Sociable, traditional mews keep the over 60s happy

Words:
Hugh Pearman

Peter Barber’s Burbridge Close for downsizers also frees up home for families

The return of the traffic-free alley: little front yards make a congenial environment for older people at Burbridge Close in Becontree by Peter Barber Architects.
The return of the traffic-free alley: little front yards make a congenial environment for older people at Burbridge Close in Becontree by Peter Barber Architects. Credit: Morley von Sternberg

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.

  • That is Peter Barber on the right chatting with one of the residents.
    That is Peter Barber on the right chatting with one of the residents. Credit: Morley von Sternberg
  • Barber aerial sketch shows relationship of terraces to the garages behind.
    Barber aerial sketch shows relationship of terraces to the garages behind. Credit: PBA
  • Ground plan of the eight homes.
    Ground plan of the eight homes. Credit: PBA
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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.