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Civic presence

buildingsLee Boyd's contemporary housing association HQ reflects both the client's values and the area's regeneration

Housing associations have taken over much of local authorities' role in providing housing and, in tandem, their headquarters are taking over part of the role of town halls. A housing association's own building is a civic one, not simply an office. For the Port of Leith Housing Association, a relatively small association, its new HQ on Constitution Street in Leith, Edinburgh, is its public face, where it interacts with clients. It has chosen bold contemporary architecture by Lee Boyd Designers + Architects to both mark its presence and signify its forward-looking commitment to quality.

Leith is a rundown area only gradually being renewed, with that renewal mainly focused elsewhere in Leith, along the waterfront.

Despite the regeneration, this building is, according to Lee Boyd, the first new purposebuilt office in Leith since the Second World War. It is a beacon of hope.

The building seeks to respond to its setting, on a tight gap site among low-rise housing and next to a church, as well as squeeze in a lot of accommodation. It can be read as two interlocking cuboids; one threestorey and rendered, the other four-storey and clad in timber boarding and glass. The rendered cuboid, with irregular openings, is closest to the neighbours, with the board and glass cuboid further away, or close to the higher church. Next to the church the building culminates in a stone-faced tower, a matter of some discussion with the planners, which serves as the secondary escape stair, with window sills or jambs incorporating light fittings, turning the tower into a beacon at night. Render and stone are the local materials; boarding and large areas of glass are interlopers.

On the east-facing front of the building the rendered cuboid follows the building line of its neighbouring housing to the south. The glazed outer wall of the lobby follows a different alignment, along the edge of the pavement, creating a trapezoidal-plan lobby. This is shaded by large timber planks.

Above is a second-floor boardroom, then above that the third-floor plan dematerialises into a galvanised canopy.

At the rear, a driveway though the render cuboid leads down to a basement car park.

This route and the remaining (landscaped) ground level provide breathing space for office workers looking out and a bit of distance from the neighbours, who must feel somewhat overlooked by the large rear glazing areas.

After the relative calm of Lee Boyd's previous projects - the Adobe Systems office and Lochside House (admittedly a spec office) at Edinburgh Park - this building is seriously busy, more akin to its Greenbank Parish Church hall. Perhaps there is a little too much going on architecturally for this size of building. But inside, in the transparent double-height lobby, the pace eases, as is appropriate, as some of the clients may be in conflict or complaining. The reception desk is obvious enough, though from outside the red wall appears to be the focus; in fact, it screens the glazed booths for interviews and a rent payment point.

Beyond the secure area of the lobby is the main staff stairway, steel and timber floating in space, with a fully glazed outer wall. It leads mainly to cellular offices, some shared.

A few office spaces have windows opening onto the upper level of the lobby.At the south end of the highest floor is a staff room, opening onto a roof terrace. Generally, spaces are simply plastered; paint mostly white, carpets mainly blue.Ventilation is provided by openable windows - as usual practice for these shallow to medium-depth spaces. A few windows face south (the end of the building), which are protected by blinds. It is undemonstrative, serviceable space.

Overall, Lee Boyd has created a forwardlooking building for this housing association, helping to present it to its public.

As Steve Boyd readily admits, such a design was a brave move for a small organisation.

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