The site here was definitely a strange one in its context - you’re walking down a typical south London suburban street full of - as you would expect - houses and suddenly there is a builder’s yard behind a long corrugated metal fence. It looks out of place. That’s certainly what our client thought when he saw it and started imagining homes there instead.
In design terms, there were several big questions. The first, crucial one was: yes, there was room for houses or flats, but how many? Most developers will understandably say, “As many as fit”, but that’s often not the right answer as far as the council is concerned and also not always the best way forward when it comes to the sale or rental markets - you want something that is going to be attractive.
Secondly, there was the question of how these houses would look. The simple option when you are filling in an existing street is to match the neighbours. But on one side the houses were featureless and clad in pebbledash, and on the other, an uninspiring 1980s nod to Victorian architecture. That meant we would need to find a different approach to shaping buildings that felt like they belonged.
The client hired us as his architects, with another firm handling the planning strategy. After trying several different options, we submitted a five-house version for pre-application advice from the council, aware that was at the limits of what might be possible but wanting to give the client the chance to get as much as possible. The council told us that they thought was indeed more than could fit comfortably on the plot, so we reduced it to four.
For our houses, we looked at the best buildings on the street and incorporated some of their key features without pastiching them. Our four houses embody the local character while incorporating the things most of us demand from contemporary homes, for example, big windows and bifolding doors across most of the back wall facing the garden.
In the four-house arrangement, each home could be generous and comfortable. National space standards say that a three-bedroom house needs to have an internal area of at least 108 sqm - these houses are between 124 and 130 each, so easily above requirements.
The houses were also carefully designed so that they wouldn’t seriously affect the light reaching nearby houses. The council judged them to be a thoroughly successful addition to the street and granted planning permission.
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