The 16 and 20-storey blocks of private sale apartments are designed to subsidise the construction of 450 affordable homes in the surrounding Colville Estate
The two hexagonal towers, designed jointly by Karakusevic Carson Architects (KCA) and David Chipperfield Architects (DCA), represent the latest phase in the Colville Estate masterplan, developed by KCA in 2010 for Hackney Council.
Sitting in the south-west corner of the 1950s estate, the towers – known collectively as Hoxton Press – consist of 198 apartments. The affordable homes that the development subsidises are being accommodated in a phased demolition and replacement of buildings across the wider site in a series of new medium-rise street-facing blocks. All residents are being rehoused, but at higher densities – the original 438 council homes will increase to 925 mixed-tenure dwellings in total.
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The twin-set of residential towers, sitting in shifted proximity, bring architectural comparators such as Mies van der Rohe’s 860-880 Lake Shore Drive to mind, even if here the open expanse overlooked is scrubby Shoreditch Park, rather than serene Lake Michigan. But where Mies’ duo was steel and glass, these have in-situ concrete frames and are almost exaggeratedly faced all over in brick: the western tower being a russet red, the eastern, taller one, a soft grey.
The bricks used are handmade, water-struck Vande Moortel bricks from Belgium, both made from the same clay but the grey variety being double-fired. As well as facing the main façades, the bricks line the deep strip balconies, and even extend in and under as gentle vaulting to the ceilings of the lofty double-height lobbies. In the eastern tower, the lobby shares the ground-floor footprint with a bike store and a vehicle ramp down to a basement car park, while in the western tower a flexible space has been created to accommodate a café or gallery, sited next to the New North Road and across from the corner of the park.
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The reductive use of materials also extends to the landscaping of the site by Vogt, which sees a single granite-set surface extending seamlessly into the fully glazed lobbies. This, together with the fluid offset of space between the hexagonally shaped blocks, means a sense of permeability has been maintained in and around their bases, so any notion of these private blocks blocking views and access to the park from the rest of the estate is minimised.
On the upper floors, the units are a mix of studios and one and two-bedroom flats, and there are six three-bedroom penthouses. Typically flats are laid out concentrically, six per floor, leading out from their entrances off a central lift lobby to bedrooms and living rooms around their perimeters, the latter with column-free glazed corners opening out on to spacious dual-aspect strip balconies. Optimising the light-filled bedroom and living room spaces inevitably means service and ancillary spaces are concentrated around the more constricted entrances, necessitating some awkward planning, such the need to pass through kitchens to living rooms.
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The faceted modelled all-over masonry look of the blocks, with their carved-out balconies reminiscent of the Barbican, means the scheme has inevitably been tagged as exhibiting a new Brutalist aesthetic. Certainly here the B-word seems more apt than the often blanket application of the term. But whether an exercise in a new-old aesthetic, the blocks are strongly modelled and there is a satisfyingly solid, pacific feel to them.
What is more significant rather than reading any runes of style, has been the design development process as a model for estate redevelopment. It appears to have been very successful, with residents involved at every stage of development, from the blocks’ siting and scale to their internal layout. The bald mathematics which underpin the viability of these two towers is one of course unlikely to be exactly repeatable across other estate redevelopments – with few sites offering such catnip to developers of prime proximity to a park in central London and with the housing market looking now distinctly soft. But the ongoing Colville estate development is one that shows how a cross-subsidy, mixed-tenure model of estate regeneration can be sensitively developed and still result in uncompromisingly powerful pieces of architecture.
1.500 typical floor plan
Typical floor plan
Start on site 2013
Completion December 2018
Gross internal floor area 19,000m²
Form of contract Design & Build (novated)
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architects Karakusevic Carson Architects and David Chipperfield Architects
Masterplanning architect Karakusevic Carson Architects
Client Hackney Council
Development partner Anthology
Structural engineer AECOM
M&E consultant AECOM
Façade engineer Thornton Tomasetti
QS TowerEight and Arcadis UK
Fire consultant Fire Risk Solutions UK
Planning consultant Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design
Landscape architect Vogt
Acoustic consultant AECOM
Main contractor Wates Construction