Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Village green

  • Comment

Proctor Matthews’housing at Greenwich Millennium Village combines characterful design with an aesthetic which is true to the method of its construction

It is tempting to be cynical about Greenwich Millennium Village. Launched amid much political hype, the development of 1,400 mixed-tenure houses and flats was to be technically innovative, environmentally sustainable and, to quote Millennium Village masterplanner Ralph Erskine: ‘A true expression of the ideals and respect for human dignity, equality and freedom we foster in our democratic society.’With such varied and lofty aspirations there was always a danger that the architecture would suffer from the pressure to be all things to all people. As Stephen Proctor of Proctor Matthews puts it: ‘The fundamental problem was how to get a kit of parts which was innovative, while giving all the townscape and delight which Erskine requires.’


Proctor Matthews is responsible for Phase 2a, consisting of 189 residential units including 14 live/work units and 47 affordable homes. These are arranged in three courtyard blocks, one of four to eight storey apartment buildings, and two of two- and three-storey family homes. The first of the terraced houses were completed in December, and are occupied by families from Greenwich Council’s waiting list - a point of great political significance, but of little architectural relevance: all dwellings - including the affordable homes which form 20 per cent of the development - are built to the same standard.


The houses have modular facades and roofs of corrugated aluminium, creating a light-industrial aesthetic more in keeping with contemporary Dutch housing than with Erskine’s romantic vision of an urban quarter inspired by the hill towns of Italy.


But there is a certain homeliness which is appropriate to Erskine’s humanism. The elevations are softened by the warmth and texture of cedar rainscreens, and cheered by the use of colour.


Proctor is quick to acknowledge the extent to which the architecture is a response to the Millennium Village ethos. ‘A lot of our architecture tends to be very rational, ’ he says.


‘This is quite townscape driven.’ But it is still very clearly part of the Proctor Matthews oeuvre. The external porches which accommodate home deliveries, refuse and meters, while giving each house a semienclosed front yard, were also designed into a housing project for the Castle Vale Housing Action Trust in Birmingham (AJ 12.12.98).


The elevations enjoy the general ‘chirpiness’ which characterises the practice’s work: a Stirlingesque way with colour, combined with a real enjoyment of materials.


The fact that both are employed with an admirably straightforward logic prevents the architecture from appearing wilful or twee. Cedar panels signify the divide between habitable rooms and service spaces.


Coloured panels on the facade adhere to a basic colour code: yellow marks the living spaces, blue marks the bedrooms, while green signifies services or flexible space. In an over-literal gesture, green has also been used for the energy centre and for passive ventilation chimneys to the houses. The result is the type of house which Bob the Builder might inhabit: a children’s picturebook chirpiness combined with a no-nonsense attitude to construction.


Needless to say, the appearance of structural simplicity was unusually complicated to produce. Each phase of the Millennium Village is required to make extensive use of off-site prefabrication while achieving savings of 30 per cent on normal construction costs, a 25 per cent reduction in the length of the construction period, and zero defects at handover - goals which are not necessarily complementary in the UK’s construction industry. ‘Every time we’ve gone to the market and said ‘can you prefabricate this?’


they’ve said ‘yes, but it’ll cost you twice as much as if we just get the scaffolding up and do it in the normal way’, ’ Proctor recalls.


It has to be said that the palette of materials - stucco, timber, terracotta, brick - does not obviously lend itself to prefabrication.


In fact, the coloured stucco surfaces are 1,100 x 500mm prefabricated lightweight honeycomb panels made of lightweight honeycombed recyclable aluminium sheets.


The panels are totally rigid and surprisingly light: it is easy to carry two floor-to-ceiling panels at a time. The product was originally developed for the aircraft industry. It has been extensively used in Italy - especially in banks, where it frequently masquerades as marble - but this is its first application in the UK, and possibly the first attempt to evolve an aesthetic which is more true to its form.


Internally, this manifests itself in fullheight door openings which give a wonderful feeling of generosity. As Proctor puts it, ‘with prefabrication it simply doesn’t make sense to cut a hole in the wall’. Well…


in theory at least. In reality, full-height doors are limited to the show homes, designed with Barrie Legg from Conran Design. The ‘logical’ approach simply doesn’t stack up in economic terms when you consider the cost of installing non-standard doors. But all units enjoy full-height windows, which exaggerate the impact of the 2.55m floor-to-ceiling height - 2cm taller than the norm.


Prefabrication makes it relatively straightforward to allow for flexible planning: the top floor of a three-storey house can be arranged as two bedrooms, one large studio space, or as a single-galleried room overlooking a double-height space. Living rooms can be subdivided to create an additional room, and downstairs WCs can be adapted to include a shower.


