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Wimbledon uncommon

HOUSING: Laing Homes has served a winner in SW19. Sue Duncan takes a look

Should the former students of Southlands College in Wimbledon get the notion to revisit their alma mater - they'd be in for a big surprise.

Where once there were motley teaching buildings and student halls accumulated piecemeal since 1864, now stands 'Wimbledon Parkside', a very grand development of Georgian-style residences by Laing Homes. But if they look closely they will see that the break with the past is not as absolute as might first appear.

The key to Wimbledon Parkside is, of course, its site - 3.7ha of wooded and landscaped grounds bordering the eastern edge of Wimbledon Common.

An elevated position - with fine views over this conservation area and its neighbourhood proximity to Wimbledon Village and the All England Club - made it a prime prospect for development as the college upped sticks to nearby Roehampton.

In 1997 architect Lawrence & Wrightson was approached by Laing Homes to review its partially implemented 1996 scheme for fresh ideas - particularly regarding parking.

The outcome was a radical review, including new options on layout and mix to enrich both commercial and architectural qualities.

Lawrence & Wrightson's Garth Huxley describes the '97 scheme as 'more responsive to the unique qualities of the site, outward-looking rather than introspective.'

And outward-looking it is - particularly westwards across Parkside towards Wimbledon Common itself and southwards as the land drops steeply towards the Quernmore Road boundary. Four- and five-storey social housing to the north and east is screened behind mature trees.

Layout and mix

Building has been confined to the upper levels of the site, behind woodland preserved from the original grounds, laid out to create two linked but distinct areas. The first is a formal landscape garden open to the south and bounded by a six-storey apartment block (Chapman House) to the west.

The rest of the development is predominantly four-storey: a terrace of large townhouses and flats opposite Chapman House and another of town houses to the north. Then, opposite the gatehouse at Inner Park Road, is a twostorey courtyard development that creates a strong north-south axis with the gated entrance.

A second, less formal, space is formed by a terrace of large townhouses and flats to the west, town houses to the north and a series of blocks arcing southwards downhill.

Here the centrepiece is a turreted apartment block set among existing trees. A three-storey terrace of mews houses links the two areas along the northern boundary.

Unity

The challenge of providing a mix of one-, two-, three-, four- and fivebedroom homes has generated a variety of forms. Still, the development has a unity deriving from a common gene pool of Georgian architecture and a restricted palette of quality materials.

This is characterised by yellow multicoloured stock bricks, red brick arches, reconstituted stone features and roofs of Welsh slate.

Chapman House Chapman House sets the tone for the rest of the development. It occupies the same site as the original 1860s Chapman House, the core building of Southlands College. It was argued successfully that its six-storey scale is consistent with the tradition of substantial Common-side residences and, behind its screen of mature trees on Wimbledon Parkside, it is, in fact, remarkably discreet.

It is actually three buildings - a central block with two wings - with a highly articulated elevation to Wimbledon Parkside, punctuated by windows and recessed balconies. On the courtyard elevation, modelling is accentuated by imposing turret bays positioned at the centre of each block.

With the exception of the turret flats all have dual-aspect views onto the common and across the formal gardens.

Turrets with oversailing eaves abound, as large projecting corner bays on all the apartment blocks. As a device for providing dramatic lightfilled space the turret has much to recommend it. That, plus a certain 'jauntiness' which stops the formal grandeur of the terraces being too overpowering.

These turrets form just one of the architectural elements developed at Chapman House and condensed or extended elsewhere: white bases, red brick flat and semi-circular arches, feature stone dressings, parapet balustrades and dormer windows for example. Though pains were taken to be as authentic as possible - Huxley cites the recessed brickwork panel below semicircular arches - he cheerfully admits to 'loosening up' beyond Chapman House while still remaining faithful to the Georgian ethos.

Brickwork

There are real practical limits to how authentically Georgian you can be;

elevations throughout are in stretcher bond, with a bucket-handle joint of buff cement mortar. This reflects the fact that brickwork is a cladding, whatever the structure: be it to the concrete-framed Chapman House, to the brick/block cavity construction which predominates, or to the fourstorey timber-framed flats built first, at speed, to establish a substantial presence on the site.

'There was never much doubt, ' says Huxley, 'that the elevations would be in London stock bricks; it was just a choice of which one. We went for a multi rather than a plain stock to give a mature established look.' Sample panels of brickwork were built on site and the consistency of workmanship and colour indicates a close attention to quality control throughout the four-year construction process.

The lightness of the yellow stock, a lightness of touch in layout combined with generous views and open spaces ensures this 193-unit development has a spacious feel to it. Car parking is ample but discreet, with garaging under buildings or integrated with them to minimise the extent and visual impact of open parking.

Like so many new developments, access to Wimbledon Parkside is via manned security gates. Many units have been bought as rental properties with an eye to the Wimbledon championships. Indeed, if you had camped outside the lodge last July, a sighting of the men's singles champion was a distinct possibility.

PROJECT PROFILE

Client Laing Homes South West Thames Architect Lawrence & Wrightson Contractor Chapman House - John Laing Construction Others - Laing Homes

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