Designing in close collaboration with residents, Archio raises the roofline on the Becontree Estate with two three and four storey villas inspired by generous spaces, light and air
Becontree Estate – once the largest social housing project in the world – has welcomed its 92nd housing type, 200 Becontree Avenue, designed by London based practice Archio. The estate was built under the promise of ‘homes fit for heroes’, made by prime minister Lloyd George after World War I, which saw the construction of 1.1 million new council homes for returning veterans. Of all the housing schemes of that period, Becontree was the most ambitious, with 26,000 homes built in 91 different housing types between 1921 and 1939. It remains the largest social project in Europe, and symbolises the optimism, valour and commitment to social welfare of its time.
Now, 101 years on, this legacy has been continued by Archio – led by Mellis Haward and Kyle Buchanan – who have built 19 apartments across two buildings of three and four storeys each. Built at a density of 120 ha per site – which is five times that of the the surrounding estate – this project was commissioned by Be First, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham’s wholly-owned regeneration company, which has pledged to build 50,000 new homes by 2037. This latest scheme, 200 Becontree, joins its growing housing portfolio, which also includes House for Artists by Apparata and North Street by Peter Barber Architects.
Designed for the next generation of Becontree residents, 13 one-bedroom apartments, four two-bed and two three-beds have been built – providing much needed variation to the single family house typology that dominates the area. In designing this, the practice faced the problem of delivering high density housing within this low rise neighbourhood. The absence of apartments on the estate meant that inspiration had to be sought elsewhere, such as the Ossulton Estate in London’s King’s Cross by George Topham Forrest, who was also lead architect on the Becontree estate. Ossulton, which has been described as a neo-Georgian version of Vienna’s Karl Marx-Hof, features similar aspects to Becontree such as arched entrance ways. Along with a careful examination of the resources at the Valence Archive, this helped Archio achieve a ‘gentle density’ and preserve the character of the estate.
‘The design was very much led by the historical context’, explains Haward. Mindful that Becontree Estate marked a breakaway from the Victorian laissez faire attitudes towards social care, the new villas clad in brown speckled brick blend in nicely with the old redbrick cottages. The new buildings engage in a playful conversation with the brickwork facade of their neighbours, responding to the originals’ protruding brickwork with inverted recessed brickwork. Classical motifs of the historic estate such as the semi circular entrance arches and round windows have been scaled up and included here, and the dormers have been exaggerated.
Wanting to avoid creating a monolithic tower, Archio opted for two villa-style apartment blocks – Atkins House and Branton House – with sloping rooflines to protect the neighbouring residents' daylight. Keeping in line with garden city design principles, the larger of the two, Atkins House, has been set back from the street and brought in at the corner, drawing it towards the pedestrianised side street. Previously the site had been home to a synagogue and a West African Church, communal aspects the community wanted to retain, so the architect has included a community space on the ground floor of Atkins House.
While externally the building looks playful with a dramatic sloped roofline and varied windows, this is contrasted internally with an efficient, rigorous plan. The core of the Atkins building is composed of the lift, bathroom and stairs with the flats placed around the centre. This economically viable scheme follows an easily adaptable principle for the future. Along with being cost-efficient, the flats are generously sized with each being 10% above the national space standards.
All flats are triple aspect, continuing Becontree’s original guiding principles of ample sunlight and ventilation. As well as communal gardens each flat includes a generously-sized white tiled inset balcony that brings light directly into the core of the building. Bedrooms are positioned towards the north and south of the plan, away from the streets, not only to avoid noise disturbance but also, given the recent rise in temperatures, to prevent potential overheating. Sustainable principles are further emphasised as the buildings are insulated through air source heat pumps, a low cost and carbon alternative to mainstream heating systems. Overall Archio has managed to achieve a 61% carbon reduction against building standards.
A pedestrian street, School Way, separates a nursery from the two buildings to the north. Archio persuaded the council to extend the redline to include the street, which has been tarmaced and decorated with convoluted lines. This serves as an important thoroughfare for local school children and connects the estate with the nursery. As new residents settle in, it is easy to imagine this space and the communal garden between Atkins House and Branton House being used to host different activities.
Generosity, fostering communities and giving agency to users is central to Archio’s design ethos. ‘A lot of new builds have been done to people as opposed for people’, Haward comments, and the practice actively seeks to change that. This is best demonstrated in Archio’s soon-to-be-completed project in Lewisham of 11 new homes for London’s Community Land Trust. The practice won this project through public vote and co-designed it with the community. ‘When we spoke to residents, one of their biggest concerns was the breaking up of families and communities by unaffordable housing,’ she says. Built on land gifted by the council, these new homes will be sold at 40% of the market price.
‘Community engagement for us is not a tick box exercise but essential to our design process. We don’t pretend to know everyone’s lived experience but through co-designing we can ensure the architecture will service their needs,’ stresses Haward.
While a lot of architects claim their designs encourage community engagement, Archio practises what it preaches and seeks to include a wide range of voices in its design process, as seen in its current project at Astley Estate in Southwark. The practice has received planning permission for a new eight-storey housing block on an infill site and alongside designing the new homes it has worked with residents of the existing estate on improving current conditions. Noticing an absence of young voices, the sought to help of Young Adverise, a charity working with local youth to include their opinions in the design process.
Building socially-conscious homes, in an era of increasing inequality, doesn't come without challenges however. ‘We have to work hard to create the world we want,’ explains Haward. Despite this, Archio’s growing portfolio adds to the increasing number of practices designing socially conscious homes that envision new ways of living.
Gross internal floor area 1865m2
Construction cost Not disclosed
Completion date April 2022
Client Be First (on behalf of London Borough of Barking and Dagenham)
Project manager Be First
Main contractor United Living
Structural engineer Wilde
Timber frame subcontractor/CLT Eurban
Brick sub contractor Caxton Builders
Zinc sub contractor Varla
M&E consultant Butler and Young (up to Planning), SMCS (Post-Planning)
Landscape consultant Spacehub (up to Planning)
Acoustic consultant Anderson Acoustics
Bricks Ibstock Bricks
Zinc VM Zinc
Acoustic panels TopAkustic
Quality suveryor Stace LLP