When Leeds planners had their first sight of Levitt Bernstein's designs for the CASPAR housing development on North Street - the second scheme of its type in Britain - they were, it seems, worried by the 'uncontextual' character of the architecture.
Thanks to an earlier generation of Leeds planners, however, the context ofthe development is rather elusive. The decisive move was the slicing (in the 1960s) of the Leeds inner ring road through dense quarters of housing and industry on the edge of the city centre. Most of the buildings lining North Street were flattened in the '60s and '70s - among the losses was one of the finest Georgian merchants' houses in the city. (The best of those buildings which survived are now being snapped up by developers for conversion to loftstyle apartments. ) Levitt Bernstein's site was therefore no more than a vacant swathe of grass circled by a slip road - an apparently useless piece of land which the city council must have been pleased to sell on.
Levitt Bernstein's CASPAR (City Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) in Leeds is significant not only in social and architectural terms but equally as a gesture towards the repair of a city mauled by post-war planning.Even five years ago, the site for the development might have seemed too cut-off and hostile, but strong demand for city-centre residential property has bridged the gap created by the ring road.
The idea of a CASPAR is thoroughly in tune with the Urban Task Force agenda - the 45 flats in the Leeds scheme are aimed at middle-income, young(ish) single people who can afford a weekly rent of £100 or more and whose presence contributes to the liveliness of city centres. The venture is not charitable - the rents are calculated to produce a sound return on investment - but the involvement of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reflects its crusading nature. The objective is to contribute to the development of socially-mixed city-centre communities and to counteract a worrying tendency towards social polarisation - affluent professionals in gated enclosures, surrounded by the alienated urban poor.
Levitt Bernstein was appointed after a competition - Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (responsible for the first CASPAR in Birmingham), Wright & Wright, Mills Beaumont Lavey Channon and Penoyre & Prasad were all shortlisted. The starting point of the winning scheme (completed in June after a 36-week construction phase) is its incisive urban response. The flats are contained within a single curved block, a crescent, its back to the motorway, its more open frontage containing an enclosed, south-facing courtyard - a sun trap in fine weather. This communal space, with a parking space for each flat, is enclosed by the back of Centenary House, a rather dull (though listed) 1900s building.
The planners, sticking to their guns, insisted on an element of brick on the public face of the development - its stack bonding demonstrates its non-structural nature - while the use of a red stain for the cladding facing North Street and the ring road is a further nod towards such context as there is.
In contrast to most recent Leeds architecture, the CASPAR is notable for its directness and lack of rhetoric and referentiality. The client wanted a 'design driven' scheme, but also buildability and value for money. Contractor Kajima UK was closely involved in developing an innovative approach to construction. Levitt Bernstein's project architect, Mark Lewis, says that the scheme was important to the practice as a test-bed for new ideas. Most significantly, it was decided to apply the modular construction techniques familiar from the hotel industry. Lewis describes the method used at Leeds as 'semi-volumetric'. A 'core' for each flat, consisting of the bathroom, kitchen, hallway and study/dining area (which could be used as a second bedroom) and containing virtually all services, was factory-made and delivered to the site in a fully-finished state to be craned into position.The remaining elements of each flat - a living room and bedroom - were then assembled out of prefabricated components. The timber-frame construction of the development is, says Lewis, substantially cheaper than the steel frame used by Cartwright Pickard for the innovative Peabody Trust housing at Murray Grove, Hackney.
Internally, the flats are relatively unremarkable, though, at 50m 2, they are quite generous in size. Kitchens and bathrooms face the motorway, allowing the main living spaces a view over the communal courtyard - each unit has access to a balcony or patio space.Max Fordham's heat recovery ventilation system provides a welcome element of air conditioning in warm weather - opening the windows to the motorway side of the building is noisy. Insulation and - important in a development of this sort - sound reduction provisions are in excess of those required by building regulations.
The balance between privacy and communality in a scheme like this is a fine one.There is plenty of scope for social encounters once you are past the (swipe-card controlled) front door of the building. Flats are arranged around three steelframed staircases (each supplied with a lift) which serve external access galleries - a modification of the traditional Oxbridge college pattern and far more friendly than internal corridors. The aesthetic of the common areas leans towards toughness and durability, rather than comfort - these are inside/out spaces, but they are pleasant enough to generate a sense of place and 'belonging'. Most residents are likely, however, to be relatively short-stay - this is not a place to put down roots, and for most it is likely to be a step on the ladder to home ownership.
