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Red and green: Rathbone Market by CZWG

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CZWG’s Rathbone Market flats rely on mechanical smoke extraction, whole-house ventilation and an acoustic green wall, writes Felix Mara. Photography by Tim Crocker

The next worst fate to living in flats next to a motorway is to be commissioned to design them. But noise and pollution from the A13 weren’t the only challenges that confronted CZWG, architect of Phase 1 of the Rathbone Market development in East London, officially opened last December. Spearheading the £3.7 billion Canning Town & Custom House Regeneration Programme, masterplanned by Arup Urban Design and Erick van Egeraat Architects, it provides 271 new homes and 1,858m² of commercial space on a wedged site. It also promotes the development of a sustainable community with reduced ‘churn’ in England and Wales’ sixth most deprived borough through public realm and pedestrian link improvements and continuity of trade at the market from which it takes its name.

CZWG faced an additional, all-too-familiar problem: ‘There are too many, often contradictory, documents from sources such as Secured by Design, Lifetime Homes, BRE and affordable housing providers,’ says project architect Cristina Lanz-Azcarate. ‘Also, requirements differ from borough to borough and the demarcation between planning and building control responsibilities has become unclear, especially in the area of sustainability.’

In a joint venture between developer English Cities Fund, developing partner London Borough of Newham and affordable housing body Notting Hill Housing Group, Phase 1, known as ‘Vermillion’, combines 93 private homes in the 21-storey Block A tower, 75 rental apartments for young professionals in Block C on the development’s opposite side and 40 affordable units with external deck access in Block B in-between. Block B earned Phase 1 a cash injection from the Homes and Communities Agency after the Mayor of London recognised its contribution to affordable housing targets for the capital and 16 of its residents were re-housed from a substandard ’60s block nearby, now demolished. Access to Blocks A-C is via four separate entrances and they are efficiently planned, with a mix of single and dual-aspect flats and long, single-direction common corridors, with Colt-type mechanical smoke extraction. With the chosen ‘protect in place’ strategy, only flats where fire originates would initially be evacuated. Adjoining flats may be evacuated later, if required, by the fire service. Blocks A and C have sprinklers in each flat. (See The Regs, page 43.)

CZWG avoided hidden back alleys, cul-de-sacs and tunnels and provided legible public spaces and routes, while Newham introduced new landscaping to surrounding areas to reconnect the high street and Canning Town station. The most imaginative landscaping is in Phase 1’s podium level ‘eco-garden’, screened by Blocks A, B and C and a 4m-high acoustic green wall, blocking noise from the A13, tested to DIN/EN20354 (ISO354 Measurement of noise absorption in a hall, July 1993). Landscape architect Churchman specified RockDelta Intensive 240, comprising Rockwool and fibre mesh, suitable for supporting plant life. This garden also has a dust-absorbing water feature with a more relaxed geometry than the flats. Moving water captures dust particles and screens noise. The feature also harvests rainwater and is integral to the storm water attenuation strategy, gathering excess run-off from roofs.

The frame is predominantly concrete. Construction was rationalised by modular service pods and unitised cladding designed to achieve ‘Good’ internal noise levels as defined by BS8233, helped by a heat recovery system that minimises perforations. Although all windows are openable, whole-house ventilation to the two lowest residential floors provides constant fresh air from high level. The banded cladding, in five hues of red, responds to the dynamic of motorway traffic flow and identifies Vermillion as the harbinger of a regenerated Canning Town, with a new inner-city living paradigm. But, even if you like metal cladding, as I do, you might question the logic of specifying it for long-tenure, high-rise housing. Despite the cladding’s 30-year warranty and maintenance access provision, alternative materials have a longer life.

Phase 1 is built to Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes and all flats benefit from the CHP system. There’s LED lighting throughout, brown and green roofs promoting biodiversity, on-site composting, low water consumption appliance specification, recycled rubble from a nearby site used in the eco-garden construction, energy from 20 per cent renewable sources and east-west orientation of the blocks, which optimises heat loss and gain. The commercial accommodation at ground floor level also has a BREEAM ‘Very Good’ rating.

Phases 2 and 3 will bring two new public squares, one for the market and a further 381 homes, as the regeneration programme rolls on towards its target of 10,000 new homes, thousands of new jobs and two new town centres. Not surprisingly, at this end of the scale, planning and building control departments’ respective responsibilities and requirements can indeed become very complex, but CZWG has creatively responded to the challenge of this demanding context.

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