Stirling Prize-shortlisted Newhall Be’s client Jon Moen on how you create an award-winning housing development
More from: The housing crisis: how did we get here?
To champion good architecture in a large neighbourhood development, such as Newhall in Essex, it helps to be vested with the power that comes from being a landowner. As landowners, we are better placed than the local authority to demand higher standards of architecture, landscaping, layout and public realm. The local authority is often poorly resourced and bound by convention and internal procedures – a position that does not lend itself to innovation and originality.
Unlike the local authority, we at Newhall are able to develop locally specific planning and design briefs for sectors of the development and to work closely with architects and developers at an early stage. The design brief approach – as opposed to ‘universal’ design codes – is the brainchild of our masterplanner, Roger Evans of Studio Real. It ensures coherence among land parcels, adherence to the overall masterplan, and strong but non-prescriptive guidelines for the developer. It also greatly assists both the local authority and the developer at reserved matter application stage. The brief is compiled following detailed urban design analysis by the masterplanner and wide consultation among Newhall’s professional team, the local authority and county highways.
One of the pitfalls of the conventional approach occurs when developers use an architect to achieve planning, then revert to standard house types once on site. As landowner-clients, we have been able to prevent this by including both the design brief and the resulting approved house designs as positive covenants in the land sale agreements.
Allied to this is our ability to take a long-term financial view, allowing for smaller profits in the development’s early stages while we gradually establish a sense of place; then recouping the deficit as Newhall becomes a desirable place to live.
One of the key design elements in Newhall’s success, for example, has been the carefully considered palette of materials and colours developed through in-depth research of the locality. Right from the outset, the simple principle of honesty in materials became a unifying force within which the architects could innovate. This has been attested to by Alison Brooks Architects. The brick and roof slate types the practice specified helped strike the right balance between tradition and innovation for its award-winning Newhall Be site. Poorly chosen materials can blight a development as much as bad design, and new materials introduced to a development must be carefully considered.
Owing to the incremental nature of Newhall and the number of architects involved, the importance of the masterplanner has been crucial. Often, architects at Newhall are responding to another set of plans rather than physical structures, so encouraging a collegiate and collaborative attitude between all parties is paramount.
A good example of this is where four architects – Richard Murphy, Orms, ECD and Studio Real – were all working on the North Chase sector of Newhall – a relatively modest site compromising 120 units, which produced some of the most interesting and prize-winning architecture. While we are not experts in architecture, as landowner-clients we recognise the value in enabling masterplanners and architects to push the boundaries within the housing sector to achieve the greatest results.
Jon Moen is director at multi-award-winning developer Newhall Projects
RIBA Award winners
Brentford Lock West, London by Duggan Morris Architects
Client ISIS Waterside Regeneration
Contractor Wilmott Dixon
Contract value £7 million
Gross internal area 3,550m²
This 45-unit canal-basin scheme occupies two five-storey blocks above a half-storey podium containing parking and cycle storage. Each block has been articulated with cuts and projections that tune the warehouse-like massing to specific relationships and adjacencies. On the canal side, bends in the block massing create an informal or meandering quality. A remarkable feature of this scheme is the very thin profile (225mm) of the balconies, which cantilever nearly 2.5m.
The spatial quality, light and detailing generate an overall air of Scandinavian quality and permanence. This is a quietly confident project, immaculate in its brick detailing, which sets a challenging standard for canal-side residential architecture in an area that has previously been ill-served by its developers.
Laurieston Transformational Area by Elder & Cannon Architects and Page\Park
Client New Gorbals Housing Association
Contractor McTaggart Construction
Contract value £22.3 million
Gross internal area 18,929m²
Three of the four tower blocks constructed in place of the original fine sandstone tenements were demolished in 2012 to make way for thisTransformational Regeneration Area, one of six created in Glasgow. It provides 201 affordable rented homes in a new layout of streets and mews settings, using a contemporary tenement form with a variety of housing types – apartments, maisonettes and terraced houses – all exploiting the rich possibilities of corners, southern aspect and courtyard environments.
