The first 38 homes in the 993-dwelling Alma Estate regeneration in Enfield look lovely, but there are Faustian aspects to its deal to raise design standards
What’s in a name? In its own PR, Karakusevic Carson refers to it as Academy Street, while Enfield Council calls it Dujardin Mews. Co-architect Maccreanor Lavington accords it no name at all on its website – perhaps it’s too busy doing its 350-home bit on the huge Meridian Water site at nearby Lockwood reservoir, to update a webpage. But while laying out this feature on the first tranche of housing – part of the redevelopment of the 1960s Alma Estate in Ponders End – our art editor gives it the working title of ‘Coronation Street’, and I can see where she’s coming from.
I mean, Dujardin Mews is just a Franco-English iteration of that post-modern condition cited in Joel Garreau’s ‘Edge City’, where housing developments get named after all the things that got destroyed to create them. Think of all the ‘Brookfields’, ‘Orchard Groves’ and ‘Meadowcrofts’ out there. When ‘Of-the-garden Mews’ went up, one assumes it was adieu to the wild industrial backland behind – here we go again – ‘Falcon Crescent’. But ‘Academy Street’ gives too much credit to the new £21 million, 1,000-pupil Oasis Academy, next to the sliver of a site handed to the architect by Enfield Council in 2013. While the school is a John McAslan one it’s hardly a mirage worth marking for posterity.
No; visiting the project with the architects one bright, cold morning, harsh sunlight throwing the recessed entrances of its otherwise flat facades into sharp relief, there’s a distinct sense of Coronation Street stage-set about it; a single, ordered street of strangely crisp and well-detailed brick terraces bearing little relationship to anything around it; not the timber-clad school or the slightly down at heel suburban semis to the west; and certainly not the four 23-storey 1960s council blocks to the north.
The art director has picked up on this artifice without even being there. Without access to any of the homes, my physical experience will be distinctly two-dimensional. Later, on the phone, Enfield’s deputy head of regeneration and housing Peter George will describe the Alma masterplan as one of the borough’s ‘flagship projects’ and Dujardin Mews, 38 homes for social rent and shared ownership as its figurehead.
It says as much about me as the new resident that I can, on a cursory glance, identify a four-pack of beer through the white plastic bag he’s carrying back at 11am in the morning. He’s making himself at home, I think, and why wouldn’t he? I imagine walking back with him, putting my feet up, cracking a can open and watching the latest ‘Homes under the Hammer.’ Because the houses look lovely. I’d move in tomorrow – so would the art editor.
Peter George says he feels vindicated by this, as the project is the first social housing to be built directly by the borough in 40 years. They are the first homes in the redevelopment of the estate – the rest will be done in three phases by Countryside, to designs by Pollard Thomas Edwards. The £600 million Alma Estate regeneration is one of three major schemes in the borough, where market failure has led the council to attract private partners through aggressive incentivisation, such as at the £46 million Electric Quarter project in Enfield town centre. Both this and Alma are dwarfed in scale by the £6 billion Meridian Water, with developers Barratt and SEGRO; aiming to provide over 10,000 homes and 6,000 permanent jobs.
In exchange for all this inward investment, Enfield is making developers an offer they can’t refuse. The deal, says George, involves actively de-risking projects by packaging land into parcels for development, remediating sites and smoothing the passage of consents. In exchange, Enfield wants higher levels of design quality and lower profit margins, increasing its home provision and making affordable homes affordable. At the 85ha Meridian Water site for example, this has involved a £100 million investment by the borough to purchase and remediate over 23ha of land.
After a 55% overall vote by Alma residents for regeneration, including abstentions, this will mean the demolition of 717 homes, 547 of which are council and 170 leaseholder owned, to create a new estate of 993 homes. The deal is not without its Faustian aspects; part of it involves the council securing vacant possession, which means, as a last resort, Compulsory Purchase Orders on leaseholder homes; and reportedly some of the 45% minority are proving resistant. There will also be an overall net reduction in the social housing component; at completion, of the total number of new homes, only 200 will be social rented and 200 shared ownership. Dujardin Mews, with its 50% split of 19 social rent and 19 shared ownership homes is as good as it gets; and, as the first manifestation of Enfield’s brave new world, has to be seen to be working. For Peter George, as well as for those looking down from the 23rd floor; this one street, looking like a new patch on an old coat, is more than just another brick terrace – it’s a form of covenant.
You get a sense from speaking to both architects that they felt this burden of responsibility when coming up with their design for the narrow strip of land. The council’s initial feasibility study, using planning guidance of a minimum 18m width between the back of the existing homes and any new ones, had only considered a single run of homes facing out over the school. It was the architects who felt that a greater sense of community would be engendered with a street of two terraces facing each other, suggesting the ingenious idea of turning a run of three-bed homes 90º to allow them to monopolise on the length of the site rather then be restricted by its width. Planned to have no habitable rooms facing out over the school, it deals cleverly with the immediate proximity of the Academy.
Karakusevic Carson Architects’ mono-pitched roofs form the east terrace, and with almost non-existent rear yards, mature at first floor, with large over-garage patios facing the the practice's west terrace of two-bed maisonettes over one-bed flats and four-bed homes of Cubitt-like proportions and starkness. Windows are generously sized, counterpointed by deep, recessed entrances, sometimes picked out in utilitarian but lustrous, green glazed brick. Maccreanor Lavington’s three-bed pitched roof homes on the west terrace are like a meme of a child’s drawing of a house; details that might pull it into more real focus, like drainpipes, recessed into the brick to give an air of muted abstraction. The two terraces are linked by a 12.5m-wide expanse of granite setts and trees, shared space for cars and people designed by landscape firm East, with a Dutch sense of generosity. The street links the public square on the north side, shared with Oasis Academy, with the turn of the street to the south, where the new development stitches back into the existing layout.
In fact, despite being an £8 million D&B project and coming in at under £2,200/m², this one road delivers so much that the only disappointment is the strangely truncated nature of the intervention. The six southerly apartments, no higher than any other part of the development, could have broken above the general roof line, if only to provide the final flourish at the end of the view that would carry the local resident round the corner and into Gardiner Close. To the north, facing the public square, the down at heel community centre is set to be replaced by PTE’s six storey housing block. The community centre will be integrated at ground; it’s a shame the vision wasn’t bold enough to see a separate, architecturally distinct building terminating the view, defining the square, and addressing the school across it. This could have created the sense of a real communal centre – a complex of buildings forming a hub that could remain and bed-in, while everything to its north comes down before its anticipated completion in 2026.
But while Enfield’s George talks of the resident-led design approaches and the fact that homes are 10-15% bigger, the demolition is an erasure of memory – and perhaps of tenants too. George talks about the principle of choice – tenants can choose to stay or leave. Wholesale regeneration can be a blunt instrument, driving through collective will: what if its economic model forces residents out of Alma? After all, over 250 social rent homes are being lost, and with that the collective memory of the community is dissipated.
Dujardin Mews’ terraces embody this new business model and are the very best of what the Alma Estate will offer. A telling detail appears on the walls of the east terrace; projecting brick headers casting strong shadows and window-sized blind recesses alluding to some past window tax; a history that never was.
Client London Borough of Enfield
Design Architects Karakusevic Carson, Maccreanor Lavington
Landscape design East
Structural engineer Peter Brett Associates
MEP Engineer Designbrook
Environmental engineer NRG Consulting