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REVIEW

Loggia life: Mae’s waterfront residential block at Brentford Lock West

  • 2 Comments

Formed of two symmetrical linked pavilion-type forms, the 42-unit block is distinguished by deep loggias and a generous communal entrance atrium

This block of 42 homes designed by Mae is the first completed block in Phase 2 of the Brentford Lock West masterplan. Phase 1 of this development, situated on a brownfield site alongside the Grand Union Canal in west London, includes buildings by Duggan Morris Architects, Mikhail Riches Architects and Karakusevic Carson Architects completed in 2015.

This block, Block E, faces on to and visually continues the waterfront edge of the development alongside the two blocks by Duggan Morris to its left. It will be joined by the end of the year by the larger Block F, also designed by Mae, which sits set back from the water’s edge behind it to the south-west.

Mae Brentford Lock West Grand Union Canal Rory Gardiner

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Rory Gardiner

The two blocks by Mae were designed on plan to form a series of six pavilions. Four hold the corners of what is a larger more inward-looking urban block to the south-west, which will consist of a further 115 flats. This will also include a commercial space and six townhouses occupying two of the lower link buildings between the pavilion-type blocks. Mae’s key idea of modelling these blocks as a series of expressed but linked pavilions enables every flat in the block to have a dual-aspect.

The completed waterfront block meanwhile consists of these two ‘pavilions’, again linked by a lower block set back between – breaking down any sense of a wall of building to the river and allowing views through. This link building is relatively glassy and permeable at its lower levels, and contains a spacious double-height entrance atrium that’s designed as both grand lobby, giving a nice generosity in the sense of arrival to the block, and as shared communal space – big enough to hold residents’ meetings or even wider community events.

Mae Brentford Lock West Entrance Hall Rory Gardiner

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Rory Gardiner

On plan the block describes a symmetrical bar-bell. From a distance it has a gridded urbane, slightly Roman feel to its main waterfront façade. But this is undercut by the saw-toothed profile of its lateral façades, which pick up on some of the language of the neighbouring wharf architecture and nearby conservation area, and enable skylights to bring light deep into the top floor plate. In fact, the rather formal-looking gridded façade to the canal is just a screen to a series of generous deep loggia-type balconies. These offer really generous amenity spaces, almost like small living spaces in themselves, which effectively open out and extend the interior life of the flats, and afford much better privacy than normal balconies (although these make an appearance on the street side).

Mae Brentford Lock West Interior Rory Gardiner

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Rory Gardiner

The palette of materials used is primarily brick and concrete, designed to complement the industrial setting, with the brick used being lighter, livelier and more variegated than that used on the adjacent Duggan Morris blocks.

It is Mae’s largest completed residential block so far. The practice has long been known for its engagement with and research on housing and a lot of this learning and thought comes through in the detail; in how a continuous garden wall helps to ground the buildings; or how deep façades help animate the architecture and the outdoor spaces while moderating climate. This is no standard cookie-cutter brick block.

It’s good to see Mae finally building housing at this scale and, while these are all market homes – with this block’s siting on the canal being a pretty premium one to work with – many of the thoughtful details in its modelling seem eminently reproducible – and are more about just astute, well-considered architecture. It will be interesting to see how the scheme’s less favourably sited Block F feels and functions when it is completed later in the year. But this bodes well for the practice’s other larger housing schemes due to be completing over the next years.

Mae Brentford Lock West Roofline Rory Gardiner

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Rory Gardiner

Architect’s view

The scheme is the second phase of a three-phase regeneration masterplan beside the Grand Union Canal, and our challenge was to deliver a development that set a new standard in housing design quality and placemaking within Brentford.

The first planning application for our scheme – designed to the maximum parameters of the outline masterplan – was approved in 2014, however, viability issues required a project reappraisal. A revised design with additional accommodation was carefully developed without compromising on the material quality or placemaking principles. The revised scheme was approved in summer 2015. Involvement of local stakeholders has been an essential component of the design development, and the community was engaged through a range of techniques including presentations, exhibitions, Q&A sessions and newsletters. These events and consultations have helped to shape and inform the detailed design of our buildings.

Block E is given significance by local residents due to its proximity to the canal and exposed waterfront elevation. In response, we designed deep façades with versatile outdoor covered loggias, optimising dual aspect and views to the river from each flat through the clever pavilion block plan.

Our design for Brentford Lock West aims to raise the bar set by the building’s immediate neighbours by considering the value of public space, creating a generous entrance hall that can double as a community function space, using the roof space to create beautifully lit vaulted loft flats and extending balconies to the full width of the flat, to create extensive outdoor amenity that further mitigates overheating and enhances privacy.