Precision fabrication of the building elements, combined with high levels of insulation and efficient heating and control systems should mean that heating and lighting systems will use 50 per cent of the primary energy used by conventional housing. Much has been made of the fact that the project’s original targets have been revised, but the working targets are still ambitious and are rigorously enforced. As Proctor puts it: ‘The idea that the project is dumbed-down is ill-conceived because the targets are legal requirements.We have to meet them.’


Materials have been selected for their green credentials. Aluminium was chosen on account of its recyclability and long life, while the cedar is obtained from managed sources and has an excellent maintenance record. The cedar louvres serve as solar control devices and as windbreaks as well as providing the gardens with privacy.


A prefabricated car park sits behind a retaining wall which forms an environmental buffer from the surrounding roads. Alan Cherry, chairman of Greenwich Millennium Village, decided to stick to Erskine’s proposal to contain parking at the edge of the site despite a general concern that having to walk to the car would deter potential buyers.


There is an optimistic - but probably unrealistic - plan that car dependency will decline over time, allowing the parking space to be taken over by the live/work units which line the car park on the village side.


Although still a long way from a car-free utopia, the parking strategy means that the village itself is pedestrian-friendly, and the absence of surface parking allows for an abundance of landscaped space. Erskine’s masterplan arranged each ‘neighbourhood’ around a shared garden square, much like the Ladbroke Grove model.At present, Proctor Matthews’ housing overlooks a muddy wasteland, but in time it will be transformed by landscape architect Robert Rummey, who worked with Proctor Matthews on the Oxford Science Park project (AJ 21.10.99).


Those overlooked by low-rise family houses are primarily child-friendly play spaces, while those overlooked by the high-rise blocks are conceived as a more abstract landscape, designed to be viewed from above.


The ample provision of public spaces offers some compensation for the fact that the surrounding hinterland of the Greenwich Peninsular is, for the present at least, hostile in the extreme. In the short term the Millennium Village will inevitably be inward-looking and its success as an urban quarter will be largely dependent on the quality of its public realm.At present this is a little surreal, consisting of a yacht club by Frankl + Luty and an Edward Cullinandesigned school, surrounded by construction projects and mud. When finished, there will be an oval-shaped ‘town square’ with restaurants and shops.


Until then, it is hard to judge the extent to which the urban planning has worked, and the extent to which the village realises its dream of an integrated community is probably as dependent on an effective management strategy as on the architecture. But Proctor Matthews has made an important contribution in delivering characterful, idiosyncratic architecture which meets the brief without any hint of ‘design by committee’. The crucial factor in the success of the Millennium Village is whether or not people enjoy living there. It is too early to make a judgement, but the popularity of Proctor Matthews’ housing suggests that there is no shortage of people who are willing to give it a try.




This phase of the development consists of a mixture of two- and three-storey timber-frame houses and flats, together with three taller reinforced concrete apartment blocks.


The foundations for all the buildings consist of reinforced concrete flat slab ground floors on driven piles. The pile caps are connected directly to the ground floor slab so ground beams are not needed. Due to the nature of the ground a gas membrane has been placed under the foundations of all the building to prevent any ingress of methane.


The low-rise houses have been constructed as timber-frame buildings with external cladding and lightweight roofs. Prefabricated softwood wall panels are from C16 CLS framing studs at 600mm centres - with 9mm orientated strand board sheathing and a spun polyethylene breather membrane pre-fixed to the panel face. The upper floors of the houses are prefabricated cassette units from 38 x 235mm C16 joists, with two 38 x 235mm edge runners at the perimeter edge and a 15mm orientated strand board panel face. Apartment upper floors are 305 deep ‘JJI’ timber I-beams, providing increased structural efficiency in use of timber sections. These utilise C24 kiln-dried 45 x 45mm section softwood flanges with a 9mm orientated strand board web, through which service routes are provided.


The timber frame manufacturer, Stewart Milne Timber Systems, maintains an environmental management system in conformance to BS EN ISO:14001:1996. Timber is specified and selected from three managed and sustainable Scandinavian sources. Individual trees are selected in the forest and identified via satellite to the manufacturer. Cutting and waste management particular to each tree can then traced through the logging process providing a clear environmental audit trail. Recycling of cutting waste is carried out at the forest as a by-product of the logging process.


The lightweight cladding is a resin-faced alulam board with an acrylic render finish. The board structure is a 15mm aluminium honeycomb core that provides rigidity and a structural span in two directions across the panel face, thus reducing the extent of the rainscreen carrier system required.


