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How Edgley Design went from architect to developer at Godson Street

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Jake Edgley has teamed up with two neighbours to create a mixed-use building that is a modern reworking of a Georgian terrace, says Laura Mark

PROJECT DATA • CLIENT’S VIEW • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • MAIN CONTRACTOR’S VIEW • STRUCTURAL ENGINEER’S VIEW • SPECIFICATION • PLANS • SECTION • DETAIL 

Godson Street is a quiet pedestrianised road in Angel, and despite being in Islington’s prime residential area, the plot – previously a storage yard for nearby Chapel Market – had sat unused and derelict for years.

But Edgley Design founder Jake Edgley knew the site well, having built a house for himself on an adjoining plot a few years before. He teamed up with two of his neighbours to create three companies that would form a community joint venture to develop the backlands site. Edgley now owns units 1-3, director of Spaced Out Architecture James Engel owns the fourth unit, and a partnership between two brothers Chris and Steve Joannou owns units five and six.

It’s a growing model – a progression of the architect as developer – and one we can expect to see more of. But it’s risky. It relies on teamwork and tight budget management, especially when in this case there were effectively three clients involved who are also the designers and – in the case of the two architect’s practices – are set to become the tenants and the landlords.

Fortunately, the project is a showcase of teamwork. The collaborative approach was carried through from the initial client to the construction. The Joannou brothers even carried out all the groundworks, excavating and underpinning the whole site, while the main contractors took on many of the elements of the build in order to de-risk and negate the need for expensive subcontractors. This could have in fact had the opposite effect of adding risk since they had very little experience of in-situ cast concrete. But they were willing to learn, and the architects worked with them, adopting an agreement not to condemn works that were not perfect but to use them as a learning project. This took patience but it has paid off. They have learned new skills, and the finishes of the walls and polished concrete floors aren’t bad either.

The project has transformed not just the site but also the forgotten back street it inhabits

It’s the largest development Edgley has built as architect-developer, featuring a single house alongside five mixed-use plots, which follow the common typology of commercial unit below and apartment above. It would have been six similar units but windows on the neighbouring property meant the height of the building had to be dropped at the end, and since there was not enough height for an office and a flat, planners agreed to a three-storey townhouse.

The design is effectively a modern reworking of a Georgian terrace. At the front a retaining wall was kept and new dividing walls added to act as buttresses and form courtyards and lightwells providing light into the lower commercial levels. Above, the living spaces are articulated within the zinc-clad sculptural form that folds out from the concrete below.

The commercial units are pared back with raw finishes on show, while in the residential apartments, bespoke detailing and timber joinery features create crafted spaces. The architect’s hand has touched everything from the raw steel staircase in the house to the birch plywood and Valchromat cabinets in the apartment’s kitchen and living rooms.

All the living spaces, including the house, feature an upside down arrangement with bedrooms on the lower floors and living spaces above.

On such a tight site, overlooking was a key factor. Windows have been angled to look down the street rather than directly across into offices, apartments and surrounding homes. It was effectively the rights of light lines that created the angled facades of the upper storeys. Light has also been cleverly used within, and a unique upside-down use of solar mesh has meant privacy can be maintained without the loss of views.

The project has transformed not just the site but also the forgotten back street it inhabits. Across the narrow pedestrianised street is a faceless office building which gives little back to the street. ‘This is what we wanted to avoid,’ says Edgley. They have managed to do so – the small scale of the mews-like development makes it personable, while the glazed fronts of the commercial developments at the ground and basement levels provide some animation. What was once a space that encouraged antisocial behaviour with little passive surveillance from its residents is now an open and friendly street full of community interaction.

Basement plan

Edgley design godson street basement floor plan

Edgley design godson street basement floor plan

Ground floor plan

Edgley design godson street ground floor plan

Edgley design godson street ground floor plan

First floor plan

Edgley design godson street first floor plan

Edgley design godson street first floor plan

Second floor plan

Edgley design godson street second floor plan

Edgley design godson street second floor plan

Section 

Edgley design godson street section

Edgley design godson street section

Detail 

Edgley design godson street detail

Edgley design godson street detail

Client’s view

My family have lived and worked in the area of Penton Street/Chapel Market, Islington, since 1961 when my father ran a grocery shop which we lived above. In the 60s and 70s I remember the area was made up of small sweatshops servicing the rag trade, and light industrial units producing low-cost products such as furniture, records, paints and shoes. Most of the employees lived locally; in fact most properties were live-in and workplaces, with very high-density occupancy.

We have always worked with the local community to improve and regenerate the area, developing 42, 44, 48-56 and most of the shop fronts on Penton Street, while keeping the social dynamics of the area a mix of residential/commercial workspaces. Then the opportunity came for a community-led development on Godson Street, directly behind Penton St, with Jake Edgley, James Engel and artist Andie Scott.

The site was unused and derelict, with the pedestrianised street itself a magnet for antisocial behaviour. As local residents and developers, we saw the opportunity to personally regenerate the site for the collective good of the community, with a mixed-use development inherent to the area. The six buildings we have made have a fantastic, dynamic architectural look, whose scale and quality complement and enhance the local area. 

Our architect Ben Kirk and contractor worked tirelessly together to create a beautiful, crafted and timeless piece of architecture. It is already the biggest talking point in the area, and has regenerated the street so much more than we could have hoped.

