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Pick a pocket...

... of seemingly worthless land and turn it into homes that enrich the whole estate. That’s what Peabody’s doing

Rory Gardiner
Rory Gardiner Credit: Gable end of new building (Site B) with the original estate to rear.

It is hard to see what five two-bedroom houses will do to help the housing crisis. But the two blocks of wholesome brick cottages on Cleverly estate in west London are indicative of an approach that social housing ­providers have been using on and off for years. More particularly they are the first the homes to emerge from Peabody’s small project panel and its strategic review of the pockets of land that can languish under litter and anti-social behaviour on large housing estates. Peabody decided, under then-development director Claire Bennie, to ask younger practices to apply to a panel for this work. They brought fresh ideas – and it also helped train up their architects for the future. 

  • Bungalow infill to the estate, with Cleverly Cottages in the middle distance and the backs of Victorian terraces behind.
    Bungalow infill to the estate, with Cleverly Cottages in the middle distance and the backs of Victorian terraces behind. Credit: Rory Gardiner
  • The houses with their own front doors, precast porticos and grand dormers have the individuality that large blocks, even fine ones as at Cleverly, struggle to capture.
    The houses with their own front doors, precast porticos and grand dormers have the individuality that large blocks, even fine ones as at Cleverly, struggle to capture. Credit: Rory Gardiner
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Lyndon Goode was one of the practices that won a place on the panel – and a couple of projects in Lewisham and Hackney Wick, but initially the practice didn’t win this one. In the early stages these cottages were designed by Haworth Tompkins, with whom the practice’s David Lyndon had previously worked. Peabody had a few pocket sites on the Cleverly estate including ambitions for a community centre, but these were gradually scaled back during the planning process, so it made sense to hand the project to a smaller practice. When Lyndon Goode took over at stage F the pressure was on to get the drawings out to tender: the deadline for funding was imminent.  

Cleverly was built in 1928, the first Peabody estate where every home had its own bath. The 246 dwellings were built in mansion blocks around four central courtyards. They are a solid brick product of the 1920s but architect Victor Williams still found time for some twirls and flourishes with decoration looped over circular windows and porticos implied on the blocks in Portland stone. Step over the concrete lawn-edging, look past the peeling paint of the iron fence and with a little squint you could have arrived at a stately home. This is now a conservation area. The enormous, grand courtyards don’t feel entirely comfortable and have, of course been added to over the years, ball court here, a low rise community room there, some bungalows and garages. These are top of the hit list of most social housing providers looking for pocket sites.

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Luckily, the two blocks of offending garages were both in positions that not only broke up the large courtyards but also, in more skilled hands, could create an extra level of intimacy. So the two new blocks suggest smaller scale courtyards and it seems existing inhabitants were happy enough to swap a rather grubby garage view for looking down on some smart houses. Or cottages, as they have been dubbed, because next to the grand blocks, behind birch and cherry trees and the ends of gardens, they do look quite diminutive – in the best way.

Pre-empting the design and build process the cottages are simple in their material and Lyndon Goode held on to this approach. Hung tiles drape from the roof onto the facade, mansard style, rooms in the roofs popping out as dormers.  Below, a pleasantly mixed brick echoes the existing blocks. A simple string course of precast adds a nice crispness, borrowing inspiration from the original Portland stone. 

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Entrances on Williams’ original buildings added a symbolic flourish to the entrances on the block – though they are now undercut by less-than-lovely later additions of draught lobbies and entrance control systems. Here the new houses excel, the well thought out small scale composition of solid and transparent held together by the robust precast portico. Solid front doors are each painted different colours despite the unifying tendencies of social housing. Alongside them are vertical windows, also stepped back a little so the inset portico acts as a porch. Next are the small windows at the bottom of the staircase, each filled with a vase by their residents, part obscuring the views in but mostly taking ownership of a satisfying little niche to make something beautiful both inside and out. 

It would be good to be able to talk about the way the kitchen and living area relate to each other through the double doors – and then to the garden; or discuss how the staircase uses the roof height and light to make a space that adds grace and air to the houses. But I wasn’t able to go inside, so that would all be conjecture.

  • Three new homes in Shepherd’s Bush are beautifully set off by mature silver birch and cherries.
    Three new homes in Shepherd’s Bush are beautifully set off by mature silver birch and cherries. Credit: Rory Gardiner
  • Cutting the original three storeys to two had its advantages – ensuring the roof space was used to the full inside, as here above the stair.
    Cutting the original three storeys to two had its advantages – ensuring the roof space was used to the full inside, as here above the stair. Credit: Simona Mizzoni
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What is clear is that the two new blocks of homes, although ostensibly the same, are actually quite different due to the relative widths of each site. Site A has three houses, with good sized gardens. On site B the buildings are squeezed between the estate’s bungalow gardens and Victorian neighbours and two houses look out here with an elongated plan, the windows for the living spaces shunted to the east facade with oversized dormers. From the gable end with its hung tiles the asymmetry of the section is obvious, the staircases pushing out the building envelope. This is hard working housing, visible from all sides by existing residents. They could easily have been squeezed into characterless or – worse – jazzy boxes. Instead they renew their little corners of Cleverly’s courtyards. 

This scheme shows the worthwhile Peabody project of using good architects continues to bear fruit. These are modest two-bed homes at 96m2 (though exceeding the London Housing Design Guide). They are one of the answers to a civilised living space for all Londoners,  one that can offer self-respect as well as space for a washing machine and ironing board. It will be interesting to see what else emerges from the small projects panel in years to come.


IN NUMBERS

£2,484 cost per m²

479m²  net internal area 

96m²  net internal area of a typical house

5 dwellings


 

Credits

Local authority Hammersmith & Fulham

Client Peabody 

Architect

Stage A - E Haworth Tompkins

Stage F completion Lyndon Goode Architects

Structural engineer Connisbee

Civil engineer Connisbee

Contractor Quinn London

Employers agent Phillip Pank Partnership