'POOR DETAILING, AND DEFINITELY NOT A WITTY PO-MO REFERENCE' IS THE REACTION OF THE ARCHITECT
CZWG was established in 1975 and made its name with China Wharf and Cascades, two high-density Docklands housing projects. It has since developed a reputation for residential, commercial and mixed-use schemes seen by many as being Post-Modern in style.
'CZWG', Deyan Sudjic wrote back in 1988, 'aren't utopians.
They are interested in doing what they can with the material at their disposal'. CZWG partner Piers Gough, for sure, has never regarded the adjective 'commercial', when used of his architecture, as negative criticism. 'We do it for money, ' he quips.
Gough is refreshingly adept at underselling his own work, though there has always been a serious architect behind the throwaway lines. Back in the '80s, CZWG made its name with colourful, pop, 'B-movie' architecture that could be broadly described as Post-Modernist - a term that has since lost currency and meaning.
Its work remains decidedly expressive and unrestrained, but in a manner that now seems more mainstream. The recently completed housing project at Steedman Street, off south London's Walworth Road, certainly has none of the more obvious historical references and visual jokes of yesteryear.
Creating 'a combined development that will reinforce a positive perception for a reemerging contemporary inner-city location' was the stated aspiration behind the Steedman Street project. Regeneration, in other words, is the name of the game, with a client (Chris Allen of Oakmayne Properties) who has a good track record in the London Borough of Southwark. CZWG was, of course, an early player in the regeneration process in Southwark. In the '80s, when loft-living had scarcely been heard of in Britain, the practice designed China Wharf and The Circle in the hinterland of Butler's Wharf, along with the unrealised (but sensational) Jacob's Island development commissioned by Andrew Wadsworth. Bankside Lofts, for Manhattan Loft Corporation, followed in the '90s, close to Tate Modern, and there have been other projects in Bankside, Southwark Street and Rotherhithe.
CZWG, says Gough (the man behind most of these projects) 'has always got involved with 'the next place' - now it's the Elephant'. The area around the Elephant & Castle, once 'the Piccadilly Circus of south London' but now dominated by a drab '60s shopping centre, grim post-war housing blocks and a tangle of busy roads, is the subject of a multi-billion pound reconstruction project extending over the next decade. Given its excellent transport links - Elephant & Castle station is five minutes' walk away - and proximity to the City and West End, its appeal to developers is obvious. CZWG's involvement dates back five years, when the site was earmarked for storage and warehousing development.
A planning application for residential use was submitted early in 2002, with the southern end of the site still to be developed as a 15,000m 2 self-storage facility.
The site, one of three around Walworth Road being developed by Oakmayne, is a narrow strip extending east of the 6m-high railway viaduct - a dismal low-rise council estate and a sprawl of industrial sheds lie beyond the tracks. To the east, a filling station and Burger King outlet preface views across Walworth Road. The former headquarters of the Labour Party is next door, in a forlorn fragment of the Georgian terraces that once lined the road out of London. The immediate context may be uninspiring, but get up a few storeys and the views are splendid - from Canary Wharf and the City in the east round to the towers of Westminster, the London Eye and beyond. CZWG's initial proposal was for two blocks, of 13 and 10 storeys respectively.
Southwark planners, oddly perhaps in the context of the Elephant masterplan (which includes provision for landmark towers), chopped three floors off each. As completed late last year, South Central East contains 88 flats for sale, plus 10 live/work units, with the adjacent Central View providing 25 one- and two-bed affordable units, some for rent, others available on a shared ownership basis. Central View is a relatively straightforward building, brick-faced to the street, rendered in a muddy purple beyond, but with none of the baggage of 'social' housing - it is both stylish and serviceable. Shared basement parking is provided below both buildings.
