetlands) – to add to the long list of planning and logistical issues that come with both heritage and flood-prone projects.
It was in navigating these barriers that the JV were to embark upon the new community that’s now being created – and perhaps it’s through tackling its major challenges that the unique nature of this project was formed.
The houses are situated on a road covered in resin-bonded gravel, adjacent to an existing area of soft landscaping — a planted bank now separating the site from the water, and protecting the homes from flooding; increasingly crucial in the UK’s changing climate.
A thick concrete floodwall sits behind the planted bank, and extends across the frontage of all the homes. Even if the water did come over the top, says David, which would mean “the whole of Portsmouth would be flooded,” the planted banks would then act as swales, forming a further flood barrier. Flood planning has been intensively thought through as part of planning requirements necessitated by this location.
Achieving a flood-resilient design forced the designers to address a wide range of further issues, such as that certain rooms couldn’t be on the ground floor; “They could be a TV room for example, but not a bedroom.”
Ecology and access
Looking at the road behind the bank, David discusses some of the more difficult aspects of the project, beyond flood control into the many hurdles of building around listed features, and in an area that required “careful treatment of wildlife.” The team working closely with ecology agencies to relocate protected badgers and slow worms that had come to inhabit the dilapidated area around the site, for example.
David says that having just one long access road for all of the houses proved to be one of the most significant challenges for the build process, it being necessary to provide water, foul, surface and electrical works via the path, as well as use it to ferry materials in.
“It took a hell of a lot of logistics – we had a crane, scaffolding going out in four different sections of each house, and to get the materials in was a real headache.” Remembering the challenge, he says, “It took a lot of time and effort.”
This was one area where the build method helped significantly – all the homes were designed and constructed offsite as closed timber panel systems. “The fabric was up a lot sooner,” says David, “which reduced the number of vehicles, and we also had a watertight structure sooner than we otherwise would, so it was definitely worth doing.”
A ‘light touch’
The six homes sited within the retained walls are designed to visually ‘float’ within them, their brickwork being a key feature of the composition. They are clad in a dark grey corrugated metal, referencing both utilitarian industrial sheds and Royal Navy battleships. The homes are open-fronted, with glazed walls set back from forward cantilevering fronts, which counterpoints the form of the transverse walls.
The other homes include two further elevated, timber-framed houses that similarly ‘float’ above a continuation of the existing historic blast walls, providing ‘bookends’ to the others, and clad in a lighter grey cladding. A final brick ‘gatehouse’ will complete the set of buildings, helping to provide “a sense of arrival.”
From the outside, the homes don’t look like ‘typical’ offsite timber frame buildings, but as David puts it, “what’s typical?” He continues: “You can build anything with an offsite system, but just like any build method, never try to force a square peg into a round hole. If you force something you’ll always challenge its capabilities; work with it, and you’ll get the very best out of it.”
David leads me inside one of the only remaining unoccupied units at the time of my visit; the furthest home along the line of walled properties. Extending underneath the cantilevered front half of the first and second floors is a concrete entrance way leading to the front door, with standing for up to two cars.
The entrance hall has large storage space on either side, and stairs leading up. David opens a small cupboard door to reveal an Ecodan air source heat pump, which provides all the heating for the hot water and radiators in the house.
“Because there’s no gas on the site,” he says, “we had to go with the most renewable energy source we could.” David says the team looked at “a number of different things” before settling on the final product, which is a 3 kW in, 9 kW out system. “They are excellent bits of kit,” he adds.
Off the first floor landing are doors to a utility room, and to an open plan living/dining room and kitchen. Glazing covers the entire frontage of this level, leading out onto a terrace with views over the harbour.
“All the seafront properties over on the other side look straight out onto the sea — which is great — but here, you’ve got so much more to actually look at; it’s a lovely thing to wake up to.”
