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Jestico + Whiles' Stratford towers approved despite CABE concerns

Jestico + Whiles has won planning permission for this high-rise residential-led scheme, featuring two aluminium-clad towers in Stratford High Street, east London

The £58 million project, boasting one 15 storey block and one 35 storey building, was criticised by CABE in February for being ‘rather ordinary’ and lacking generosity in terms of floor to ceiling height (see full review below).

However practice director Heinz Richardson defend the proposals saying that all the 190 homes in the development met GLA housing standards and that the scheme had gone through an exhaustive process with Newham council’s own design review panel.

He added: ‘I genuinely don’t think there will be an issue about quality of life in these homes. [In addition] While some towers are overblown, our scheme is actually quite calm. It is elegant, robust and doesn’t need to work overly hard.’

Stock Woolstencroft had originally drawn up plans for the ‘hostile’ plot which is close to a busy flyover and the entrance to the Olympic Legacy Park. The development is backed by a joint venture between Aitch Group, VFund and FOS Properties funded by B.M.Samuels Finance Group plc with Montagu Evans as planning consultant.

The architect’s view

The key elements of the building have been arranged to maximise sunlight and daylight penetration into the site and the individual dwellings, 85 per cent of which will be dual aspect. A landscaped public space will be created on the riverside with pedestrian routes through the site linking to the existing footbridge, High Street and Cook’s Road.
The ground and first floors of both blocks will contain commercial spaces, with a two-storey gymnasium in the base of the taller building which will animate the street frontage and provide natural surveillance of the public space.
The elevations have been designed to have quality and interest at close range and maintain the clean elegant form of the building at a distance. Each dwelling has a private balcony and these are all enclosed to provide quiet, sheltered, year round amenity space. These will have built in openable screens to allow the residents to choose how and when they are open. The facade of the building wraps around the balconies maintaining the clean lines. The corners of the taller elements are brought to ground, piercing the bridge link to reinforce and maintain the form of the building.
The servicing and car parking will be raised above ground to avoid the need to dig basements close to the river whilst acting as a buffer to the flyover close to the site.

CABE’s design review from 15 February 2011

Planning application: 10/02291/FUL

Summary

We support the scale of development proposed and we welcome the aspirations of the design team to create high quality open space at ground level, shared open terraces at fourth floor level, and communal spaces within the building. We think the generosity of these spaces, and clear thinking about their use will be essential to the success of such a dense development on a currently inhospitable site. We have concerns about the massing of the development at its base and we feel that the quality of the design and architectural expression of the scheme is not yet well resolved. We are also concerned about the quality of life that will be achieved for people living in this development. In light of our comments set out below we are unable to support the planning application as currently submitted.

Scale and massing

We think the location of the site at a crossroads of major highway infrastructure and waterways, and its proximity to the Olympic Park, mean it is well placed to accommodate tall buildings. We support the principle of the development and consider that the heights of the two towers relate positively to one another. We also feel that the location of car parking at second and third floor levels is a convincing response to the proximity of the A11 flyover.

However, we feel that the massing of the development at its base (ground to third floor level) when compared to the towers above, results in a development with two separate identities. The development does not appear visually unified; the lower floors linking the two towers appear like a podium base rather than a bridge linking the two towers. In addition, the location of cycle storage and building plant at ground and first floor level makes this part of the building appear cluttered and the size of the plant area appears disproportionate to the size of the building.

We also feel that the residential units would benefit from more generous floor to ceiling heights and suggest that these should be raised, even if this results in an increase in overall height. As well as creating a feeling of generosity in the residential units, this would allow improved daylighting and ventilation.

Architectural expression

We are disappointed that the design and architectural expression of the development is weak and are concerned that the towers will be rather ordinary buildings. The elevation drawings and perspective images provide two very different impressions about the architecture and appearance of the development, and we question which impression will be the reality. The composition of the facades does not have a strong logic and it is not evident what has defined the shapes of the towers. The relationship between the apartment floor plans and the shape of the towers is unclear and results in some oddly shaped apartments. Furthermore, the elevations do not reflect the different uses within the buildings; for example, there is no distinction between the design of the elevations of the retail units and the apartments.

We think the detailed design of the enclosure of the car park and building plant at first, second and third floor level is unsuccessful. We question how the metal mesh façade will be supported and / or attached to the buildings, and how it can be cleaned? Whilst, we support the location of roof terraces at the top of the tallest tower, we question why these terraces have been hidden and are not visible in the elevations.

Quality of life

Although we understand that the site has a high PTAL rating, this does not reveal the inhospitable nature of routes between nearby stations and the site. Nevertheless, given the site’s proximity to the Olympic Park we think residential development could be successful on this site. However we have some concerns about the quality of life that will be achieved in this location and feel that insufficient thought has been given to who might want to live here and what facilities can mitigate the challenging nature of the site.

Ground floor level

We welcome the intention to provide a gym at ground / first floor levels; however we are not convinced the retail units will be successful in this location. There is a risk these may remain empty or underused which would have a detrimental effect on the quality of the ground floor spaces. We are encouraged by the location of one of the residential entrances off the High Street which could help to bring more activity onto the street; however the design of both residential entrances will need to create a welcoming environment for residents in this hostile context.

Landscape design

The quality of the green space proposed between the two tall buildings will be essential to the success of the scheme. We think this space may be windswept and noisy, and would benefit from a greater degree of protection from the busy roads to the south east. Whilst the location of the cycle storage, building plant and car parking may provide some shelter and acoustic protection, we are not convinced that this will make this area a pleasant place to be. We support the provision of an open terrace space, children’s play space and community rooms at fourth floor level, above the car park and we acknowledge the work that has been undertaken on the landscape strategy for the scheme. Given the density of development and the inhospitable quality of the environment, the local planning authority should ensure they are satisfied that the environmental qualities of the external spaces are not compromised by the impact of the tall buildings in terms of shading and wind.

Sunlight and daylight

We are concerned that the scheme will impact on the amenity of neighbouring residents due to loss of daylight and sunlight. We acknowledge the studies undertaken by the design team and we urge the local planning authority to ensure they are satisfied that the development does not have a detrimental impact on the amenity of neighbouring residents.

Sustainability

The joint CABE/English Heritage Guidance on Tall Buildings states that “tall buildings should set exemplary standards in design because of their high profile and local impact. Proposals should therefore exceed the latest regulations and planning policies for minimising energy use and reducing carbon emissions over the lifetime of the development.” This scheme benefits from a location close to the Olympic Park, which has a district heat and power system. We think every effort should be made, not just to allow for future connection to this network, but to facilitate its early extension. For this reason, we think there may be a case for sacrificing any on site renewables, to maximise the financial contribution the development can make to extending the district heat and power system. At the level of encouraging behaviour change, we welcome the provision of cycle parking and think well thought out recycling facilities will also be important.

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