Chris Joannou, JJCS

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Architect’s view

This was a special project for us as we were part of the community joint venture that developed the project, as well as project architect and now occupants of the completed building. Each development partner pitched in their own skills, with the Joannou brothers directly contracting groundworks and enabling works, and Spaced Out Architecture contributing design ideas at concept stage.

The forms of the building appear sculptural, but are a diagram of the rights to light of the many neighbours that overlook the site. The resulting building is dynamic at the upper levels, with private views out carved from the solid forms of the residential units. In contrast, at the lower levels glazed infills to the supporting concrete podiums create an open and friendly relationship to the street. The result has been an instant sense of community, with neighbouring businesses and residents mingling socially and on the street. 

The aesthetics derived from a point of limited resources – the pared-down palette of materials to the commercial elements has an industrial quality, yet is also materially rich and domestic. With the residential unit, bespoke detailing and interior joinery aim for a sense of identity and quality. As an architect it’s always a rich experience to inhabit your own buildings and to live with your own design decisions. One pleasant surprise has been the pleasure of an office opening directly on to a street, giving both a sense of independence and urban presence, in contrast to the prevalence of rabbit-warren studio buildings. Perhaps, as our retail frontages suffer in the post-internet world, there is an opportunity to reinvigorate the street with studio space, giving a street presence to small digital businesses.

Jake Edgley, Edgley Design 

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Main contractor’s view

On appointment the first hurdle we had to cross was to reduce the cost plan by 20 per cent; finding solutions that did not attack or chip away at our base rates or dilute the primary design. After a process of simple housekeeping, swapping expensive procurement finish items for similar cost-effective alternatives we were still falling short of the target price.

The last tranche that allowed us to reach the target came in the form of a collaborative ‘de-risking’ of expensive specialist sub-contractors’ items by taking them in-house – specifically the cast concrete walls and polished concrete floors. The clients and architect agreed not to condemn works that were not ’perfect’ while we reduced cost significantly on the spreadsheet. Our staff also got to learn new craft skills while not being exposed to significant risk. All of the above was only possible because there was an established relationship with both the clients (employers) and the project architects in the form of a recently completed project where a mutual trust had been established. Cape Construction has a team-based direct labour approach, believing in personal development in all areas, so the opportunity to learn new management and craft skills was welcomed.

Mutual trust permeated the entire project so when there was an inevitable bump in the road, the team always tried to find a non-punitive solution to the problem. The positive energy that flowed from this meant  the focus remained on the build, where the integrity of the building was paramount, not individual companies or personalities.

Stephen McCabe, Cape Construction

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Structural engineer’s view

The upper floors to this four-storey building have both faceted and stepped facades to individual units on both the front and rear elevations. While the cavity dividing walls provide natural support to the timber floors and roof, they also provide an opportunity to house and cantilever deep timber wall plates to support the facades. A combination of glulam beams and engineered timber joists occupy a constant depth to retain simplicity in the structural form.

Bespoke steel shoes were used to connect the key timber beam elements at both obtuse and acute angles. The large glazed openings in each unit at roof level were also formed in timber using a trapezoidal glulam frame.

At basement level an existing retaining wall, originating from a set of terraced properties that once occupied the site, was retained. New dividing walls buttress the retaining wall to form the courtyards at the front of the properties. The building is founded on an open concrete box structure at basement and ground floor levels bearing onto underlying clay soils.

The wall layouts naturally provide lateral stability in the transverse direction. However, longitudinally there is an absence of walls. To avoid interfering with the open front faces to the building, longitudinal stability on the upper levels is provided by a series of three-sided boxes acting together with individual floor plates. At lower levels, exposed reinforced concrete framing elements transfer longitudinal lateral loads into the concrete box structure to provide overall stability.

Paul Hardman, Hardman Structural Engineers

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Project data

Start on site July 2014
Completion February 2016
Gross internal floor area 850m2
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Contract with Contractors Design 2011 (ICD 2011)
Construction cost £1,865,000
Construction cost per m2 £2,195/m²
Architect Edgley Design
Concept design architects Edgley Design and Spaced Out Architecture Studio
Client JJCS JV, led by Jake Edgley, Chris Joannou and James Engel
Structural engineer Hardman Structural Engineers
Main contractor Cape Construction
CAD software used Auto CAD, Revit, SketchUp

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Godson Street by Edgley Design

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Specification 

Sliding doors
Velfac, V237i – sliding doors to ground and basement, opening glazed door to terrace

Front doors
Pendle Doors, Lancaster PAS24 – all front doors to development

Opening panels
Gowercroft Joinery, Bespoke timber product – all hidden opening vent panels to residential units

Aluminium fascias/copings
Bailey, Powder Coated Aluminium – cladding of speaker windows, facias, copings, flashings

Heating
Nu-Heat – heating throughout the development

Oak flooring
Peak Oak, 20mm solid and 20mm engineered oak flooring – in residential units

Carpet
Belvedere Carpets, Madison Cloud – in residential units

Zinc cladding and roofing
VM Zinc, Pigmento range in standing seam format – cladding and roofing of residential units, articulating the ‘skin’ of the residential volume

Cementitious cladding
Marley Eternit, Tectiva range – cladding of residential units, articulating the ‘core’ of the residential volume

Cavity membrane
Newton cavity membrane basement waterproofing

Liquid waterproofing membrane
Kemper 2K PUR liquid waterproofing membrane – for all roofs, terraces and gutters

Wooden paneling
Valchromat in yellow and green – for internal speaker linings, bathroom pod outer lining, kitchenette sliding doors

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