Gospel Oak housing refresh sprouts extra homes

Words:
Mark Swenarton

Burd Haward is fleshing out Camden council’s reinvigorated housing scheme with newbuild infills that ingeniously extend the celebrated original aesthetic

10 Lamble Street front elevation.
10 Lamble Street front elevation. Credit: Hélène Binet

For most Londoners the Gospel Oak redevelopment area is an unknown land. The 22.3ha comprehensive redevelopment was started by St Pancras council in the late 1940s and completed by its successor, Camden council, in 1980. Bookending the development were Powell & Moya’s 1951 ten-storey slab, Barrington Court, and Benson & Forsyth’s 1970s terraces in Lamble Street and Mansfield Road. But the major part of the development in between was a series of estates by MacManus & Partners that largely turned their back on the public realm. 

Fifty years later Gospel Oak figures prominently in Camden’s ambitious Community Investment Programme. The plan is to take sites already owned by the council and develop them with a combination of homes to rent and homes for sale, the profits from the latter paying for the construction of both. In the spirit of Sydney Cook – Camden’s inspired borough architect in the 1960s and 70s – Camden is involving some of the best London architects. But this time, in contrast, tenants and residents are fully involved in the process, both in the selection of the architect and throughout the design and construction process. 

Architecturally, Burd Haward approached the project as an exercise in urban stitching

At Gospel Oak the redevelopment programme includes both the large estates and small projects, taking advantage of residual sites. The first of these small schemes to be completed is by Burd Haward. It comprises five houses (all designed tenure-blind) on three sites: one on a corner on the north side of Lamble Street, abutting the celebrated Benson & Forsyth terrace; one on the south side of Lamble Street, between Powell & Moya’s 1951 slab and a MacManus block of maisonettes; and three houses at the south end of another block of maisonettes, Barrington Close, at the point where it meets a pedestrian route running next to the railway. These three were retained for council tenants while the other two were sold.

Architecturally, Burd Haward approached the project as an exercise in urban stitching. On one side the 10 Lamble Street corner site adjoins the pure white modernism of Benson & Forsyth and on the other the stock brick of the Victorian villas in Oak Village –and this provided an initial clue. Brick is used throughout but the flush-pointed raking bond emphasizes the volumetric and abstract qualities of the buildings, mediating between Victorian and modern.

  • Side elevation from Barrington Close showing the terrace and sheltered balcony.
    Side elevation from Barrington Close showing the terrace and sheltered balcony. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • Looking out to the first floor front windows of the two single bedrooms.
    Looking out to the first floor front windows of the two single bedrooms. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • 10 Lamble Street: View from Lismore circus showing the new house connection to the Benson & Forsyth housing beyond.
    10 Lamble Street: View from Lismore circus showing the new house connection to the Benson & Forsyth housing beyond. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • First floor landing with rooflight at 10 Lamble Street.
    First floor landing with rooflight at 10 Lamble Street. Credit: Hélène Binet
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Adding another house to the pure form of Benson & Forsyth’s terrace was a formidable challenge. Burd Haward’s answer on the street frontage was to continue the building line, high-level strip window and cantilevered first floor of the existing terrace. But once round the corner it starts to break down the forms. On the ground floor the front part of the building is pulled back from the site boundary, creating a semi-covered entrance courtyard behind a garden wall, which continues and rises to become the wall to the upper part of the house towards the rear. At pavement level the garden wall continues beyond the house to meld with the existing garden wall of the Victorian villa at the rear. Seen from this side, the building reads as something emerging from this network of garden walls. 

Internally the split section of the Benson & Forsyth houses is mirrored in the change of level between front and back, while the emphasis on free-flowing space (hinged doors that are higher than the usual 1981mm; full-height sliding doors between kitchen, entrance lobby and living room) also recalls the earlier period. The top lighting to the stairs might be seen likewise. But in the Burd Haward houses it is used with a quite different intent, namely to make a landing that is a sociable space at the heart of the house and of everyday living, a place of easy and inevitable gathering. With the volume extending right to the roof (no plasterboard ceiling here), the reminiscence is rather of the arts and crafts houses of Philip Webb or Baillie Scott. 

