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Benson + Forsyth reveals all new designs for Cromwell Road

[First look + plans] Benson + Forsyth Architects has unveiled its design for the redevelopment of 100 West Cromwell Road, west London

The mixed-use scheme for Tesco’s property arm Spen Hill Developments features 24,398m² of housing plus an extension to the existing Tesco store and becomes the latest in a long line of proposals for the site.

Working alongside Michael Aukett Architects and the Peter Stewart Consultancy, the practice is effectively the fourth firm to have designed a scheme for the plot near Earls Court having replaced previous practice Bolles + Wilson in February 2009 following an invitation-only contest run by Tesco and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC).

The architect’s view by Gordon Benson

‘The scheme at the western extremity of Cromwell Road is arguably a ‘City Wall’ situation defining and enclosing Central London and the transition from streets to motorway.
Two devices are employed: the urban punctuation mark, i.e. a terminal object the platonic tower; and the ‘raw nature’ mature garden typology of West Kensington.
The housing is organized around three stepping courtyards which are sequentially illustrated in the PowerPoint and described as Court 1, Court 2 and Court 3. All of the courts are densely planted with a combination of mature / semi-mature trees and saplings to echo the historic gardens to the South.
Court 1 is enclosed by two screens of trees to shelter it from the motorway to the south and the supermarket to the north. The space addresses the triple-volume non-housing functions which would include gymnasia, pool, restaurants, cafe and entrance to the circular tower above. The recreational interior is illuminated with south, west, east and top light and linked spatially to the roof-garden above (Court 3).

An Edinburgh-scale civic staircase connects Court 1 to a densely planted Court 2

An Edinburgh-scale civic staircase connects Court 1 to a densely planted Court 2. This is the revamped garden defined by the NHHT accommodation and the eastern terrace of the new development.
A second pair of urban staircases and secondary vennels connect Court 2 to the north-south linear garden (Court 3) which addresses the spire of St Cuthbert’s across Cromwell Road.

Court 2 is continuous with a linear garden on the roof of a crèche and mews houses linking the new gardens to the sequence of courtyards proposed within the Warwick Road Masterplan. (In principle one could walk along this route from Shepherd’s Bush through the B+F site, under the motorway, uninterrupted to the river.
All of the courtyards are defined and enclosed by linear, Portland stone terraces. These are organized with houses at Ground and First together with large apartments paired around and entered from glass lifts. They connect the gardens to the roof terraces which enjoy views of the Thames Valley from Hampstead to Crystal Palace.

The residential tower visually terminates West Cromwell Road. It is similar in height and relates to the 19th Century towers to the east, completing a set which consists of the Brompton Oratory, the V&A and the Natural History Museum. The civic precedent for this component of the scheme is Nash’s All Souls, Langham Place.

CABE’s design review comments from 10 February 2011

Planning application: PP/11/00107

Summary

We are pleased to offer our support for this scheme. The site diagram, form and massing are well-reasoned. The role of the residential drum as a marker in the townscape is clear and convincing. We also find the narrative for a sequence of upper-level public courtyards that are integrated with Fenlon Place and the city below compelling. The key to the success of this strategy will be both the creation of entrances, routes and spaces that are intuitive, welcoming and safe and the clear definition of thresholds between the public and private realm. Equally, as the strength of this scheme relies in large part on the refined quality of the architecture and delicacy of its detailing, it will need to be well-maintained to ensure this is not affected by the pollution from the West Cromwell Road. The opportunity exists to improve the quality of the shopping experience by daylighting the foodstore and maximising the environmental benefits of the mix of uses proposed. Therefore we would encourage an ongoing dialogue between the parties involved to secure this.

Site planning

In our view, the proposed site diagram is an intelligent response to the challenge of integrating podium-level living with the surrounding neighbourhood, benefitting new and existing residents, as well as the wider public. It introduces a recognised typology of spaces, which evoke later post-war housing development such as the Barbican. We think the public plaza and podium gardens will become valued additions to a part of Kensington in great need of high quality, sheltered public spaces. A key strength of the scheme is its sense of connectedness to the surrounding neighbourhood and the level of openness to the wider public. In our view, it is paramount that this is maintained. Therefore, we would ask the design team to assure itself that the main points of entry into the development are as obvious and generous as possible so that they feel inviting and safe for all to use. We think the presence of the main staircase off the new Tesco Plaza could be heightened to celebrate this important threshold into the scheme. We are also not convinced that access from the north is as clear as it could be; the overhanging entrance portico, if unsupervised, would raise questions of security, leaving it vulnerable to closure to the public at the request of residents. The design team should resolve the design of this threshold to pre-empt this. At the same time the scheme should look to make the experience of Fenlon Place as convenient as possible for pedestrians.

One of the principal challenges to address in podium developments of this kind is to design out the left-over, intermediate spaces that can be found between levels. Not only can such areas be confusing to those negotiating their way through the development but such unsupervised spaces can also become threatening to users, especially if poorly lit. The local authority should assure itself that the proposals have resolved this, properly defining thresholds between public and private spaces, maximising overlooking and ensuring that the public realm benefits from a considered lighting strategy. There should be careful thought about the number of semi-mature trees proposed for the upper-level garden spaces to ensure they provide the required level of shade and shelter without compromising views and daylight/sunlight for residents.

Building form, massing and expression

This scheme cleverly resolves the complex brief, which has now evolved to include an extended Tesco foodstore. The design has a sophisticated, urbane quality, and a form and massing that is cognisant both of its immediate neighbours and the building’s role in the wider cityscape. The composition of forms is intelligently arranged to take full advantage of distant views of London landmarks from within the site, providing a sense of drama and spectacle as well as connectedness to the city. The cylindrical residential tower proposed on axis with West Cromwell Road is subtle and well-argued as an urban marker at this recognised entry point into the capital. We understand why the decision has been taken not to advertise the residential units it contains. However, this could make it harder to market the apartments which, due to their location on the heavily trafficked West Cromwell Road and their non-standard shape, could struggle to attract interest.

Ultimately, the success of this scheme will rely on delivering the quality of architecture suggested in the material presented. We would point out its highly polluted location, which could quickly cause staining; the building will, therefore, require constant cleaning to maintain its quality. We also have some concerns that the chosen procurement route may not secure the quality required to realise a scheme of such refined detailing. We advise careful conditioning to ensure that the quality of design thinking is continued throughout the planning and construction process; this would be best achieved by retaining the current design team through to the detailed design stage.

Sustainability

The opportunity exists to exploit the mix of uses proposed to maximise the energy efficiency of this development. Clearly, the sharing of heating and cooling between the foodstore and the housing and other uses should be prioritised. We urge all parties to work together to this end. Equally, the possibility of daylighting the foodstore by introducing rooflights to the podium garden would merit investigation.

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100 West Cromwell Road, Kensington and Chelsea

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