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AHMM reinterprets back-to-back housing in Greenwich Peninsula


The practice aims to ‘challenge the stereotype’ of back-to-back housing with its three-bed, three-storey townhouses

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s Signal Townhouses are sited on the Greenwich Peninsula, and represent the first phase of a U+I development which aims to transform the brownfield land site into a new high-quality urban quarter.

The brief was to create an attractive residential scheme which mediates between two varying scales in height: existing terraced houses to the east and south, and larger developments being introduced on the peninsula and sites to the north. On the larger developments, new building heights vary between seven and 16 storeys, whereas to the south there are predominantly 2-3 storey terrraces dating from the late Victorian era. The aspiration was to enhance the existing townscape, provide an arrangement of spaces designed to maximise the benefits of daylighting, and incorporate a public realm that encourages community interaction.

Timothy soar (9)

AHMM’s first completed phase consists of 16 three-storey family units arranged back-to-back. Each unit is L-shaped and has its own individual courtyard to the front, providing high levels of privacy and ensuring that there are no entirely north-facing and single-aspect units. A typical house is laid out with the kitchen and living areas on the ground floor, two bedrooms and shared bathroom on the first floor, and ensuite bedroom with decked terrace on the second floor. The development is also set in landscaped communal ‘gardens’. 

The brick facades are detailed with contrasting darker window frames and metalwork to create texture and tonal variation, while the courtyards are paved in granite. A second phase of apartment buildings is planned with dwellings arranged around a plinth courtyard garden.

Ahmm st site plan

Architect’s view

The back-to-back housing model is often associated with poor conditions and overcrowding, but Signal Townhouses have aimed to challenge this stereotype, building on a brownfield site, within a context of significant change. The townhouses are the first completed phase of the Telegraph Works scheme, which includes a variety of building heights and typologies to moderate the change between existing Victorian terraced housing closer to Greenwich town centre and the newer, higher-density development on the peninsula.

The three-storey townhouses are located closest to the existing two-storey terraces on Mauritius Road, and although they draw inspiration from them, the back-to-back model allows for more efficient use of the footprint. Another move has been to orient the houses north-south rather than aligning with Mauritius Road to avoid views on to the larger blocks of the site’s next phase.

Arranged in two terraces of eight, each house has a kitchen and living area at ground-floor level accessed via a courtyard, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor, and an ensuite bedroom with a terrace on the second floor. The back-to-back arrangement means there’s no rear elevation and maximises the sense of privacy, and the L-shaped plan also allows for more amenity space than the traditional version of the back-to-back would. The orientation, plan and window arrangement mean that the houses enjoy an excellent level of daylight, another challenge to one of the key problems of the traditional back-to-back. Each house also has access to either a gated communal garden space or its own front garden.

By looking again at the advantages of back-to-back, and exploring orientation, layout, amenity space and daylight to address the historic disadvantages, we’ve shown that this model could become one of the key ways to deliver cost-effective and space-efficient housing. 

Paul Monaghan, director, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris

Ahmm st ground and first floor plan

Project data 

Start on site November 2015
Completion February 2018
Gross internal floor area 2,203m²
Gross external floor area 2,576m²
Form of contract Design & Build
Construction cost Undisclosed
Client U+I plc
Planning consultant Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners
Architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Landscape architect East, Plan-it
Services consultant XCO2 Energy
Sustainability consultant XCO2 Energy
Structural engineer Meinhardt (UK)
Environmental consultant Merebrook Consulting
Cost consultant Quantem Consulting
Rights of light GL Hearn
Main contractor Weston Homes
Annual CO2 emissions 8.3kg/m² (after accounting for renewables and reduction technologies)


Readers' comments (6)

  • Very interesting project and clever, tight plan, but "one of the key ways to deliver cost-effective and space-efficient housing"?

    Am I right in calculating that each of the three bed homes works out at 138m2 gross internal floor area? If so, it seems generous spatially.

    Currently working on similar cost effective and space efficient housing, classified as "Affordable" in Scotland with a maximum gross internal floor area of 113m2 ( set by RICS ) for a four bed home. 25m2 less?

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  • Industry Professional

    ...and possibly one too many streets?

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  • They should have photographed the north oriented houses, not the ones with sunlight. If the scheme was east to west oriented than agreed, but north to south doesn't work as back-to-back scheme. Particularly not in a country with limited sunlight.

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  • And if there is a second 'street', why not include more localised parking spaces for the south-facing terrace. People generally feel more comfortable being able to see their vehicles from their dwelling.

    And why no bike storage for the south terrace.

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  • I wonder how the fairly light brickwork will weather, with no cills to speak of?

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  • I am wondering when one of these new prototypes is going to consider wheelchair users. We spend quite a lot of our time adapting new houses that have not been considered as lifetime homes, and considering how many families have wheelchair using kids and struggle to find suitable homes, this could be a start. Thea McMIllan Design Director Chambers McMillan Architects

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