New London Architecture

‘Supergroup’ reimagines Central Somers Town

Tuesday 23 July 2019

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

A ‘supergroup’ of four collaborating practices showed how their dynamic approaches to masterplanning and designing a new landscape-led urban framework are bearing fruit for central Somers Town at NLA last week.

What LB Camden branded ‘niche specialism’ designers – Adam Khan Architects, Hayhurst and Co, dRMM and Morris+Company – showed how they used public realm as the primary driver to create a site boasting a new primary school, community facilities, a residential tower, affordable homes and commercial ground floor units, all focused around a new public park providing improved connectivity.

Mark Hopson, Senior Development Manager at LB Camden kicked off, saying that Somers Town is probably one of the most accessible, connected parts of the city. The project is the flagship part of the borough’s community investment scheme, which represents a £1bn pipeline of development in the area. The aim of the programme is to build over 3000 homes, said Hopson, 1100 of which will be council tenures, and 30 affordable. 

Around 6,500 people live in Somers Town, mostly in socially rented units, and it is one of the most deprived wards in London, if not in England – so has long been an investment priority for the council. The community came together to agree a set of priorities, with a scheme divided into seven development plots after an initial feasibility study by Nicholas Hare Architects and employment of five high quality and ‘like-minded’ design teams ‘with particular specialisms’. ‘The important part to note was that it was an iterative process’, said Hopson of the extensive consultations that went on with the community throughout the self-funding scheme.

Deborah Saunt, Director, DSDHA said her practice was appointed to overview the masterplan with a landscape focus and particularly to look at what she felt was the ‘caged in’ feeling of the area. Their main response was to push back and let the park ‘come together and unite’ the landscape in the area as one continuous space. ‘There was nowhere there really for a child to run around and have a good time’. The masterplan was ‘really a park landscape with a wonderful frontage’, with strong, elegant architecture on all fronts all sharing aspect of positive overlooking.

Adam Khan, Founding Director, Adam Khan Architects, said his practice’s project, the community play facilities, involved ‘quite big moves based on specific local intelligence’, relocating the scheme within the masterplan being like ‘removing a splinter’ from a foot. The ‘lovely opportunity’ was in redesigning a school and socially rented houses that completely engages with a park – that was also being re-designed at the same time.

For Nick Hayhurst, Founding Director, Hayhurst and Co the design of its Edith Neville Primary School was predicated on a ‘landscape in elevation’ and the creation of spaces where the predominantly flat-dwelling children of the area could run, along with a ‘family scale journey’ the kids could make from the park into the building.

Will Howard, Associate, dRMM said his firm was asked to look at Plot 7 Brill Place, a slim market-sale residential tower with sliding screens that would pay for much of the rest of the projects, but also mitigate the relationship of the area with the large scale of the nearby Crick. It also had to create a ‘gateway’ space to the park and avoid the loss of too many trees. ‘Elevating the ground floor two storeys up allowed us to knit the bottom of the tower as much as possible to allow views through and a relationship with the glazing of the Crick and adjacent housing’, he said. 

Finally, Joe Morris, Founding Director, Morris + Company said the collective was more important than any of the constituent architect parts.  The practice designed 64 homes across three plots. ‘We were exploiting the form through function’, he said of the project. ‘Nothing was cookie-cut; it was a carefully curated outcome’.

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly




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