As London’s long property development boom continues, good underused plots are becoming increasingly hard to find. But one of our long-standing clients had precisely that – a scruffy stretch consisting of a car lot and a car wash. There had once been houses on the site, but not for many decades.
Despite its inelegant appearance, part of the site had also been in a conservation area. Then, the council tidied up its maps and decided (rightly, we think) that this spot lay outside of the continuous run of historic buildings.
Because there were businesses on the site when we came across it, the new design needed to continue to provide employment on the ground floor. There could still be flats built above though, and that’s what our client was interested in.
In architecture and town planning, everyone talks about responding to the context. The design codes that will in a few years guide most architectural decisions in England aim to lock that in. But what happens if the context is extremely mixed? What if the immediate context includes 18th-century houses, a 1960s tower block and a recent apartment building with curvy teal cladding?
In the 1980s, the response might have been to try to include elements of all of those, and hope the clashing styles were interesting rather than an eyesore. We opted for something a little more subtle, splitting the facade into three sections but two styles. Brick was clearly the best choice of material, with different colours chosen for the two styles. We also opted for contrasting brickwork details – it’s crucial that large medium-rise buildings don’t look bland and blocky.
The contemporary elements include the large windows with metal frames and, as you would expect in 2023, PV panels and biodiverse green roofs. The flats are all generously sized and light-filled, with balconies at the rear of the building.
Given all the different architectural styles that sit on this busy crossroads, maybe it's a bold claim to say that you have designed something that’s just right for the spot. But we think this building is both elegantly restrained and yet full of character, respecting the history without imitating it and offering a vast improvement on what was there before.
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