Peter Barber’s Burbridge Close for downsizers also frees up home for families
Set in the heart of the 1920s Becontree Estate, arguably still the world’s largest council estate which was conceived as 'homes for heroes' east of London nearly a century ago, Burbridge Close is the first of three infill developments by Peter Barber Architects which show the practice’s skill in conjuring homes out of restricted sites which draw on successful examples from the past.
Built on the site of run-down local authority garages, this is a little mews of six single-storey homes for over-60s placed either side of a narrow alley. A pair of two-storey two-bed houses act as a gateway into the development. Built by Barking and Dagenham’s development company BeFirst, this is a development which has successfully tempted older people to downsize (or ‘rightsize’ in the current jargon), so freeing up larger homes for families. Rather than the standard flats in blocks of sheltered housing, it offers a congenial environment where everyone gets a front door and front yard on a cheerful little street. The front room ceilings are vaulted as the facades indicate. In a way it is an anti-loneliness design, encouraging inter-action. Barber points out that it is based on similarly hugger-mugger 19th century precedents such as Choumert Square in Peckham.
Both our judges and local councillors point out how it also draws on the tradition of the old East End of open front doors and people sitting chatting on their front door steps. As for the residents, they say it’s a splendidly sociable way to live. This is urban densification with a human touch, ingeniously carried out for the benefit not only of those living there, but also those whom it helps to house elsewhere.