Lewis believes that a wholly modular/ volumetric approach could be made to work for a future scheme of this sort. 'Even the halfway solution adopted here has had enormous advantages, not only in terms of fast construction but also in providing a fit-out of assured quality', he says.The timber shiplap cladding of the building was applied on site. The steel roof structure, clad in polyester-coated aluminium, has a generous overhang to provide weather protection and a fixing for the steel rods supporting the private balconies and the access galleries. This is also an effective architectural device, reinforcing the image of the building as a safe haven in a rather harsh environment.'We wanted to create a secure place, but not a fortress, ' says Lewis.Visitors have to pass through locked courtyard gates from the street, as well as the gates to each staircase, which are controlled by entry-phones.
A generous allowance for landscaping and lighting was provided for in the budget. The landscape is important in rooting the scheme to its site and heightening the sense of enclosure. Lighting will dramatise its impact by night. Not that this development needs special effects. There is an ironic echo, in its form, of the heroic curves of the now demolished Quarry Hill flats, a visionary (but ultimately unsuccessful) Leeds housing scheme of the 1930s. In comparison, the Leeds CASPAR is modest and pragmatic, yet it has a quiet idealism alongside its real sense of style.Both are to be welcomed in Leeds, as is the arrival of firms such as Levitt Bernstein, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris and Cartwright Pickard to enliven an otherwise static local scene.
Costs based on anticipated final account
SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £77.39/m2 Variety of substructure types including load-bearing masonry. Change in levels occurs across sections of traditional construction comprising reinforced concrete retaining walls and masonry construction and mass concrete and/or piled foundations
SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £74.93/m2 Three- to five-storey timber frames of factory-built service pods with site-built flat-pack wall and floor panels all designed and built by Volumetric.Units designed to meet the requirements for progressive collapse by local strengthening of wall and floor panels and careful detailing to allow for the differential movement
UPPER FLOORS £15.42/m2 Walkways of galvanised structural steel frame with CP board decking covered with Altro Vinyl, protected by open-slatted timber rain screens. Steel structure supported on the outside from ground level and from the inside by the apartment floor structure
ROOF £46.84/m2 Comprises 0.3mm gauged profiled stainless steel sheeting on 18mm Far Eastern ply on timber purlins at 600mm centres. Steel beams at 3m centres (average). Roof pitched at 10 degrees to the courtyard. Raised outer edge supported on a system of diagonal props and spreader beams along eaves
STAIRCASES £41.55/m2 Galvanised straight-flight staircase 1100mm wide; self-supporting balustrade one side only. Chequer plate treads
EXTERNAL WALLS £85.52/m2 Organic solvent pressure impregnated shiplap stained timber cladding. Access galleries protected by Class O-treated, pressure-impregnated, open-jointed 'rainscreens'. Stack-bonded Marshall's Robin Hood Red Smith Brickwork at ground floor level
WINDOWS £24.99/m2 Stained treated redwood, high-performance triple glazed units, two inward-opening, side-hung acoustic windows to the outer perimeter, double-hung to the main bedroom and outward-opening side-hung to the living room
EXTERNAL DOORS £14.45/m2 Balcony doors are stained, treated softwood, highperformance triple-glazed units, Ekodoor espagnolet locking. Flat entrance doors
INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS £19.43/m2 Plasterboard on timber studs
INTERNAL DOORS £16.04/m2 Flush doorsets
INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £18.57/m2 Generally emulsion paint on plasterboard to living areas, full-height ceramic wall tiling around baths and splash backs behind basin and kitchen units
FLOOR FINISHES £25.07/m2 Generally vinyl sheet flooring to kitchens and bathrooms.Carpet elsewhere
CEILING FINISHES £15.88/m2 Generally emulsion on plasterboard
FITTINGS AND FURNISHINGS FURNITURE £13.11/m2 Kitchen units, inset sink, mixer tap with space for cooker and hob, fridge freezer and washing machine
SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £20.27/m2 Bath with mixer tap, thermostatic shower, wash hand basin WC and cistern
SERVICES EQUIPMENT £14.12/m2 Individual wall-mounted gas Combi boilers for heating and water, space heating via the heat exchanging ventilation system.13A power supply. Low-energy light fittings throughout
DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £31.98/m2 Kitchen drainage connected to length of vertical stack, terminating with an 'O' ring socket flush with the floor and a spigot facing upwards about 1500mm above floor level
