Bath Street Collective: Breaking new-build norms

Beyond its eye-catching appearance, 26 Bath Street might not strike you as unusual – a contemporary block of flats occupying a previously vacant plot in Edinburgh’s Portobello neighborhood. But this is no ordinary building – both from an environmental and a social perspective, it’s a break from new-build norms.

Bath Street Collective Custom Build is home to four separate families that came together to purchase the site and build a tenement block containing a custom-made flat for each owner. The families were excited by the prospect of being able to build their own property and inspired by the idea of creating affordable high-quality homes with exemplary environmental credentials.

Working together, without a conventional developer or house-builder, the families were each able to design a home that would meet their individual needs, while ensuring that the overall property was as low-energy as possible – both to minimise ongoing costs and to reduce the demand for natural resources. They have shared the successes and difficulties of the project, and got to know each other as future neighbours before even moving in.

Due to the uniqueness of the project model, the families needed to find a lender that was able to understand what they were aiming to achieve and could provide a mortgage for a property that sat outside the usual tick-box categories. Having officially registered the group as ‘Bath Street Collective Custom Build’, they were able to approach Ecology for a specialist community-led housing mortgage to finance the building works. The funds were released to the collective in stages as the build progressed, with residential mortgages being made available for some of the group’s members upon completion of the build.

Importantly, the properties were more economical than if they had been achieved through a conventional model. With the house-builder’s profit removed from the equation, the price of the homes was no more than they cost to build. Architect John Kinsley, comments, “One in ten new homes built in Berlin are procured this way; in the last five years, hundreds of schemes have been built there providing thousands of new homes. Our pioneering project in Bath Street, Portobello has shown that it can work just as well here in Scotland.”

Three of the four families were existing Portobello residents and, as such, felt strongly about the building contributing to the local sense of place in Bath Street. The building follows the traditional Scottish tenement model, with a central shared stair providing access to the flats and also to a communal roof garden. The building is carefully integrated into the street by stepping the façade to address the change in level between the adjoining buildings on either side. The main façade is predominantly red sandstone and Reglit cast glass, which references the historical industry of Portobello and provides a durable material. Dark grey zinc cladding has been used on the upper level and rear façade to help give visual continuity with the adjacent slate roofs.

The build adopted a ‘shell and core’ approach, meaning that, while the design and construction work was completed by professionals, much of the interior finishing was left for the individual owners. This gave each family more control over cost and greater scope for personalization.

Environmental performance was a top priority when planning the project.  The building is designed to Passivhaus-equivalent levels of energy efficiency and uses a cross-laminated timber structural frame which delivers exemplary levels of embodied energy; the growth of timber for the frame absorbed 114 tonnes of carbon – an average UK resident’s emissions for approximately 12 years. The high levels of insulation mean that the families have not needed to install a central heating system and all electricity is generated via on-site photovoltaic panels or procured from 100% renewable energy; the building is completely fossil-fuel free.

John Kinsley concludes, “Together with the other residents of the building, I have been thrilled by the incredibly positive feedback we’ve had from our new neighbours. Building collectively in this way has massive advantages financially, environmentally and in terms of the quality of the final product. It is extremely exciting to be part of the growing momentum driving community-led projects across the UK.”

Find out more about Ecology’s mortgages for Community-led housing and residential properties.

Photos of completed build courtesy of John Kinsley Architects (johnkinsleyarchitects.co.uk) and John Reiach.