Both the zigzag plan and stepped external form - defined as overlapping wedges - of South Central East bear a passing resemblance to another CZWG scheme of the '80s, Cascades on the Isle of Dogs (the work not of Gough but of his partner Rex Wilkinson). Stepping the floors allows spacious private roof terraces to be provided for the units at the southern end of the block. Other apartments have generous private balconies that extend the whole length of the unit - the zigzag plan provides not only varied views but also privacy from neighbours. Units (typically of 60m 2) are accessed from a central corridor, 'crinkly, like an accordion', says Gough, with a double-lift access core. The 'special flats' (Gough's term - they could not be called penthouses) on the upper floors have large, wedge-shaped living spaces that extend naturally into the external terraces. The need for a second, escape staircase from these levels is addressed by means of a narrow corridor plunging down through the building, another memory of Cascades, though lacking the clear external expression seen in that project. The ground floor is allocated for live/work use. The units here are accessed from Robert Dashwood Way, a narrow private road that extends along the railway viaduct - the arches opposite contain car-repair workshops and other small businesses. Living spaces are on the east side of the building, where they address a small private garden and have an alternative point of entry.
Small kitchens and bathrooms are contained in a central core.
Colour remains an important component of CZWG's work, certainly in this project (a subdued purple for the affordable block, a tasteful greyish green for South Central East) and it is doubly welcome in this location. Balconies painted a deep red on the latter block complete the scene - the beak-like canopies on the upper-level roof terraces are painted the same colour.
When the scheme was submitted for planning, it was intended to clad the upper levels of this building in mosaic but, according to CZWG associate Jim Corcoran, the long-term performance of the material could not be guaranteed, and self-coloured render was substituted.
The Elephant project was developed on a design-andbuild basis, a strategy which Gough characteristically accepts as part of the deal. Even so, some of the amendments made to the original designs make him squirm. The Aalto-esque, somewhat baroque device of skewing the apartment doors at an angle to the access corridors in South Central East was discarded, for example. 'It changes the meaning of the whole thing', says Gough.
Externally, a flying arch is left with its brick cladding crudely exposed on the underside - 'poor detailing, and definitely not a witty Po-Mo reference' is the reaction of the architect. There are other details that appear unresolved or skimped, but the overall impression is of a development in which the intentions of the architect have been broadly realised. The pragmatic nature of the scheme is sensibly in tune with the exigencies of commercial residential development.
But the development is also an optimistic pointer to the future in an area where the planned dramatic changes cannot come too soon. The Elephant & Castle has yet to arrive as a favoured residential location and the perceived market for South Central East is youngish middle-income, not the high-flyers targeted by projects a mile or so away along the river. The Elephant masterplan includes proposals to bridge the railway tracks and create new public spaces. Until some of these proposals come to fruition, the development remains a secure enclave in surroundings that can seem intimidating, but as a piece of cheerful modern urban vernacular it offers a positive vision for the area.
CZWG remains rooted in London's City fringes and has played its part in their revival (though today it's working far beyond London). Steedman Street is part of that history, a bright spot in what is currently a pretty drab area. But it is hard to see it becoming a landmark in the way that China Wharf, the Circle and Cascades have become. The project is both efficient and enjoyable - a good architect/developer collaboration. Beyond that, however, it lacks the really distinctive qualities that will surely earn CZWG's earlier work a place in architectural history.
Elephant & Castle is a place where extravagant gestures might do wonders. In this light, the Steedman Street project, for all its competence and subtle hints of the old magic, is inevitably a little disappointing - evidence, perhaps, of a notable practice in search of a new vocabulary.
Costs Cost data is for gross internal floor area, based on the final account SUBSTRUCTURE Foundations, slabs £111.71/m 2Contiguous piling to form retaining walls to party walls.