WATER INSTALLATIONS £21.47/m2 HDPE pipework in services trench to the foot of each riser, and to the fire hydrant. Transition to ABS pipework rising to an ABS to brass adaptor with a final connection to the copper tail on the outside of each flat.Hot and cold water run in insulated copper pipework
SPACE HEATING/AIR TREATMENT £19.09/m2 Automatic gas heat reclaim unit and extract system. Warm moist air is extracted from the kitchen and bathroom, and heat is transferred to incoming fresh air, distributed through ducts to each room. Individual gas boilers circulate hot water through coil in supply airflow
ELECTRICAL SERVICES £14.87/m2 In services trench below ground. Sealed distribution board within each riser with 10mm PVC-sheathed cable clipped to the ladder rack to a meter at the floor of each flat. Three-phase meter, 100A three-phase switch fuse, a distribution board providing a supply to the lift installations, landlords lighting, TV amplifier, door entry system, and front entrance gates. MK Sentry consumer unit with 63A switch disconnector mounted at high level. Cables run through the ceiling to the isolator/meter. Angled batten holders with PL lamps,2D drum fitting to the bathroom, rocker-switched strip light the cooker
LIFT AND CONVEYOR INSTALLATIONS £35.76/m2 Three electric traction lifts.No motor required
PROTECTIVE INSTALLATIONS £15.50/m2 Mains-powered smoke alarm with a separate 3A MCB protected way in the consumer unit. Emergency lighting on the access decks; one per flat at high level opposite the entrance door, one by each lift and two on the staircase per storey height. Ground-floor entrances fitted with fluorescent bulkhead light fittings. All fittings maintained and controlled by light sensor and timer (with override)
COMMUNICATION INSTALLATIONS £21.77/m2 Bell push and door chime provided with a transformer (DIN rail-mounted in the consumer unit). Telephone wiring via uPVC ducting within the services trench, terminating at the foot of the risers. Telephone cabling installed from a wall-mounted junction box in the riser. Door entry phone
BUILDERS' WORK IN CONNECTION £30.55/m
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES
PRELIMINARIES, OVERHEADS AND PROFIT £210.03/m2 Including design fees, Building Regulations, statutory fees
LANDSCAPING, ANCILLARY BUILDINGS £163,000 Main car park comprises block paving and bound gravel. Car park and entrance road made up of 80mm thick precast concrete sets, random course-bonded with 100mm diameter galvanised steel studs demarcation. Reclaimed granite sets rumble strip. Footpaths generally laid in 400 x 400 x 50mm precast concrete slabs with granite aggregate surface. Existing trees and topsoil retained where possible. New trees planted in pits backfilled with existing topsoil, mixed with new tree-planting compost
SUBSTRUCTURE 77.39 8.37
Frame 74.93 8.10
Upper floors 15.42 1.67
Roof 46.84 5.07
Staircases 41.55 4.49
External walls 85.52 9.25
Windows 24.99 2.70
External doors 14.45 1.56
Internal walls and partitions 19.43 2.10
Internal doors 16.04 1.74
Group element total 339.17 36.68
Wall finishes 18.57 2.01
Floor finishes 25.07 2.71
Ceiling Finishes 15.88 1.72
Group element total 59.52 6.44
FITTINGS AND FURNITURE 13.11 1.42
Sanitary appliances 20.27 2.19
Services equipment 14.12 1.53
Disposal Installations 31.98 3.46
Water installations 21.47 2.32
Space heating and air treatment 19.09 2.06
Electrical services 14.87 1.61
Lift and conveyor installations 35.76 3.87
Protective installations 15.50 1.68
Communication installation 21.77 2.35
Builders'work in connection 30.55 3.30
Group element total 225.38 24.37
PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCE 210.03 22.72
TOTAL 924.60 100.00
Costs supplied by Mike German, Kajima UK Engineering
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation www.jrf.co.uk
Max Fordham & Partners www.mfp.co.uk
Alan Conisbee & Associates www.conisbee.co.uk
START ON SITE DATE 20 September 1999
CONTRACT DURATION 35 weeks
GROSS EXTERNAL FLOOR AREA 2455m2
CONTRACT TYPE Design and build/ partnering
TOTAL COST £2,432,916
CLIENT The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
ARCHITECTS Levitt Bernstein: David Levitt, Mark Lewis, Anna Murphy, Abigail Bachelor, Quan Lam, Dylan Murdy-Green
COST CONSULTANT Robert Lombardelli Partnership
SERVICES ENGINEER Max Fordham and Partners
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Alan Conisbee & Associates
MAIN CONTRACTOR Kajima UK Engineering
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS timber modules and frame Volumetric; cladding Nationwide; joinery, structural steelwork Wesfab; roof Longworth Metal Roofing; groundworks and brickwork Churchill Architectural; metalwork Fidaport mechanical and electrical work Elequip; external windows and doors Swedish Windows; kitchens Symphony; bathrooms Armitage Shanks; carpets Vorwerk ; stainless steel roof Lee Strip; interlocking timber retaining walls Permacrib; walkway floor covering Altro