Different procurement routes and contextual responses lie behind the success of two high-quality, uplifting housing schemes by Al-Jawad Pike for Hackney Council
Dean Pike and Jessam Al-Jawad had been set up as a practice for under three years (and in the thick of it for about two) when it was appointed to redesign a garage and backland site with housing on Mandeville Street in Clapton, east London, in January 2017. It was an open competition as part of Hackney Council’s initiative to meet housing delivery targets by doing infill developments on small, underused snippet sites, rather than redeveloping existing estates. The idea was that it is less disruptive and more sensitive to residents. The local authority has 30 sites like this and between 2018 and 2022 had nearly 2000 homes completed, under way or approved. By August 2017, Al-Jawad Pike had submitted its scheme for planning and a few months later was commissioned by the council to undertake another brownfield plot five minutes’ walk away. That had come via a mini competition with just one other firm and came about because the local authority was impressed with the work so far. Consequently, the two schemes developed almost in parallel, and completed in that way too.
The two projects share many similarities. They are both built on slivers of sites owned by Hackney Council that had been used as garages and makeshift parking, both adjacent to Victorian school-board primaries.
Mandeville Street had become a thoroughfare. Daubeney Road had an ad-hoc community garden; you can still see the homespun mosaic artwork on the retained perimeter wall. Both schemes have accommodated the same number of units too – 11 – and are pedestrianised. However, there the similarities end. The contexts are quite different. Mandeville Street is higher-rise – three storeys rather than two – and the adjacent school towers over an area that’s generally tougher, more urban with fewer trees, mostly made up of post-war social housing and has a refuse centre on the far corner. Daubeney Road is two storeys, intermingling tighter-knit streets of terraced Victorian and post-war housing with a taller housing tower.
Likewise, the resulting schemes reflect these different contexts. The Daubeney Road project, Chowdhury Walk, is more architecturally worked through; crispy detailed and refined with sophisticated subversions. Tori Ann Walk on Mandeville Street is rougher, more robust, warehouse-like and that bit grittier – perhaps partly because it came first and partly because of differences in procurement. ‘At Chowdhury Walk, Hackney Council decided to experiment on two fronts,’ explains Pike. ‘The first was to use CLT construction, the second was by using a traditional contract.’ Tori Ann Walk was design and build, with Al-Jawad Pike appointed by the council to Stage 3, and then reappointed by the contractor for the build.
These differences are what make both schemes successful. Chowdhury Walk is a terrace of 11 houses on the southern side of the site, perpendicular to the street. However, rather than running in a straight line, the houses are staggered towards the road to minimise overlooking front and back, and to engage more directly with the street. Each house therefore juts forward by around 1m, presenting like a stretched-out accordion – their cut-out front door niches all visible at once. Both developments are car-free so on the wall opposite the terrace the garages that were no longer large enough to fit modern cars have been demolished. The end wall has also been removed, creating a new landscaped pedestrian route through the scheme that tapers and connects with another former dead end behind. It’s pleasing to see the occasional person passing through. Towards the houses the rigid grid patterns of the granite sett paving become scattered towards the perimeter wall, also giving way to informal wild grassy planting, designed by Periscope to recall the overgrown look of what was there previously. On the boundary wall, between two of the oversized expressive buttresses, is the odd bike storage unit, partially concealed. The paving is permeable and there are intermittent hedgehog boxes to encourage biodiversity and prevent surface flooding.
The granite of the landscape subsequently rises to form a robust and satisfying plinth to the houses, as well as deep defensible planters at the head of the site and in front of each house. These act as a buffer, preventing passers-by from getting uncomfortably close to the ground floor kitchen windows. The granite plinth, meanwhile, is a flourish, Al-Jawad and Pike explain, common to Spain and Portugal, but also, I would say, Belgium and northern European architecture too.
