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OMA-offshoot Neubau Architecture wins planning for contentious Barnet cubes

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Neubau Architecture, an emerging practice based in Cambridge, has won planning approval for a controversial block of flats in Barnet, north London

The plans by the firm, which was founded in 2014 by former OMA architects Brigitta Lenz and Alexander Giarlis, provide 28 flats arranged in a stepped building ranging in height from four to eight storeys on the corner of Finchley Road and Hendon way.

The scheme narrowly scraped through planning by one vote, with six committee members in favour and five against. During the public consultation, 82 responses were received – 80 letters of objection and two of support. 

Backed by County Tower Properties, the building, which the practice said will be arranged in ‘cubic columns’, will feature a glazed façade and a ‘pocket garden’ at the rear.

The building will replace a former petrol station and the new proposals feature a large mechanical clock inspired by the clocktower at the service station. 

Alexander Giarlis, co-director of Neubau, said: ‘The design of this project was a journey across many boundaries and in search for a language that could overcome the neighborhood’s historically pastiche architecture on a landmark designated site.

‘To add a clock atop a residential building was integral to the scheme, and aims to preserve a significant local memory of the service station’s old clocktower.’

The 4,448m² scheme is expected to complete in 2019. 

Architect’s comments: director of NEUBAU Alexander Giarlis

Barnet’s planning site indicates that there were a total of 309 addresses that were consulted, 88 of which responded with 79 objections and 7 supporting statements. During the public consultation we presented our design and listened to all concerns and suggestions, including a lot of conflicting feedback.

As a result, a significant number of additions were made to the design, such as the establishment of the clock, the doubling of the parking provision and even the relocation of one of the cores away from neighbouring bedrooms. However, the driving concern in most of the letters of objection was whether the proposal was sufficiently in-keeping with the Edwardian residences in nearby Hampstead or the mock Tudor adjoining buildings.

These concerns were predominantly raised and campaigned by Hampstead-based residents’ associations and neighbourhood forums. We made it clear from the beginning that we never intended to produce a pastiche design for the sake of superficial visual continuity as we find this a dishonest way to contribute to the built environment; we put a design forward that was presented on this premise and described by the local planning team as “unashamedly modern”.

Nonetheless, we did discover certain qualities in the articulation of the façade of the adjacent Vernon Court built in the 1930s in Tudorbethan style which we picked up, interpreted, and carried over in our design. During a very intense committee hearing and discussion it became clear that what was hanging on the balance was not the quality of the design but whether this neighbourhood needed another Edwardian pastiche contribution or whether the site’s landmark designation should be the guiding principle on which the scheme was appraised.

What the tally of the committee votes does not show is how much more passionate were the supporters of our design, compared to their peers who decided to hold a more conservative stance on this occasion.

Neubau tower station 07 drawing typical plan levelhttps://prod-ca-cms-wv.trgfrnt.com/CMS/imageAddEdit.aspx?label=attimages&id=6&TB_iframe=true&width=640#3

Neubau tower station 07 drawing typical plan level3

Plan of Tower Service Station scheme, Barnet, by NEUBAU

Project data

Location 617 Finchley Road, London NW3
Type of project Residential/mixed use
Client County Tower Properties
Architect Neubau Architecture
Planning consultant Planning Potential
Public affairs consultant Four Communications
Structural engineer AKT II
M&E consultant DSA
Daylight consultant GIA
Landscape consultants Biotecture, LMNL
Transport consultant i-Transport
Air quality consultant Phlorum
Gross internal floor area 4,448m²
Completion date 2019

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Not pastiche, for sure - but it'll be interesting to see how the built end-product reads scale-wise, with each cube actually containing two storeys rather than the one storey that might be the first impression created by the street-facing elevations.
    And any form of pitched-roof development would presumably be labelled 'pastiche'.

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  • Chris Rogers

    I know this site well and passed it only the other day. The form and massing in one thing; I'm more concerned about the scale, though it's impossible to tell from the one CGI of the view from opposite. Why can't the AJ link to the planning app? The proposed 'clock' is ludicrous - it's a cheap cage of metal, not a clock. As for "we picked up, interpreted, and carried over in our design" elements of the facade of the mock-Tudor block, that could of course equally read "we picked up [were forced to consioder], interpreted [ignored], and carried over in our design [completely ignored]" them. Barnet has form in the area for overscale resi devlopment (see Bishop's Ave), as well as in the more workaday neighbourhoods. Pretty bad.

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