Saturday12 April 2014

63 Effra Road by Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects

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A south London affordable housing development uses a notched terrace design to deftly articulate a dynamic streetscape while introducing higher densities of housing

The compositional possibilities of the notched terrace have proved a source of much interest to the few hardy souls who have endeavoured to build innovative family housing in the UK over the past decade. Fat’s housing in New Islington, Biq’s in Birkenhead and the half a dozen schemes that Peter Barber has realised in east London over that time all represent varieties of the type, and testify to the range of expression that it can support.

Steen Eiler Rasmussen perhaps first touched on its appeal when, in London: The Unique City (1937), he observed that the backs of London terraces are frequently more exciting than their fronts. Describing a view of the backs of a run of houses on Camden Town’s Parkway, he noted admiringly that “the effect is quite gothic — not in details but in the conglomeration of tall, narrow and perpendicular masses of brick”. The notched terrace brings the dynamism of that image to the street.

James Gowan has pointed out that 19th century London was not entirely devoid of examples of the type, citing Leinster Square, the north end of Gloucester Terrace and Powis Square as models for the housing schemes of similar profile that he built in Greenwich in 1967-68. For Gowan, the format’s key attraction lay in its monumentality, an effect that derived both from the verticality of the repeated projecting bays and the opportunities that they afforded to site secondary windows (to kitchens and bathrooms) on lateral elevations, leaving their fronts as minimally fenestrated expanses of brick.

However, the recent proliferation of interest in the format clearly has its roots in another ambition: that of bringing greater density to our cities. The introduction of PPG3 made it possible to build homes in greater proximity to one another than had been permissible since the 1940s. The freedom in the distribution of windows that the notched terrace presents is of particular relevance to this new condition. Overlooking can be minimised and long, oblique views exploited.

63 Effra Road by Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects

Model describing the landlocked site.

These considerations bore strongly on Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects’ choice of a notched terrace arrangement for its recently completed development of 42 affordable homes off Effra Road in London’s Brixton. Formerly occupied by a light-industrial unit, its 0.4ha plot is typical of the kind of centrally located but heavily constrained site that PPG3 has opened up for residential use over the past decade. Presenting an axe-like profile in plan, it comprises an essentially landlocked yard connected back to the city by a 100m long access way sited at one corner.

The project is the fourth that IBLA has undertaken for the Kitewood Group, a developer that specialises in the delivery of affordable housing in London. The charters of housing associations typically prohibit them from purchasing sites that have yet to secure planning permission, but Kitewood can operate more speculatively. In the case of the Brixton project it bought the land on the basis of a partnership with London and Quadrant in which the housing association served as the ultimate client but the developer bore the financial risk involved in securing planning permission.

That risk was far from negligible. Lambeth’s unitary development plan allows that land that has formerly supported industry can, after a period of vacancy, be developed for housing as long as that housing is 100% affordable. While IBLA’s scheme ticked the relevant boxes it turned out that the ambitions of the UDP were not universally shared by Lambeth’s councillors, a number of whom were opposed to the loss of local jobs that change of use might represent. Planning permission was refused but Kitewood took the decision to appeal and won: a process that it has had to go through with every one of the developments that it has undertaken with IBLA.

63 Effra Road by Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects

It wasn’t just the change-of-use issues that rendered the proposal controversial. The back gardens of late 19th century houses address the yard on three sides, presenting significant challenges both to the massing of the new buildings and the location of the windows on their rear facades. IBLA’s response to these constraints is modelled closely on the type that Peter Barber pioneered in his Donnybrook development of 2006 in east London.

The standard arrangement comprises a stacked assembly of two units: a ground floor three-bed flat, which opens onto a rear garden, and a three-bed maisonette which enjoys a roof terrace at first-floor level. Accessed by external stairs, these roof terraces break the upper two floors of each run of units into alternating solids and voids of equivalent width.

The type is ranged along the site’s two longer sides, framing what is in effect a car-free mews. At the end nearest the road, the terraces are set at the minimum 7.5m apart but further into the site, the space between them expands to accommodate a shared green area that has been provided with trees and play equipment. As at Donnybrook, a key aspect of the development’s atmosphere emerges from the way the buildings frame a communal space without the mediation of intervening private gardens.

