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Page of consents - from a Bristol tower to a Cambridge basement

Will Jennings

This week's roundup covers a Passivhaus primary school, a hostel for homeless families, retrofitting of Bristol industrial buildings and 'a secret palace of relaxation'

In this week’s summary we draw together the large and the small – from the height of a highly visible public project in Bristol down to a subterranean discreet retreat for a private house in Cambridge. We also take a look at two designs with deeply social purposes, a Passivhaus Standard primary school in Scotland and a Camden Hostel to help homeless families gain security.

Passivhaus Primary School, North Perth

  • Credit: Architype
  • Credit: Architype
  • Credit: Architype

Total area 3,898 m²

Client Perth & Kinross Council 

Architect Robertson Construction with Architype 

Planning authority Perth & Kinross Council

Planning ref 21/00096/FLM 

Sustainable architect Architype has taken on the role of lead consultant and Passivhaus designer for lead contractor Robertson Construction for one of the first Passivhaus-standard primary schools in Scotland, due to open to 500 students in early 2023.

The new building will replace the existing North Muirton and Balhousie primary schools, internally combining 14 classrooms, a hall, kitchens and facilities for the staff, with a multi-purpose games area outside. A simple plan allows all the classrooms to cluster either side of a central corridor axis over two floors, with the nursery accessible from one end, and the multi-purpose hall and kitchens at the other. The landscaping, led by consultant Rankin Fraser, creates a green boundary to buffer the school and playspace from nearby homes, while within, offering small areas outside each ground-level classroom spillout space, with a further outdoor classroom deeper into the scheme.

The existing single-storey North Muirton Primary School was constructed of precast concrete and brick panel infills. There are signs of damp and condensation throughout and the structure offers virtually no thermal benefit. The new building is set to offer 60-80 per cent reduction in energy consumption, with triple glazing (U-value 0.6 W/m²K and g-value of 0.55) and very high levels of external envelope insulation with a target air tightness of 1.17m³/h.m², significantly in excess of Building Standard level.

Soapworks, Bristol

  • Credit: Woods Bagot
  • Credit: Woods Bagot
  • Credit: Woods Bagot
  • Credit: Woods Bagot

Total area Proposed floorspace of 39,076m²

Client First Base 

Architect Woods Bagot 

Planning authority: Bristol City Council

Planning ref 20/01150/F 

A scheme that sits at the tipping-point between heritage and modernity has been approved for Bristol’s Old Market area. The Soapworks collection of industrial buildings will be transformed into a dense mixed-use scheme including a hotly contested 20-storey tower.

The masterplan is intended to support a key pedestrian link between Temple Meads station and the Old Market area. The tower would act as a beacon to signify the development to the wider city, though there are fears it will dominate and distract from the smaller scale Bristol Byzantine heritage. The Bristol Civic Society, while supporting the restoration of the Soapworks Building, objected to the scale of the tower 'which would dominate the listed Soapworks and the Old Bread Street and New Kingsley Road corner.

Donald Insall Associates was heritage consultant for the project, which was largely supported in terms of repurposing a site of significant collective history. However, conservationists were concerned that two of the grade II listed buildings were having only their facades retained. The Bristol Conservation Advisory Panel commented that 'the approach to "facadism" is completely wrong and is a regressive step in terms of the approach to development'.

Historic England welcomed the 'exciting opportunity for heritage-lead place-making with the Soap Works building being the centrepiece', but added that the massing of other blocks on the site would compromise the visual primacy of the Soapworks Building, saying that it must be the key driver for a heritage-led scheme. Nonetheless, the project has now passed through planning after a 'flexible element' was changed by the developer, withdrawing the option of an Aparthotel and confirming extra residential units, which the council preferred, withdrawing its decision to pass the scheme over to the secretary of state for comment.

Camden Hostel

  • Credit: RCKa
  • Credit: RCKa
  • Credit: RCKa

Total site area 1,286m2

Client London Borough of Camden 

Architect RCKa

Planning authority London Borough of Camden

Planning ref 2020/3737/P 

A tired mid-1970s hostel, which offers nothing to the conservation area status of the buildings around it, is set to be demolished and replaced with a new glazed-panel fronted six-storey building to support homeless families on a pathway towards achieving their own secure place to live.

The scheme offers 39 compact units offering homes and ancillary accommodation to current security and safeguarding standards, while a rear 'sanctuary' garden with trees and a community room offers both a safe playspace and a sound/sight buffer between the new homes and neighbours.

In an age of concern around failure of community involvement in the planning process, lack of general understanding of the complicated route to permission, and often-clunky portals to view and comment on applications, it is fairly unusual to see a project receive quite as many objections as this RCKa application. Most of the nearly 100 letters are at pains to point out that while they do welcome homeless provision, they have concerns around massing, height, overlooking, and existing conservation area guidelines.

Without diminishing some of those concerns raised, there are possible reasons for such levels of engagement: an active local neighbourhood association; at least three residents employing private planning consultants to submit opposition, with phrasing seemingly informing other letters; and a director of another architecture practice submitting comments again directly replicated in other letters.

Some framed opposition as concern for future hostel residents. One resident suggested high levels of drug use in the area would put their new neighbours at risk, while another stated: 'I am concerned about safeguarding and stigmatisation of those living at the hostel and those of us adjacent'. One objector reversed the overlooking concerns, claiming new hostel families would be 'under constant observation' from existing homes.

Another neighbour seemed angry that residents were being given secure garden provision, suggesting 'some of those brilliant RIBA brains of yours [should] come up with a valuable, low rise development, utilising some of the land you’ll waste on vanity, prize seeking, landscape silliness and picnic benches. The ladies can take their kids to the park if they want a picnic and fresh air.'

The scheme had been through a series of community consultations – both with the final design and the Stage 1 design prior to RCKa’s involvement – as well as studies that ruled out refurbishment based on size, security and quality of life. One objector, however, still wanted reuse considered. 'Why not refurbish the current building? Consult someone like George Clarke for suggestions?' they said.

Hemp House, Cambridge


Total internal floor area 482m2

Client Private

Architect Jonathan Tuckey Design 

Planning authority Cambridge City Council

Planning ref 20/04606/HFUL 

A handsome detached Victorian house in a Cambridge conservation area is set to have a huge extension, formed of geometric masses extending from its ground floor into the garden and dropping into a secret palace of relaxation beneath. Constructed from hempcrete – a natural product, mixing hemp and lime –- the extension will have a very different feel from the house it is attached to, though with a similar tonal range. The conservation officer considered it to be more suitable for the site than the initial proposal for charred timber cladding.

The extension seeks to develop better connections between the existing house and the garden through a new open-plan living area which becomes a central circulation space, connecting the new master bedroom, bathroom, study and reading snug with the existing property’s rooms. The extension also includes two distinctly designed staircases, which descend into the luxurious additions below.

The clients desired a 'respite space', and a descent into these subterranean spaces will certainly offer an experience far removed from the streets above. Jonathan Tuckey Design has designed the basement as a tight group of rooms so to 'reduce unnecessary excavation', though the reader may wonder just how necessary an 18m swimming pool, yoga room and workshop really are. Indulgence aside, a sublime, gentle space within which to exercise, relax and create looks set to be dug into the Cambridgeshire soil. Rooflights above poolside alcoves will allow the space to have a calming ambience, with daylight trickling in to emphasise the texture and finish of the hempcrete walls.


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