A beautiful, almost exotic renovation of a former businessmen’s club in Alabama into a grand home on New York Times today. Read the article about how David Harlbut converted the 20,000 square foot Harmony Club into a residence, preserving the architectural features and personality of its past incarnation. The waterfront building was founded in 1909 as a businessmen’s club, then became the Elks Club in the 1930s.
Image by Robert Rausch for The New York Times
I read about this on Twitter – an architect in Hong Kong designed his small 344 square foot apartment into a multi-modal living space. Sliding walls and shelves create and remove room partitions and provide clever storage. I love the flexibility and adaptability of the design and I’d like to apply it for wider use – can a non-residential space be just as flexible? Office space by day, event or rehearsal space by night? I wonder how much maintenance the sliding walls require.
I’m participating in a free online place-making course offered by the Homes & Communities Agency. One of the case studies we looked at is Odhams Walk (have a look at this video). I’ve walked past it several times, but hadn’t looked up nor looked around the development.
Images from Academy for Sustainable Communities
Odhams Walk is a development of housing situated over retail premises in the heart of Central London, in Covent Garden. It features an unusual design for its time which allowed for a variety of types of flats, some with outdoor patios and gardens. Housing is connected by walkways and the arrangement of flats permits interaction with other residents, but also sufficient levels of privacy. The design also enables natural surveillance of the estate. Security was further improved with additional lighting in the corridors and CCTV was installed.
The estate is managed by an ALMO, an arm’s length management organisation, with a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) on-site. Having direct management on-site helps ensure that residents needs are met and the estate is well maintained. The TMO also helps manage any issues that may arise in the relationship amongst the shop-owners on the ground floor and the residents (for example, due to hours kept by the shops, noise, buskers in the neighbourhood).
Fifty percent of the original development became home to people from the local area with a housing need. After right-to-buy was introduced, many residents purchased their homes and some are now sublet. A careful mix of residents is needed because not all sub-tenants may have the same connection to and interest in the local community.
Good design, effective management, and consistent community help make Odhams Walk a sustainable community. Its creation was community-led from the start, generations are able to live and sustain there, residents feel safe, and they take an interest in their neighbours and their own neighbourhood. These aspects of good practice should be remembered and built upon when considering the future sustainable communities.
That time of the year which I dread the most has come. The days are terribly short and the sky gets dark around 6pm. The weather has turned in London and it is noticeably colder in the evenings. Autumn is upon us and the single glazed Crittall windows in my flat hasten to remind me. It is warmer in the flat than outside – whether it is due to the oven or hob in my kitchen being on, the portable heater by my chair as I work, or simply the body heat emitted by me and other people being in the flat. The result is an annoying film of condensation on all the windows.
When I moved into this flat, I fell in love with the 13 foot high ceilings and the large 10 foot high windows. It is situated within a grade II listed Victorian factory building, which was converted to flats in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is probably one of the least green housing developments in the city. In addition to my lack of double glazing on the windows, there are gaps when the hinged windows are closed, allowing a constant leak of cool air from the outside to permeate the flat. The heating system comprises electric heaters fixed to the walls – two in the living room, one in the corridor, and one in the bedroom. My living room, with its factory height ceiling, overlooked by a mezzanine level, is a big space to heat and rarely warms properly because the heat from the heater inefficiently makes its way straight up to the ceiling for no one to enjoy. My bedroom, which also benefits from a double height ceiling, is slightly better since it is a smaller, enclosed room. The other energy guzzling criminal in the flat is my hot water boiler, a large monstrosity situated on the mezzanine level, constantly heating a large tank of water. Finally, I am solely to blame for the energy inefficient light fixtures. The flat was originally fitted with bare bulbs (the previous owner having stripped the flat of any sort of light fixture), which I replaced with aesthetically pleasing fixtures, complementing the look and use of each room. I realised a few years later, that my choices were less than ideal. Energy efficient bulbs were too large for four of the fixtures. My favourite light, beautifully designed, uses a mirrored bulb and therefore also cannot be substituted with an energy efficient one. The remainder use halogen bulbs, which at least are slight improvements over incandescent bulbs.
The grade II listing of the building and location of my flat on the third floor pose challenges to replacing the windows to same-look double glazed windows. I am at least trying to find suitable foam seals to fill the gaps in the windows and stop the draught from coming in. I am experimenting with isolated heating solutions – that perhaps portable, personal heaters are more effective and efficient in the living room. I am using energy efficient bulbs where I can, having replaced two light fixtures and bought smaller versions for the two remaining fixtures. The remaining light fixtures and water heater remain unchanged.
I try to make decisions in my day-to-day life that are helpful and not harmful to the environment. I am more conscious and conservative with my water use. I switch off lights when the room is not occupied or in use. I recycle everything that is recyclable and I try to use the stairs instead of the lift. I don’t drive and haven’t owned a car for ten years in London. I could be doing more and could be living in a more sustainably built, energy efficient home. But my flat is only one example of the problem facing London’s buildings. Many were built or converted before the rise of the global consciousness about dwindling resources, demands on energy, and climate change. How do we correct the development mistakes of the past?
The new residential development of Highbury Stadium, the former Arsenal football stadium was officially launched on 24 September. Designed by Allies and Morrison Architects and built by Sir Robert McAlpine for Arsenal Football Club, the renamed Highbury Square is a curious and unique development that appears both livable and preserves a bit of the site’s history. The blocks of flats are arranged as the North, South, East, and West stands were.
The grade II listed Art Deco façade of the East Stand fronting Avenell Road remains in tact in red and white. The football pitch remains green and is now landscaped communal gardens. I like this development because it is designed like a community centred around green space and at the same time, you can still see the site’s previous life – it still resembles a football stadium. It probably serves to fulfil some childhood dreams of actually living in a stadium – it is fun and memorable and more importantly is a great re-use and regeneration of a site that could have otherwise fallen derelict or could have become another faceless concrete block, absent of foliage and absent of any joy and pride of living there.
I was used to big, island-like structures for sports grounds, more prevalent in North America, which can be circumnavigated and accessed from all sides and angles (much like the new Emirates Stadium) and so I always found Highbury Stadium to be a curious location. It is nestled behind rows of small Victorian terraced houses, and aside from the imposing East Stand, it is alluded to only by the entrance walkway at the north end on Gillespie Road (through a gap between nos. 115 and 121) across from Arsenal tube station and the West Stand entrance under an arch at 137-139 Highbury Hill. The new design retains a bit of this coziness. Hopefully, for its residents, Highbury Square will be the place for many more wins at home.