Tell us about the early design brief
The footprint, height and unit mix for the building had been set by the masterplan, so our brief was relatively simple: to design a building comprising eight three-storey townhouses and 36 apartments all conforming to the Code for Sustainable Homes level 3 and the Lifetime Homes Standard.
The design codes for the masterplan stated that the elevations should have a strong base, middle and top, which led us to use different materials on the façades, from timber on the townhouses at the bottom, to stone and concrete further up the building, and stainless steel on the top floor.
What inspired your design concept?
We were inspired by simple ‘urbane’ European residential blocks where there was a strong formal, even ‘classical’ expression and understanding of how the building was crafted and made. This included work by architects such as Raphael Moneo, Hans Kollhoff and Giuseppe Terragni, with his use of stone framing and glass blocks. Milanese apartment blocks from the 40s and 50s were also an inspiration.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The unit types and sizes were largely dictated by the brief, so the challenge was how to create a unified piece of architecture from the different sizes and shapes of the units inside. To achieve a unified composition we investigated applying a structural, almost classical order onto the façade. This developed into the strong horizontal elements at each floor level and the stone columns between them. The strong rhythm of columns gave us freedom to position windows to suit the internal plan without disrupting the composition.
As the block could be seen in the round, like Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, we were also keen to have an architectural order that could be extended around the building on all sides.
We wanted to express the three-storey townhouses on the elevations, but also wanted the transition from the house typology to the flat typology to be blurred slightly so that the two didn’t jar. The use of columns and overlapping of materials help us to achieve this.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
Creating new homes for people to live in always instils a sense of good feeling, and being part of London 2012 gave the project an extra special meaning. We were especially pleased that the Brazilian delegation, the next host country, stayed in our block.
In much of our work we are interested in the layers of meaning and history that a building or place can acquire over time. Here the buildings have acquired an instant history that will make them extra special for future residents and visitors.