Bored piles to gross floor area of building STRUCTURE Frame, blockwork £272.59/m 2RC frame with blockwork to form external walls Walls, cladding, windows, external doors £331.19/m 2Roof: reinforced concrete with covering consisting of paviors and pebble-stone with DPM; external walls: Alsecco render on EPS insulation; windows: Schüco aluminium windows with glazed external doors to balcony terraces; scaffolding Partitioning, internal doors £131.76/m 2Internal walls and partitions generally: 70mm Gyproc Steel 'C' Stud Framing, 12.5mm Gyproc Wallboard and 25mm Gyproc Isowool Acoustic Roll; for common areas: 146mm Gyproc Steel 'C' Stud Framing, two layers 12.5mm Gyproc Fireline with 50mm Gyproc Isowool Acoustic Roll; for separating walls to apartments: two 48mm Gyproc Steel 'C' Twin Stud Framing, Gyproc Soundbloc and 50mm Gyproc Isowool Acoustic Roll; softwood internal doors; softwood architraves; Gatliff ironmongery FINISHES Walls, floors, ceilings £82.73/m 2Wa l l fi nishes: white matt emulsion paint; floor fi nishes: oak flooring to apartments on Danskin Acoustic Flooring; carpet to corridors; ceiling finishes: suspended tegular-tiled ceiling to corridors; suspended plasterboard MF to apartments FITTINGS Primarily kitchens £61.30/m 2Bespoke, fully fitted kitchens from 'Dada' in white lacquer SERVICES M&E: bathroom pods, electrical, AV, lifts £236.87/m 2Bathroom pod design from Rasselstein with porcelain floor and wall tiles, white sanitaryware with chrome fittings;
electrical: luminare wall-outlet boxes; power switches and sockets; TV/radio and telephone points; two communal lifts EXTERNAL WORKS Including all statutory connections £35.68/m 2PRELIMINARIES Including main contractor's overheads and profit, and fixed-price addition £199.78/m 2CONTINGENCIES Contingencies £33.26/m 2Cost summary Cost per m 2 Percentage of SUBSTRUCTURE 111.71 STRUCTURE 272.59 ENVELOPE COMPLETION 331.19 22.12 CELLULAR COMPLETION 131.76 8.8 FINISHES 82.73 FITTINGS 61.3 SERVICES 236.87 EXTERNAL WORKS 35.68 2.38 PRELIMINARIES 199.87 CONTINGENCIES 33.26 TOTAL 1,496.88 Cost data supplied by Gleeds Credits Start on site date March 2004 Contract period 83 weeks Contract JCT 98 with Contractor's Design Gross internal floor area 10,828m 2Average storey height 2.60m Total cost, excluding external works £15,821,863 (£1,461.20/m 2)Client Oakmayne Properties Principal architect CZWG Architects Collaborating architect Louis Karol Architects, Cape Town, South Africa Planning consultant Pegasus Planning Group Engineer Matthew Consultants Mechanical and electrical engineer Brian Warwicker Partnership Cost consultant Gleeds Project manager McBains Cooper Design-build contractor John Sisk & Son Contractor's architect Mountford Pigott Partnership Subcontractors and suppliers Site hoarding Tagg Construction; site temporary electrical and plumbing Multitech Site Services; site labour Formac; site security Euroguard; bulk excavation Harringtons; waterproofing, roofi ng Tilbury Roofi ng;
sheet piling Stent Foundations; CFA piling May Gurney; CFA mini-piling Fondedile; groundworks, drainage, concrete frame AJ Morrisroe; pumping chamber PIMS Pumps; lightning protection Sentinel; tower crane HTC; brickwork JKS Building Contractors; scaffolding Anglewest Scaffolding; bathroom pods Rasselstein Raumsysteme; joinery, dry lining Ridge Developments;
windows Spec-Al Design; metalwork Hubbards Architectural Metalwork; soft flooring AC Flooring;
decoration Brooks; render Stoneguard; kitchen Commodore; gates, building three entry, CCTV Interphone; BWIC J Hare Diamond Drilling;
mechanical services Omega; electrical services PBS;
lifts Kone; cutting and burning K&N Welding; disabled platform lift Gartec; copings S&G Aluminium; G13 steelwork Birley Ventures: mansafe HCL