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Mint condition

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buildings - Nicholas Burwell Architects has reworked the Trebor factory as housing while retaining the original character

Nicholas Burwell is keen for architects to engage with Design & Build (D&B); it is, after all, how much of towns and cities were built.

Of course, with this procurement method there can be design disintegration on site.

There are a few losses in its conversion of east London's Trebor factory but better, Burwell feels, that architects make a contribution where they can. The practice is also involved in arts projects and conservation work, Burwell sees the architectural contribution to D&B projects as different to these, but equally valuable to society.

Whether a project quite like Trebor will exist in future, however, is unclear. The building has been converted to 65 live/work units.

In the initial negotiations with the London Borough of Newham, it was agreed to avoid the VAT and business rate penalties that normally go with live/work developments in the hope of promoting local employment. Today the rules have changed and that is no longer an option, so live/work units may not be an attractive market proposition. It was noticeable, for example, that at Peabody's Raines Court nearly all the flats were taken before any of the live/work units.

The original planning application for Trebor, located in Katherine Road, had been submitted by architect Stock Woolstencroft, establishing the unit numbers and site density. This was resubmitted by Nicholas Burwell Architects to modify the architectural form.

The 1930s factory's concrete structure was in reasonable condition and capable of supporting two extra floors. These are of a lighter weight, and in a contrasting metal and timber palette, which is also used around the new interior courtyard. These new floors are set back behind the parapet, retaining the white-plane aesthetic of the original. The Trebor lettering, which had been covered up, is now revealed. A close match to the original W20 steel-framed perimeter windows has been achieved with standard aluminium-framed units, powder-coated and double-glazed, with tapered cappings to transoms that narrow them visually toward the dimensions of the steel originals.

The centre of the building is now an open courtyard where the frame has been cut out to provide daylighting and access to the units, with access bridges across the court springing from the stair/lift core. Boarding is vertical here to tone down the strong horizontals of frame and bridges. The base of the courtyard, which is edged in vents from the basement car park, has nevertheless the overall feel of a semi-private, semi-indoor space.

Given the modest scale of the building this could come to work well socially; a pity then that the originally designed lighting scheme for this space was reduced.

Within the units, the live and work zones are separated by sliding walls, simplifying fire-escape planning. White-plastered and simply fitted out, units have both perimeter and courtyard aspects, with wide-ranging views from units toward the top of the building. On the top two, set-back levels, almost all units also have perimeter balconies.

With all units let, this reworking and densification is welcomed by occupants and developer, while maintaining the idiosyncratic urban presence of the Trebor factory in a largely undistinguished neighbourhood.

Architect and developer are already working together again on other projects.

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