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Marmalade Lane. Homes for a community.

Jim Stephenson

What is an intentional community? Ask Marmalade Lane.

"The best way to describe it would be an intentional community": UK's largest co-housing project, Marmalade Lane is the protagonist of a new Jim Stephenson's video. Located in Orchard Park, Cambridge, it was developed by TOWN and designed by Mole Architects - who have been frequently portrayed by Stephenson as an innovative architecture studio.

Marmelade Lane is composed of 42 houses and apartments, the result of a collaborative design process that involved the residents, developers, and architects working together to produce a new community, with individual homes centered around communal space and shared facilities.

We hover above the estate with a drone, hearing both the architect and the community's chatting, the birds chirping: the collective sound is a sign of a collectively-designed space, where the essential need and guidelines of the self-formed community and the design expertise of TOWN and Mole Architects took form within a specific place. These three coordinates were all taken into consideration in the process and directly influenced the result.

The result is a housing development like no other, with a shared sense of achievement and belonging: such a statement, which is particularly strong and important given how difficult is to create a co-housing that is both able to the inclusive within its inhabitants and not exclusive within the area it is nested into - i.e. not being a gated community guided by a sense of conformism. To prove this sense of enlightenment, "how infectious the community spirit was" to say this in Jim Stephenson's words, the film-maker uses interviews: we hear the newly-parents of two speaking about the need for a local community to override the sense of isolation that comes with having newborns. Mike, another resident, notes that one can say this is innovative, but the desire for a more lived neighborhood is "extremely old fashioned, a bit of village life", but here, he adds, people have chosen to move into this development. We hear old people, wanting to be less isolated and closer to a community they could rely on, we hear Frances, wanting to live in a more "old fashion community" that could resemble the village she lived in before, we hear Meredith Bowles from Mole Architects explaining how community living, being relatively new in this way, is becoming a constantly more popular choice.

Hearing the voice of the residents, filmed inside their house not only gives us new takes on the same subject, giving us the wide range of reasons and needs one could experience, and how across-the-board and diverse Marmalade Lane is, with people coming from different backgrounds, but also give us the unique opportunity to observe how different people structure and organize the space in different ways, how each one of these people found its way to decorate and furnish the interiors of the houses to accommodate its needs.

As in the words of Jim Stephenson: "I spent three days at Marmalade Lane, working closely with the community, getting to know them and the way they live there. As with all films, it started as an observational process interspersed with interviews we did with the residents as the story started to take form. What surprised me though was how infectious the community spirit was - the residents I spoke with (both in the film and in passing) spoke openly and honestly and the many benefits of co-housing and also about the downsides and as the time went on I felt more and more affection for the place". Then he adds, "When I returned a couple of months later to get some additional footage, it felt like I was going back to see friends."

Closer to a documentary more than to a typical architecture video (even though, we at The Architecture Player are know how much this category can take into), "Marmalade Lane" could be seen as a shorter, much more polished version of "Barbicania" by BêkaFilms, with a common approach towards the discussions what a community is.

Not only a cure of loneliness - even though not for everybody, Marmalade Lane’s video quietly focuses on how much it is possible to live a more outwardly - both in the sense of approach and in the repossessing of the public space - existence, together.

(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)


Architects and developers: Mole Architects, TOWN
Mentioned project: Marmalade Lane Cohousing (2018)
Project location: Orchard Park, Cambridge, United Kingdom

United Kingdom 2019
Duration: 10'02"