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Style and substance in strong balance at rejuvenated Egham town centre

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Eleanor Young

Housing need and public amenities drove AHMM’s design of Magna Square in Egham, a high-density but contextual development in a conservation zone

In 2013 Runnymede Borough Council’s masterplan identified that Egham town centre was under-performing; its post-war shopping precincts with flats above were tatty, with approaches to the High Street from the station and bypass dominated by service yards and car parks. 

The council owned much of that area with car parks and a two-storey row of shops on Station Road North. Housing was under pressure from low provision in the borough, rising student numbers and staff at Heathrow. Edwardian and Victorian homes under the airport flight path had been broken into flats and houses in multiple occupation. So when Runnymede drew up its brief it was ambitious in both the mix of town centre uses and the sheer number of homes it wanted to fit on the site, aiming for a performance space, shops and cafés as well as 101 homes plus 100 student rooms. This demanded a very different density to the rest of the town centre and the conservation area that it is part of. 

Over the years AHMM has become expert in the delivery of high density projects from commercial to housing, and has an extensive back catalogue in student accommodation. Massing here was more of an issue, and its early ideas for three flat-roofed buildings up to seven storeys high was seen as alien to Egham. The consented proposal of three new structures with housing, cinema and shops went back to local precedents. 

Pitched roofscapes now top the pattern of elongated terraces, which gradually grow in height from the more sensitive four-storey High Street to seven-floor  volumes closer to the station. Walking down the street this approach gives a natural small-scale rhythm – even when you know that it is just the skin to a large concrete frame. Likewise, the precast window surrounds in a more historical style before they give way to stripped back detailing as the buildings move out of the conservation area. Brick patterns and tones were again drawn from studies of all the properties within a square kilometre of the site. From the station the buildings are immediately obvious, but no blocks over four storeys high are visible from the High Street. 

Three new structures line the pedestrianised Station Road North. On one side is the curving and chamfered Liberty House, sitting opposite the elongated terraces of Corn Merchant House (for social rent) and Gem House, which are structurally one building but have separate entrances and circulation. Gem House contains an Everyman Cinema in the first three storeys – which required some structural shenanigans – and has private housing above. A fourth building, Parish Hall, is designed as student rooms and is now run by Derwent Students, part of Places for People. 

Set off to the side of the development, Parish Hall is in many ways the most satisfying. Its flank walls, with bold, historicist, diaper-patterned bricks, face towards the Waitrose car park, with a single brick type on the calmly proportioned facade. A chorus of windows pops out of the red zinc mansard roof. Grilles at each window give a series of highlights from yellow through pink and orange to red. 

The brief demanded a very different density to the rest of the town centre and its conservation area

The small pitched volumes fit effortlessly into the High Street. Credit: Timothy Soar
The cinema bar looks onto the newly landscaped street through double-height windows. Credit: Timothy Soar

scale is subtly broken up with downpipes sitting flush to the brick (a detail used on the rest of the project). Part of Parish Hall’s appeal to the visitor is the shared spaces – less so the kitchen-cum-social room on the ground floor but certainly the small double-height atria at either end that bring light to the upper floors and social spaces where students can work and meet friends. This is important for interaction given that rooms are self sufficient, each with their own cooking space and prefab bathroom. 

AHMM’s atria, supergraphics, sharp balustrade detailing, colour highlights and raw concrete hallmarks have been used successfully on so many projects. Here they have been applied across the development, but they only really come into their own for inhabitants. Each building has its colours – a range around green, blue or red. These are reflected in the tiles at the entrance, postboxes, glossy numbers marking each storey, staircase balustrades and doors. Steel balustrades with slim vertical fins seem robustly designed for elegance. 

This kit of AHMM parts seems to show the value of the way many design practices have grown over the last few decades, finding optimal solutions that can be reused or adapted – a family of details that can be rolled out by contractors and manufacturers, drawing on the most efficient benefits of modern methods of construction and working with the reality of different sites and conditions. Here it imbues the buildings with an invaluable sense of care towards their inhabitants. 

Runnymede put external amenity space in the brief for 90% of the flats

  • Diaper brickwork on the flank walls of Parish Hall. Gem House and Liberty Hall are beyond, each with their own character.
    Diaper brickwork on the flank walls of Parish Hall. Gem House and Liberty Hall are beyond, each with their own character. Credit: Eleanor Young
  • Hall as it faces onto Station Road North. White bricks show the location of the first-floor terrace.
    Hall as it faces onto Station Road North. White bricks show the location of the first-floor terrace. Credit: Timothy Soar
  • Inside one of the flats.
    Inside one of the flats. Credit: Rob Parrish

That is not to say there aren’t awkward moments. The first-floor terrace of Liberty House and the shops below it are framed in glazed white brick that feels at odds with the rest of this bricky project, despite the matching white pavilions on the top floor. This and the first and third floor terraces at the back of Station Road North are shady, with some flats, which open onto them, having trouble negotiating private space. However, the terraces and balconies are testament to Runnymede’s ambition: it put external amenity space in the brief for 90% of the flats. Some balconies are inset in the frontage which works well from an urban point of view.

With Everyman’s regular screenings, cafés facing Station Road North and long-term tenant Budgens retained in a new home, the street has become busier and an attractive cut-through to the High Street. And neighbouring shops have taken the cue and redone their fascias. Although landscaping to the street feels as though it was done on a reduced budget, protective planters in front of windows at ground level give buildings a softer edge – and use the opportunity to spell out poetry in bright lettering, a persuasive message to those driving past not to keep going to nearby Staines but to get out of the car and shop right there on Egham High Street. 


This inset balcony is one of many outdoor amenity spaces that Runnymede Council wanted for its residents, both private and social. Credit: Rob Parrish
The bright colours on the balustrades run throughout each building, creating joy and identity. Credit: Eleanor Young


Client Places for People and Runnymede Borough Council
Architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Contractor Graham Construction
Project manager TMD
Structural/civil engineer Elliott Wood Partnership
Cost consultant Alinea
Planning consultant Quod
Services/fire engineer Atelier Ten
Landscape architect Grant Associates
Transport consultant Vectos
Acoustic consultant Gilleron Scott
Heritage/townscape consultant Montagu Evans RoL/daylighting
Approved inspector Socotec



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