Page\ Park has replaced the bay windows typical of many Glasgow residential blocks with balconies excavated into the depth of the red brick wall. Elder & Cannon’s four-storey apartment block stands as an object perceived in the round within a parkland setting. The project has achieved a BREEAM EcoHomes standard of Very Good.
Parkside, Derbyshire by Evans Vettori
Client Barncroft Homes
Contractor Barncroft Homes
Contract value £1.8 million
Gross internal area 1,180m²
Region East Midlands
In this modest block containing 10 apartments, with a café and two shops at ground floor, the architect has used locally sourced Derbyshire millstone grit to blend in perfectly with the context. The facades are cloaked in stone, incised by recessed panels to establish the idea of an underlying frame. The sandblasted stonework blocks have a fine vertical ‘reeding’ texture, which lends a sense of tactility and texture. Slowly patinating copper-clad infills, deep cills and an attic level complete the story.
Inside, the apartments are bold in their spaces and proportions, but otherwise left as a blank canvas, enjoying their views out over the park. This humble project stands as an exemplar of how to design buildings that make for a better place, using a modern language that works within a strong context.
NEO Bankside, London by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Client GC Bankside (joint venture between Native Land and Grosvenor)
Contract value £132 million
Gross internal area 42,000m²
Neo Bankside contributes to a debate about urban design and building form and is a well-mannered example of a structurally expressive architecture.The form and positioning of the blocks means there are very few pinch points and no overlooking, allowing 360-degree views out. Coupled with the exoskeletal structure, this has freed up floor plates, making the scheme more market-responsive.
The articulation of the buildings, expressed structure, quality of the glazing systems and the external lifts make the scale feel almost cute. This is also a result of the single-glazed, large, triangular winter gardens, which dematerialise the ends of the blocks, and the triple-height structural module, which reduces their perceived height. At ground level, rich detailing and landscaped entrance gardens help the buildings retain a human scale.
Darbishire Place, London by Niall McLaughlin Architects
Contractor Sandwood Design and Build
Contract value £2.3 million
Gross internal area 1,084m²
This dignified new building, with its refined proportions and details, replaces a fine Peabody mansion block taken out in the Second World War by a V2 bomb, along with another block whose footprint now provides a garden at the heart of the newly completed courtyard.
The use of materials and form allows the new building to complement its neighbours without mimicking them. Slightly projecting pre-cast reveals to the windows and balconies also give a depth to the modelling of the facades. On the south side a sliver of the building slides out of the square and forms a very narrow and elegant elevation, which leads one into the scheme, providing a further level of interest and architectural distinctiveness.
West Burn Lane, St Andrews by Sutherland Hussey
Contractor Ogilvie Construction
Contract value Undisclosed
Gross internal area 1,777m²
Located in a conservation area, this scheme consists of six four-bedroom houses and eight two-to-three-bedroom apartments, addressing a series of public and private urban courtyards. They mediate between the tight-knit medieval urban grain and the bigger university buildings, increasing in scale towards the south.
By alternating between two main house types within the narrow confines of the lane – the broad-fronted but narrow-depth and the narrow-fronted but deep plan – the architect was able to provide secluded private garden spaces between south-east-facing dwellings. At the southern end of the site is the appropriately larger-scale apartment building with panoramic views to the south. Located between these elements are two maisonette blocks with a new piece of public realm to the front.
Abode, Cambridgeshire by Proctor & Matthews
Client Countryside Properties
Contractor Countryside Properties
Contract value £45 million
Gross internal area 24,349m²
This extremely well-considered scheme of 300 medium density homes is a testament to the successful working partnership between architect and developer. The architect has skilfully alternated building scale and massing according to the site’s complexities. Close to the main road, taller apartment blocks form a wall to shield the rest of the site from traffic noise. Sun-rooms situated on the roadside further help reduce noise pollution.
As one moves through the site, the massing breakdown becomes increasingly evident. Low-level apartment blocks give way to terraces and then to semi-detached houses in well-proportioned streets giving the feeling of a well-made residential quarter. The buildings have been considerately designed and executed. Playful patterned brickwork and black timber cladding provide an authentic identity.