We started with an unlovely and unloved corner of East London. It was made up of a group of redundant garages that were slowly crumbling with a small vacant lot next to them. This strange patch of land was making no contribution to society, the economy or the environment. Our client thought there was a chance to build new homes through the conversion of garages into homes, which are so desperately needed in the capital.
But the task we were set wasn’t a simple one. The shape of the plot was strange – think of an aeroplane wing seen from the side and then flip it upside-down. This is a long way from a classic rectangular city block. One half of the site backs onto the rear of a medical centre while behind the other half there is a group of gardens.
That meant that what could be built on the two halves of the site would be very different because of the gardens’ (and the homes they belong to) right to light and privacy. Part of the challenge, then, would be to design something that looked like a whole even though it would have two very different sections.
Having thought through all the possibilities of the site and the conversion of the garages into homes, we decided on an approach that combined a three-storey building (parking on the ground floor, flats above) on the medical centre side of the plot with a one-storey structure on the gardens side. Seen from the street, the single storey could almost be mistaken for an elegant fence. If you look down from the houses across the street, you see an expanse of green roof.
Productive pre-application discussions with the council helped focus our thinking about security and the mix of flat sizes. We decided to wrap the three-storey section in louvres that let light in while protecting the privacy of the residents. The result is a building that doesn’t feel bulky or heavy. Meanwhile, along with the green roof, there is plant life on the terraces and walls.
If you approach architecture with a mindset defined by boxes, awkward sites will defeat you. But if you can mix imagination with a practical consideration about the need to create somewhere that’s enjoyable to live in, you end up with a development as satisfying as this one.
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