During Open House London, I visited the Shoreditch Prototype House at Crooked Billet Yard and the Hothouse on Richmond Road in Hackney. Both were mentioned in previous posts (Community and Communication Have Something in Common and In The Public Realm). They are both interesting buildings in that they have been built on sites that are a bit awkward and are situated next to railway lines. I was particularly interested in how the architects made best use of an otherwise challenging space and how they dealt with creating barriers to the outside elements and noise.
Shoreditch Prototype House was designed and built by Cox Bulleid Architects as a low-cost, low-energy housing solution for urban areas. The building is located on a small site, sandwiched between a Hackney Community College building and existing small brick warehouse buildings that have since been converted into housing or commercial use. It is situated on a small cul-de-sac and faces a goods yard. The architects incorporated a large element of green through the use of “vertical planting” and created a garden with substantial trees and plants in the building’s forecourt, sheltered from the street by tall protective walls. The four storey building serves as the architects’ live/work space with a work studio on the ground floor; living room, dining area and kitchen on the first floor; two childrens’ bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor; and a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom on the top floor. All floors have access to outside space and exposure to green, be it the garden forecourt or the steel mesh decks on the first and second floors or the top floor terrace. Climbing foliage and creeping plants embrace the south-facing front of the building, winding their way around the decks acting as a screen, filter, sunshade, and oxygenator, as described by the architects. The result is an immensely private and comforting residential retreat in a very urban, industrial environment. The property shares a party wall with the neighbouring building to the east. At this end of the house, the services (kitchen, bathrooms, stairwell) are situated to provide insulation to the principal rooms (living room, bedrooms) from noise next door. The architects use windows and sources of natural light cleverly to keep the space bright, given its snug location amidst existing buildings. The stairwell wraps itself around a light well, bringing light from the roof window to floors below. The dining area at the back of the first floor is double height, the roof grandly exposed to the sky by glazing.
Hothouse is built on an unusual site between a railway line running north from Liverpool Street and the north end of London Fields. Free Form, an arts trust, occupies the building as well as the arches under the railway adjacent to the site. The building is boomerang shaped, as described by the architects Ash Sakula, and curves around a children’s play area in the park. The building is set away from the railway line itself to permit sufficient access to Network Rail for line maintenance. Attention was paid to the shape and positioning of windows to provide a secure perimeter and effective barrier to noise from the railway as well as creating a bright workspace for the occupiers. The rail-side of the building features a wall that runs parallel, but zig-zags with double height windows facing the direction of the route of the rail line rather than looking directly onto the tracks. The result is a sound barrier that still allows light in. The ground floor is a large open space suitable for exhibitions or as a large workshop area. Curved, amoeba-like windows move fluidly along the park-side wall, providing natural light in a way that is secure and protects the ground floor from unauthorised access from the park. The first floor features open-plan office space with high ceilings and a mezzanine area on the railway-side for storage or overflow desk space. A large continuous stream of windows line the park-side, which provide natural light to staff and can be opened for fresh air ventilation. A second line of amoebic windows graces the wall above and frequently casts bizarre shapes on the floor as the afternoon sun shines through the trees. Meeting rooms and self-contained studios are situated on the top floor, next to an unheated, glass and solar-panel covered corridor which leads to a large roof terrace. With unencumbered views of London Fields, the terrace is a grand space for entertaining in the summer.
Both buildings are highly successful. They are pleasant to be in and are purposeful in their use in locations that might otherwise deter occupation. They are excellent examples of modern design and fit well with their surroundings. I believe the structural and design solutions of creating barriers where they are needed (services and stairwell in the Shoreditch Prototype House and the zig-zag rail-side wall in the Hothouse, for example) are practical, aesthetically pleasing, and do not detract from the overall appeal of the buildings. Well thought out design and good research on materials and building methods mean that successful development on a challenging site can be done in a cost-effective way.