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Winter warmer

Stephen Cousins

Protected by a translucent facade, a galleried winter garden is promoting social interaction among residents of a retirement housing scheme in Sussex

A small courtyard intercedes between public and private realms.
A small courtyard intercedes between public and private realms. Credit: Jakob Spriesterbach

A winter garden facade of translucent cladding and full height sliding windows is eliciting a sense of community and social interaction at the Hortsley housing scheme for older people in Seaford, West Sussex. 

The five-storey crescent-shaped develop­ment of 38 dual aspect apartments, designed by RCKa for retirement home operator PegasusLife, sits on a confined site between two side roads in Seaford town centre. 

The brief was for a flexible building with highly adaptable layouts, tailored to suit the needs of occupants, and spaces that would combat any feelings of loneliness and isolation by promoting social interaction and fostering a sense of community.

A series of transitions take residents from the public space of the street to the privacy of the flats. The site is entered from bustling Sutton Park Road, to the south, through a discreet oak door in a low-slung knapped flint wall which leads into a tranquil courtyard garden around a pond. From here entry to the building is via a semi-private galleried winter garden, a 3.5m wide decked structure that provides access to all the apartments.

The shared balcony spaces within it and alternate double-height galleries enable vertical connections between floors, maximising opportunities for social interaction by effectively increasing the number of immediate neighbours from two to six.

The winter garden is wrapped in a chequer­board facade of translucent polycarbonate panels by Rodeca alternating with double glazed windows over the juliette balconies which slide to one side to enhance ventilation and cool the space in summer. 

Dieter Kleiner, founding director at RCKa, says: ‘The winter garden naturally connects people and creates an active elevation – translucent cladding means you can see people walking behind it from the outside, which helps residents feel comfortable and connected. We had to strike a delicate balance between the need for transparency and exposure versus the desire for protection and enclosure.’


  • The staggered facade creates real elevational depth.
    The staggered facade creates real elevational depth. Credit: Jakob Spriesterbach
  • Polycarbonate cladding creates a chequerboard effect on the facade.
    Polycarbonate cladding creates a chequerboard effect on the facade. Credit: Jakob Spriesterbach
  • Stair section detail.
    Stair section detail.
  • The latticework-clad external stair acts as a unifying element.
    The latticework-clad external stair acts as a unifying element.
  • The lattice adds delicacy to the stair’s solid D&B engineering.
    The lattice adds delicacy to the stair’s solid D&B engineering. Credit: Jakob Spriesterbach

The fact the building is set so far back from the street on this side prompted RCKa to give the facade a more experimental and contemporary treatment compared with the relatively conventional and regimented red brick facade on Stafford Road.

The brick elevation was influenced by the local vernacular, particularly the Regency architecture of many towns on the south coast. Planning concerns over an original design proposal resulted in a reduction in scale, lowering the height and splitting the elevation into a series of terrace-style blocks. 

The design for the winter garden also evolved over time, moving from a more open ­rainscreen system with ‘wavy’ opaque cladding to a sealed and tempered space that can be used year round. The structure is a steel frame pinned back to the reinforced concrete frame of the main building. The hollow steel structure made it possible to route the MVHR extract vents through the decks of the winter garden and out through horizontal grilles in the elevation.

A combination of active and passive measures help ensure a comfortable internal environment. The gallery effectively functions as a large heat exchanger, pre-tempering fresh air that enters through vents at the base and channelling into the flats during colder months.

Kleiner comments: ‘Solar gain in summer is dealt with by large openable windows. It was important to make the system intuitive so that people know they can simply slide the door to one side if it gets hot. The balcony spaces have planters where vegetation can be grown to further cool the environment and increase shading.’

The hit and miss balcony arrangement, with alternate voids in the decks, reinforces the strategy for fire protection and ventilation. Air or smoke is able to weave a vertical path through the floors and out through automatic opening vents in the roof. 

Mechanical and electrical consultant Max Fordham used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modelling to simulate the ventilation strategy. It is controlled by a building management system and can be supplemented by the MVHR when necessary.

The curve of the crescent is bisected by a cylindrical stair tower wrapped in a hardwood timber lattice structure inspired by a garden trellis. Otherwise the staircase is open on the sides, apart from a metal balustrade, and vegetation can be grown up the timbers from planters at the base to increase protection from the elements and strengthen the connection between the apartments and the garden. A separate lift core is housed within the winter garden structure.

The inclusion of the winter garden, and other shared spaces such as a communal lounge, social kitchen and honesty bar, has had a noticeable impact on the happiness of residents since the scheme was completed earlier this year. 

That’s a testament to RCKa and the project team, which had to grapple with tight financial constraints under the design and build contract (RCKa was novated to oversee detailed design) and limited scope for creative intervention. 

‘The value of the winter garden was almost intangible; it is not a space that can be rented out, and we only had a limited budget for extra facilities and amenities. Pegasus deserves credit for supporting us in many of our choices,’ Kleiner concludes

In numbers

38 flats
5 floors 
14.37kg/m2 CO2 emissions/year
4210m2 GIA


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