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Snell wins planning for Westminster almshouses

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Robin Snell and Partners has won the go-ahead for this 44-flat almshouse scheme in St John’s Wood, London  

The project, which will provide homes for Westminster residents who cannot afford their own accommodation, is backed by the St Martin-in-the-Fields Almshouse Charity set up more than 400 years ago.

Described as a 21st-century reinvention of the urban almshouse, the four-storey project features a mix of one and two bedroom apartments and will create an ‘integrated community’ for key workers and the elderly.  

Work is expected to start on site next year and complete in 2019.

The architect’s view

The trustees’ brief called for a contemporary building that shows an understanding of the local past, without trying to replicate it, to have a long life of approximately 80 years with low maintenance costs. It proposes to provide new accommodation, updated to current housing standards and lifestyle needs, including; 26 one-person flats; 10 one-person studio flats; and 8 two-person flats.

Four ‘villas’ are located on the footprint of the existing building, running along the length on the site, forming a strong ‘book-end’ corner at either end of the terrace when viewed from the surrounding streets and presenting a consistent frontage to the street, with recessed entrance ‘links’ to breakdown the apparent mass of the development.

The design approach seeks to evoke the St John’s Wood tradition of villas with large windows and filigree balconies and railings. The internal planning of the building is collegiate in nature. Four flats per floor are grouped around a common entrance, staircase and lift area. These link spaces are positioned between the villas, recessed from the façade and partly glazed to reinforce the intended impression of separate villa blocks. These shared spaces allow access, views and light through the buildings from the street to the gardens at the rear. In addition, a shared communal garden room is provided on the ground floor with access to catering facilities and a laundry.

The villas are constructed from a pale buff/grey brick, laid in a traditional way using lime mortar and traditional brick coursing. The brickwork detailing expresses the differing structural nature of each part of wall through the use of different brick bonds to create visual interest and ornament. Upon closer inspection the building’s brickwork will reveal itself to be composed of a subtle range of tonal variations so as to provide a richness of quality and detail.

Bay windows and balconies, common features to St John’s Wood, are incorporated to add a fineness of scale and texture to the façades, creating planes of relief to the elevation; a steel-frame filigree structure is infilled with glazing and brickwork panelling. The building is designed to use materials and construction techniques that allow off-site prefabrication, so as to improve quality and minimise disruption to the immediate neighbours during construction.

As the new development is overlooked by adjacent taller buildings, the roofs of the villas are thought of as the ‘fifth’ elevation. In designating each villa to have its own roof, in the traditional manner, it further defines the urban block when viewed from above and from street level.

The roofs are hipped in form and set back from the external face, so as to disguise the roofs as they taper back, covered in dark grey non-reflective traditional lead. Necessary plant rooms at this level contain all the building services to provide low-energy servicing to the apartments, and are located centrally within the roof plan like chimneys, to minimise their impact when viewed from street level.

Overall, the project increases the amount of housing that can be provided on the site in a manner that is neighbourly, familiar in scale and form to the surrounding context of St John’s Wood.

Robin snell and partners detailed bay elevation

Robin snell and partners detailed bay elevation

Project data

Location St Johns Wood, Westminster, London
Type of project Almshouse
Client The Trustees of the St Martin in the Fields Almshouse Charity
Architect Robin Snell and Partners
Landscape architect Robin Snell and Partners
Planning consultant Gerald Eve
Project Manager Turner & Townsend
Structural engineer WSP
M&E consultant WSP
Quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald

Robin snell and partners site location plan

Robin snell and partners site location plan

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