The glazing of course adds a huge level of daylighting and solar gain too, in what are “very efficient buildings, which don’t need much heating.” Some residents have even put a reflective film up on the glass here because the heat gets too much: “It’s all about balance. You’ve got to give people the freedom to choose how they want to have their houses; some prefer to have that, some people don’t.”
We then take a look at the living area. As David demonstrates, close the door to the utility room and residents have an open plan living room and kitchen, with the utility room forming its own space — “keeping out noisy washing machines.”
Going up the final set of stairs to the second floor, there’s a bathroom, two spare bedrooms, and a master ensuite bedroom, all of which provide plenty of space and functionality for a three bedroom family home.
The rooms at this level get significant levels of daylighting, with the two at the front benefitting most – having long sight lines across the water and to the neighbouring city.
Before we leave the site, David shows me the Millennium Bridge that leads across the inlet to the Royal Clarence Marina, for the first time giving me an expansive view of the whole of Ordnance Yard.
He gestures to where the new homes will be, saying: “So really we’re going to create a whole new peninsula that will revitalise the area into something new entirely.” Following the visit we head to Elite Homes’ site office, located for the time being in the evocatively-named Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower.
He shows me through the plans for the rest of the Priddy’s Hard development (the first regeneration phase of which has received planning), which includes 30 new homes, a new Coastal Forces Museum, and a brewery with associated bar/restaurant.
Plans for future phases include many more homes, heritage works, and even a 12-storey tower, which are aimed at “changing the whole peninsula into a residential and tourist hub.”
To build the new homes, Elite Homes are utilising the disused land next to the museum to create their own offsite timber factory. He explains: “I’ve worked an awful lot with timber frame before, so I’m very familiar with all the practices and processes behind what. We are working with the Structural Timber Association to receive accreditation for our production facilities along with BOPAS and our frames will be designed right up to Passivhaus standards.”
The developer is starting with timber frame with insulation pre-installed in the factory – and sealed with a spray-on plastic. This means “you don’t have to worry about a membrane, or about an electrician coming along and cutting his holes in plasterboard to get the cables in, and accidentally puncturing the membrane,” says David.
An avid researcher of latest construction technologies, he also tells me of Elite Homes’ plans to incorporate smart home techniques in the new homes, including power systems with battery storage units combined with integrated solar PV panels. Smart heating systems will know who’s in the house, in what rooms, and when, and set the temperature to ensure an ideal temperature at all points.
Another interesting technology he mentions is a ‘wonderwall’ system, which uses ceiling-mounted infra-red heaters which heat specific areas – “people, tables, chairs,” he says, rather than a convection-based method. Combining this with intelligent hot water cylinders that only heat the water you use makes these houses extremely efficient and therefore low in energy use.
A consumer-first approach
While all of this is exciting for the builder, he admits that on the whole, such details aren’t so important for the consumer, compared with the buildings’ function and their architectural design: “To be frank, customers are not interested in the type of insulation we put in the building.” He adds: “The customers are really only interested in what they can see – not the way we built it.”
The possible savings homeowners will enjoy is also key however, he says: “If I said your bills are going to go down from £100 a month to £30, and a smart system is going to learn how you work and how you live in your house, meaning that could drop even further – it’s a great selling point.”
He points out pictures of Ordnance Yard on the office walls, displayed among the many awards the project has already attained – which David is very proud of: “We are creating a development that is unrivalled across the whole of the south coast. From conservation to ecology agencies, to environmental and historical organisations, we have taken a collaborative approach to this project,” he stresses.
“Taking our inspiration from the site’s incredible history, we are creating something that will benefit this overlooked part of town for future generations.”
Key project suppliers
- Roofing and cladding materials: Euroclad (specified by IRCC)
- Timber frame: Elite Offsite
- Air source heat pumps: Mitsubishi Electric
- Rendering: K Rend
- Kitchens/timber flooring: Benchmarx
- Bathrooms: City Plumbing
- Block paving: Marshalls