Each maisonette is configured on the basis of a T-shape plan framing not only the roof terrace on the side facing into the plot but also a smaller notched void to the rear. The architect had hoped that these spaces might also serve as terraces but the planners opposed that idea on the grounds that they would generate overlooking conflicts. The voids’ primary function is therefore to provide lateral walls where windows can be sited that don’t look directly into the neighbouring properties.

A key element of the atmosphere emerges from the way the buildings frame a communal space

While there was a strong push from the local authority to incorporate the maximum number of family-friendly three-bed apartments, the narrower end of the site did not readily accommodate units of that size. IBLA has therefore deployed a second housing type here: a three-storey block containing one and two-bedroom apartments which are accessed off shared internal staircases. This type wraps around two sides of what is in effect a small courtyard: a space that negotiates the change of orientation between the access road and the mews.

The two housing types share a material treatment. All vertical surfaces that meet the public realm are faced in timber while those that are detached from it are painted, in the main in shades of burgundy, puce and magenta. Given the budget of £1,250 per sq m and the fact that IBLA was not novated to the design and build contractor, it comes as no surprise to discover that this is not an architecture of fine details. However, the material choices effectively establish a contrast with the surrounding brick-lined streets, supporting a reading of the scheme as an enclave from the city.

63 Effra Road by Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects

Source: David Grandorge

The standard type comprises a three-bed maisonette over a three-bed apartment.

The development’s freedom from traffic — only four disabled parking spaces are provided — and the greater sociability that its shared spaces promise to engender confirm that characterisation but it would have been enforced more strongly still had the original landscaping strategy been implemented. The green area on which the mews is focused represents a frustratingly slapdash paraphrase of Churchman Landscape Architects’ initial design while the introduction of an underground water tank — required to contain run-off — put paid to plans to locate trees in the entrance courtyard. In time, residents may perhaps colonise the space with plants but its present incarnation does feel pretty utilitarian.

After a decade of working in the sector, IBLA director Jamal Badrashi admits to an ongoing bewilderment as to how contractors establish the cost of affordable housing projects. Logic might suggest that, given its additional external wall area, the notched terrace should cost more than housing of a more compact plan but his experience suggests otherwise. The tenders that have been returned on every affordable housing project the practice has ever built, he says, have come in at essentially the same cost per square metre rate.

There is clearly a creative licence to be exploited in that situation but it also denies the architect the opportunity to think strategically about the allocation of their very limited budgets. There are certainly moments at Effra Road that leave one wanting to trade a little of the scheme’s formal complexity for some more robust and refined detailing. Nonetheless, the project represents a valuable addition to the small but compelling canon of notched terrace developments. With housing associations now gearing up for a period of significantly increased activity, we are likely to see many more instances of the type soon.

Design architect
Inglis Badrashi Loddo
Developer Kitewood
Social landlord London & Quadrant
Landscape architect to planning Churchman Landscape Architects
Executive architect Hunters
Structural engineer Gary Gabriel Associates
Principal contractor ISG
Cost consultant and employer’s agent Cobb McCallum & Company


Readers' comments (9)

  • "Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects"

    God, that's a mouthful....

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  • not as bad as "Douchenbäggen"

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  • "Douchenbäggen" is an authentic german name.... Just like Häagen-Dazs.

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  • Another interesting thing about this typology of having maisonettes over flats is that there isn't any shared circulation space so the residents don't have to pay a service charge. Particularly for social housing this can make a big difference to how affordable it actually is to live there.

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  • Robert Park

    I can't see past the cedar cladding. Sorry.

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  • @Robert Park - "I can't see past the cedar cladding. Sorry."

    Don't be sorry... just get your eyes tested. I think you may have depth perception issues...

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  • The cedar cladding is going to get wrecked by kids playing football. I hope. Because that dismal yard-like space will need something to bring it to life.

    BTW I can see very little in this scheme that justifies comparing it to the work of Peter Barber other than very superficially.

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  • Robert Park

    The photograph is in two dimensions - so my visual disabilities are not so relevant in this case.

    Seriously though - why oh why are serious architects with excellent training still specifying this material on housing projects? It is the scourge of London, second only to Trespa, and cheap painted render (which is all so used on this scheme).

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  • I agree that cedar cladding is a bad choice, but the cost pressures are what leads to that, painted render and Trespa. The value engineering is brutal on an affordable housing project.

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