Alex Ely, principal, Mae

Engineer’s view

A key challenge was to deliver this distinctive building without compromising on budget or quality. While the outward appearance is different to many residential projects, with its loggia balconies and sawtooth roof, the basic structural framing is simple: an in-situ reinforced concrete frame with flat slabs. This arrangement offers sufficient flexibility for the arrangement of flats, inherent robustness (ie fire and acoustics) and is prevalent and competitive in the London market.

The requisite attenuation systems for surface water, typical for schemes of this scale, has been discarded. Instead the project takes full advantage of its location by discharging rainwater into the canal. This approach, agreed with the Environment Agency, avoided the need for burying large tanks in the ground and maximised the site area available for development (ie both a sustainable and economical approach). To avoid a torrent of water, outfall chambers were constructed in the canal towpath with restrictors to limit the flows to levels that wouldn’t damage the canal or wake people sleeping on their moored barges!

The sawtooth roof reflects the site’s industrial heritage and provides generous volumes for the penthouse flats. The reinforced concrete structure continues up to roof level with the sloping section constructed using simple timber joists spanning between reinforced concrete beam elements. The loggias, a key feature of the design, have been constructed using exposed architectural in-situ reinforced concrete, thermally separated from the internal frame.

John Gerrard, associate director, Expedition

05 Brentford Lock West   Block Section

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Mae

Section through entrance atrium of Block E

Client’s view

Block E adds a striking addition to our development at Brentford Lock West. Mae has crafted a building that makes the most of the site’s assets, its industrial heritage and its relationship to the water. The generous atrium, well-planned flats and vaulted roof spaces have really captured the imagination of our buyers.

Philip Day, project director, Waterside Places

04 Brentford Lock West   Site Sections

Brentford Lock West by Mae

Source: Mae

Section through Block F and the entrance atrium of Block E down to canal

Project data

Start on site May 2016
Completion December 2017
Gross internal floor area 3,993m² (Block E only)
Construction cost £10.4 million (Block E only)
Construction cost per m² £2,600 (Block E only)
Architect Mae
Structural engineer Expedition
M&E consultant Thornton Reynolds
Quantity surveyor Tower Eight
Project manager Tower Eight
CDM co-ordinator Appleyard & Trew
Approved building inspector Approved Inspector Services
Main contractor McAleer & Rushe
Acoustic engineer Buro Happold
Landscape architect Camlins
Services engineer Thornton Reynolds
Fire consultant The Fire Surgery
Daylight/sunlight consultant Waterslade
Sustainability consultant Eight Associates
CAD software used Archicad 20
Annual CO2 emissions 10.9 Kg/m² (after accounting for renewables and reduction technologies)

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • It’s amazing what an ordered expanse of water can do?! And great that the AJ has given this scheme a thorough review and generous applause. Hopefully Brentford can now see the benefit of new buildings between the High St and the river. Again the water working it’s magic?

    To the east the football stadium and housing is pushing on, driven by next year’s Championship season. The re development of the existing ground will hopefully follow on, and not be hit by the downturn in the housing market. What we need is houses, not more yuppie flats.

    That leaves the confusion and planning shambles of the Waterman’s Art Centre, Police Station, Morrison’s, Curve Appeal and Capital Interchange Way. If there was an Urban Design Plan they might all help each other, but can the London Borough of Hounslow afford such a thing? Guess what?! They don’t like to free log jams. They don’t need the increase in rates. They can’t help local businesses. Sad. And the local grey beards and hairs can only make negative comments and say a loud NO. The Times arn’t Changing, Mr Dylan! Perhaps the architects and their clients could work together? And the readers of the AJ Daily News would be very welcome to get involved? We saved Covent Garden all those years ago, is Brentford worth a similar effort? A School of Architecture could run a Part 2 project from September to Xmas? Reality bites.

    Or what we need is an Opera House and a flower market Mr ‘Iggins!

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  • Just been round to look at the new building. Bricks are a good colour. Certainly better than the block next door, which is turgid, and not liked by the residents of the flats on the other side of the harbour?

    The new building tries too hard to be industrial, especially the saw tooth roof lines. The top storey of the arcaded frontage does look as if it’s about to fall into the water! This is why the Greeks incorporated entasis into their temples. In 500BC! The top balconies did not need the structure above, it would have saved money, and would have given entasis to the block. A lesson for next time?

    Anyway, go and have a look?

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