It is the care and thought that has gone into the design that impresses – not just visiting critics but tenants and owners too

  • Front courtyard towards sitting room, at 30a Lamble St. The cantilevered first floor shelters the entrance with its glazed brick slips
    Front courtyard towards sitting room, at 30a Lamble St. The cantilevered first floor shelters the entrance with its glazed brick slips Credit: Hélène Binet
  • Barrington Close side elevation. The stepped level with sheltered balcony generates a new relationship to the site.
    Barrington Close side elevation. The stepped level with sheltered balcony generates a new relationship to the site. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • View from the second floor bedroom to the metal-floored balcony at Barrington Close.
    View from the second floor bedroom to the metal-floored balcony at Barrington Close. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • View from Lamble St showing the new house connection to the housing beyond, the roof terrace pergola completing the cube.
    View from Lamble St showing the new house connection to the housing beyond, the roof terrace pergola completing the cube. Credit: Hélène Binet
  • 30 Lamble Street view into the rear courtyard from the kitchen/dining room, with connection to sitting room beyond.
    30 Lamble Street view into the rear courtyard from the kitchen/dining room, with connection to sitting room beyond. Credit: Hélène Binet
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The site of the homes at 30a Lamble Street was formerly occupied by derelict pram sheds, separated by a pedestrian alley from a four-storey block of maisonettes. Burd Haward’s initial idea was to re-position the alley to allow the new house to abut the maisonette block. However, this was not feasible so it re-aligned the alley, eliminating a dead corner and allowing views from end to end. Although this made the house a detached unit – something of an anomaly in this area of terraces and towers – the new again takes its cue from the existing, its form respecting the orthogonal language of its neighbour and its entrance porch cut away to connect with the neighbouring colonnade.

In urban terms, the three-house block in Barrington Close is perhaps the most successful of all. The existing MacManus building was a freestanding block in empty space with just a car park in front. Between that and the pedestrian alley to the south stood a boiler house and garages which Burd Haward has replaced with three houses: one four-storey and two two-storey. It has also transformed the car park into a civic space, a proper courtyard, with sunlight from the south assured by the shallow monopitch roof of the two-storey houses and the entrance to the courtyard enhanced by the splay to the end house, where oversized openings to the first-floor balcony create a mini-barbican at the prow. At the other end of the block, the four-storey house melds with the neighbouring building, the colonnade of the latter again extending to form the cut-away porch of the new arrival. Entry to all the houses is from the north (courtyard) side, and on the frontage to the alley (these are houses with no backs) the houses are pulled back to create a 500mm buffer zone, complete with low brick wall and beech hedge, with the windows deep-set instead of flush. Internally again there is a sociable landing, flooded with daylight from the generous top-lit stair; that is the most striking feature.

The five houses were procured by a JCT contract and the benefits in terms of constructional detail are to be seen throughout. But beyond this it is the care and thought that has gone into the design that impresses – not just visiting critics but tenants and owners too. In designing these houses Burd Haward has looked long and thought hard about this area and its needs. Its architecture, inventive yet restrained, mediates and strengthens what is there and displays, in the highest order, both sense and sensitivity.


IN NUMBERS

£2.3m final contract sum (all houses)

£2.2m cost excl external works

184mnew landscaping

598mgifa

£3,665 gifa cost per m2

Credits

Client London Borough of Camden
Architect lead consultant, planning consultant contract administrator Burd Haward Architects
Structural engineer Ellis & Moore
Environmental engineer Ingleton Wood
Principle design advisor Team Support Ltd
Quantity surveyor Moulton Taggart
Contractor Boxmoor Construction

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