Above this datum, the scheme plays out in waterstruck Weinerberger red bricks, beautifully varied in colour to create an overall softness, and laid in traditional English course which is endlessly a joy to see. Across the development there are four two-bed houses, six three-bed houses and one accessible four-bed house. Seven houses are socially rented, and the four nearest to Daubeney Street are private sale to help fund, in combination with Hackney Council’s wider building programme, the entire project. The four-bedroom accessible unit, designed with a specific local family in mind, is at the furthest end where the ground floor can be more generous as it steps down to single-storey. The rhythm of types is otherwise blended through the terrace – three-bedroom houses identified by two windows at the first floor level, rather than one for two-beds, which adds variation and shows the practice’s desire to individualise. Monopitched roofs slope away from the street.
The rear elevation of the houses was the aspect that had to be most worked through. The terrace backs onto the gardens of another row of houses just metres away. This meant many party wall agreements, but also many tricky planning objections from residents. To reduce overlooking, the regular window in the back bedroom was swapped for a porthole and a side window that faces away inserted into the concertina corner between each house.
However, the window that identifies the scheme is that on the blind wall of the first house on Daubeney Street. Here Al-Jawad Pike was encouraged to be bold, and its upside-down arched form hovering in the stairwell is inspired by windows common to Victorian end of terraces – only the other way up. The window is large, beautiful and helps distinguish the entire development with extra character and quality.
The window is large, beautiful and helps distinguish the entire development
Such architectural embellishments are not particularly present at Tori Ann Walk. However, it does have its own quirks. Unlike Chowdhury Walk, Tori Ann Walk combines flats with individual houses. Again, it is a long narrow site with a L-shape. Here, because it backs onto Mandeville Primary School, the challenge was that it couldn’t be one long terrace. To fit in the required number of homes and avoid overlooking, houses in the middle would have had to be single-aspect. Al-Jawad Pike’s solution was to split the plot into four separate buildings: apartment blocks at either side of the site that bookend a short mews of two three-bed social rent houses separated by courtyards. The apartment block to the east on Mandeville Street contains three one-bedroom social rent apartments, one of which is accessible. The larger block along Oswald Street has three one-bed and three two-bed flats that are shared ownership.
The practice uses repeated gables, a dark brick ground floor, red brick upper levels and red concrete precast beams between the houses to link the scheme together, as well as design details like brick soffits in the entrance ways and deep loggias. Windows are flush on the ground floor and set back above. The larger block on Oswald Street was originally intended as three townhouses with a gable fronting each, but when these changed to apartments, rather than realign the windows, the practice offset them so they do not correspond with the roofs. Likewise, a mound running front to back across the site was incorporated to deal with a flooding risk that became apparent at the last minute. It gives the pedestrian through-route a curious hump, but it’s no bad thing.
In terms of performance, both schemes use gas, but are highly insulated and low energy. Chowdhury Walk is triple-glazed and the radiators are ‘about the size of A4 sheets of paper’, reports Al-Jawad Pike. Hackney Council demands a 35% improvement on Part L. The projects both also integrate solar panels. At Tori Ann Walk, this is done using an innovative, complete zinc standing seam roof called Flextron by Tata Steel.
As the houses are now occupied, it wasn’t possible to go inside. However, from the street it’s clear that people are appropriating their homes, with loggias full of potted plants, daffodils growing in railing planters and children’s toys sprawled across the back gardens. Tori Ann Walk’s dark bricks are suffering from salting, which adds to their present grittiness, but both schemes exhibit a major welcome investment in urban improvement, including densification that encourages greater participation and socialisation. At Chowdhury Walk in particular, the exterior quality of the houses is as good and elegant as any I’ve seen, and fun too.
GIFA Chowdhury Walk 1060m²
GIFA Tori Ann Walk 770m²
Architect Al-Jawad Pike
Structural engineer Momentum
Services engineer SGA Consulting
Landscape architect Periscope
Planning consultant Tibbalds
CLT contractor Egoin
Main contractor Neilcott Construction (Chowdhury Walk), Kind & Co (Tori Ann Walk)