‘There’s enormous impact to come as a result of this scheme,’ said our judges of Ashtree Road, a social housing development of 24 two-bedroom flats in Pollokshaws, Glasgow. They’re right. This is a striking piece of urban architecture for a strikingly low budget. It creates a new centre of gravity in a rather neglected part of this great city. And it is the first significant scheme to complete for Graeme Nicholls Architects – a milestone for a young practice that only set up in 2016.
According to Nicholls, ‘form follows fiction’ – and here that narrative-led approach is clear, creating a sense of the building belonging to the neighbourhood. The practice became fascinated by the area’s historical associations with the weaving industry, which in the early 19th century saw an influx of Flemish weavers to provide a skilled workforce for the emerging textile mills. The concept of ‘weaving’ can be seen in several aspects of the scheme – from the offset pattern of windows, to the way the bricks have been laid at the ground floor, to the stepped vertical rails of the upper-floor balustrades.
The design features two blocks – a ‘tenement’ and a ‘villa’ – placed at the site boundaries and providing a strong urban edge while also enclosing a private rear court overlooking the neighbouring Ashtree Park. The scheme has been designed from the inside out, with residents’ needs at its heart. A practical, fabric-first approach provides welcome, flexible and adaptable accommodation for mid-market rent. It’s the sort of scheme that will attract positive development to the surrounding area. In all, there is much to admire here, and to learn from. At a time when housing is under such pressure, cost-efficient, robust and thoughtful schemes like this provide a benchmark for what’s possible.
The project also took home the Housing Project (up to £10 million) prize at the AJ Architecture Awards, held on 20 November.