Tell us about the early design brief
Even though we were the youngest practice selected by the Architecture Foundation, Olympic Delivery Authority and Lend Lease to design a stand-alone building for the Olympic Village, we were given one of the most complex sites!
As a gateway tower on a unique triangular plot, our building is unlike the standard square mansion blocks in the masterplan, and had to resolve the brief of making great homes for rent or shared ownership after the Games, in what is currently the tallest building in the Village.
In response, we developed a new housing typology that simultaneously creates a very efficient use of space whilst engendering a sense of community, with a stunning shared atrium space from which all front doors are accessed by a balcony.
What inspired your design concept?
The façade of the building draws inspiration from local geology and the chalk seam which lies just beneath the whole Olympic site and the River Lea. Linking the building conceptually with its wider natural environment, bespoke GRC (glass fibre reinforced concrete) panels were prototyped and developed to achieve the dynamically carved elevations that respond to daylighting requirements to the rooms within.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The design is environmentally sensitive and was specifically evolved to anticipate the building over the next 20 years as the legacy masterplan is delivered. Generous private balconies reduce in size over the height of the building, echoing the concept of a sheer cliff face, while natural daylight floods into a spectacular 14-storey atrium inside, creating a shared space that encourages a sense of community.
The design also features a roof terrace which offers unrivalled views across the whole of London and the Olympic Park.
By testing the design iteratively we developed a new typology that challenges standard housing design.
What about specific design challenges?
We challenged preconceptions, assumptions and the design brief again and again on the project, and at times it was a hard process as we were often greeted by incredulity that could have left us feeling discouraged. For example, we challenged why such a small building needed its own car park and suggested it go in the neighbouring block. After three months of negotiation, the Olympic Delivery Authority agreed and huge savings were made. Similarly, we defended against pressure to remove the roof garden. The site had effectively been treated as a tabula rasa in the masterplan and we pushed for a design that would respond to the deep history of a site and establish a sense of greater connection with nature and timelessness.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
The chance to contribute to the Olympics was a great privilege. It was a particular challenge for us as the building is our first completed housing block! We were keenly aware of the enormous risk the ODA took in commissioning a practice without housing experience but who they trusted to deliver high quality design, on time and on budget.