New regulations imposed after Grenfell forced the design team behind the Gascoigne Estate regeneration scheme to opt for concrete over timber. But the project is still aiming to be an exemplar of sustainable design based on using MMC, raising densities, employing SUDS and maximising walking and cycling across a transformed, better-connected 15-minute neighbourhood.
Be First’s Jacob Wilson said the borough is looking to create 20,000 new jobs and 50,000 homes by 2037, largely due to the extraordinary 400ha of development land in the borough. The 1960s Gascoigne Estate in the west of the borough suffers from negative perceptions, with difficulties experience in navigation and a lack of an identity. So a 31-year build out of 2,000 homes begun in in 2000 includes masterplans for the east by Allies and Morrison and west by Fraser Brown McKenna. ‘For us it's not just about the masterplans and building out those phases’, said Wilson. ‘The placemaking of the neighbourhood is really important to us as the borough taking that forward with residents’.
So: it commissioned White Arkitektur and Civic Engineers to take forward a placemaking strategy and look to the spaces between buildings, enable better movement throughout the estate and connect them to surrounding ‘assets’. It has taken a ‘nature-based approach’ with a new residents’ forum and work on Gascoigne Road to rid it of its poor traffic infrastructure management, introduce SUDS and end the way it ‘bifurcates’ or severs the estate, instead becoming its heart.
But when the 520 new homes by White was commissioned, it was to be in CLT modular construction, building on the practice’s experience in Sweden, only for changes in building regulations to force a rethink. Wilson said it had been ‘disappointing’ to move away from timber, but had instead spent time thinking about operational zero carbon, including in a scheme designed by Pitman Tozer with a fabric first approach, PVs and connected to a district heating network. ‘I think going forward, without being able to deliver buildings using timber, we're really exploring MMCs and modern methods of construction in a big way, and thinking about how that can enable us to design to circular economy principles, and also considering designing the disassembly as well’
Other speakers at the event included Civic Engineers’ Stephen O’Malley, who described the importance of nature-based solutions on the project including water management and creating amenity and opportunity for biodiversity to ‘humanize’ the streetscapes. Yes, building fabric is critical, said O’Malley, but the key issue was ‘proximity’ of features, amenities, schools and infrastructure across the site, to make them connected by walking or active travel and ‘hard-wiring’ sustainable urban drainage features into the landscape.
White Arkitekter’s Lukas Thiel added that it aimed to create a new identity for the place by mixing urban scale, activating green places and providing ‘a city at eye level’. It also looked to modularity and efficiency in the building fabric, whilst seeking to solve an estate ‘detached’ from the park and town centre, improving views to green spaces and permeability within an ‘undulating landscape’. The practice redesigned for a reinforced concrete frame but also upped density on the floorplates to ‘lower’ the buildings. ‘All in all, less carbon than the previous concrete design but given we wanted to do CLT, it’s more.’ The key to successful sustainable projects, Thiel said, however, was stakeholder involvement on all levels, transparency, and keeping an open mindset, with continuous learning.
Finally, Civic Engineers’ Jessica Foster said following the Hackett Enquiry timber could not be used in the facades, replacing it with concrete, with all the high energy, high carbon costs that entails. ‘It’s hard to avoid that, but reinforced concrete is also incredibly flexible, and you can do a lot with it. So there's a huge opportunity to be quite creative in how you do this’.