The high-rise element of this phase consists of two blocks of four-storey buildings and a third seven-storey block. All three blocks are designed using reinforced concrete flat slab supported on 400 x 175 columns. The slabs have been designed using finite element analysis software to minimise the thickness of the slabs. Using this approach it has been possible to achieve a slab thickness of 175mm with some spans in excess of 6.5m. This has also been achieved without the need for any downstand beams or any column shear heads. The external walls are formed from cladding panels that are simply bolted to the edge of the slab. Stability to the building is being provided by frame action on the lower blocks and by the lift shafts in the taller blocks.




WT Partnership www.wtpartnership.com

Thornburn Colquhoun www.thorcol.com




Net costs based on tender sum for phase 2a, blocks 11-14 and 18-20.




FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £83.96/m2 Piled foundations with ground beams and pile caps, reinforced concrete slab with gas membrane.






Structural timber frame, floor construction, roof construction and internal partition studwork.




Aluminium roof coverings and flashings to sloping roof; single-ply membrane to flat roof.


ROOFLIGHTS £0.51/m2 Automatic opening vents to flats.


STAIRCASES £15.03/m2 External metal-framed staircases with concrete treads; internal timber stairs.


EXTERNAL WALL FINISHES £148.96/m2 Prefabricated aluminium honeycombed panel with a render finish, cedar panelling and aluminium flashings.


WINDOWS AND EXTERNAL DOORS £105.91/m2 High-performance timber windows and doors.


INTERNAL WALLS AND PARTITIONS, DRY LINING £29.39/m2 Dry lining to timber internal and external stud walls.


INTERNAL DOORS £31.93/m2 Timber doors.




WALL FINISHES £20.12/m2Ceramic tiling to bathrooms and kitchens and paint to dry lining generally.


FLOOR FINISHES £21.44/m2 Ceramic tiling to private units, linoleum and carpet to affordable units.


CEILING FINISHES £23.81/m2 Dry lining to ceilings, painted finish.




FURNITURE AND FITTINGS £56.28/m2 Kitchen equipment to all units, washer/dryers.




SANITARY APPLIANCES £16.25/m2 Sanitary fittings to all units including dual flush cisterns.


SERVICES EQUIPMENT £50.56/m2 Centralised energy centre and distribution network.


VENTILATION £13.34/m2 Passivent ventilation.


PLUMBING, HOT AND COLD WATER AND SPACE HEATING £47.72/m Soil and waste disposal, domestic hot and cold water services and LPHW heating.


ELECTRICAL SERVICES £78.19/m2 Distribution switch gear and cabling, lighting, small power, earthing and banding, fire alarms, telephones, TVand combined heating and power.






PRELIMINARIES AND INSURANCES £178.54/m2 Preliminaries and insurances including main contractor’s overheads and profit - approx 20 per cent on net construction cost.


Cost summary




Frame, upper floors, roof construction 85.14 7.95

Roof coverings 57.57 5.37

Rooflights 0.51 0.05

Staircases 15.03 1.40

External wall finishes 148.96 13.91

Windows and external doors 105.91 9.89

Internal walls, partitions and dry lining 29.39 2.74

Internal doors 31.93 2.98


Group element total 474.42 44.29




Wall finishes 20.12 1.88

Floor finishes 21.44 2.00

Ceiling finishes 23.81 2.22


Group element total 65.37 6.10






Sanitary appliances 16.25 1.52

Services equipment 50.56 4.72

Ventilation 13.34 1.25

Plumbing, hot and cold water, space heating 47.72 4.45

Electrical services 78.19 7.30

Builders’work in connection 6.61 0.62


Group element total 212.66 19.85


PRELIMINARIES 178.54 16.67


TOTAL 1,071.23 100.00


Costs supplied by WT Partnership.




TENDER DATE February to May 2000, negotiated tender


COMPLETION DATE September 2001


FORM OF CONTRACT JCT98 design and build

TOTAL COST £6,035,000 (net)

CLIENT Greenwich Millennium Village

MASTERPLANNER Erskine Tovatt Architects: Ralph Erskine

LEAD CONSULTANT Proctor Matthews

ARCHITECT Proctor Matthews: James Burch, Andrew Cadey, Rachel Cruise, Boyanna Elks, Georgina Hock, Andrew Matthews, David Nossiter, Seb Price, Stephen Proctor, James Reed, Eleanor Suess, Stuart Watson, Natalie Webster

PROJECT MANAGER Greenwich Millennium Village



LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Robert Rummey Associates



MAIN CONTRACTOR Countryside in Partnership

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS cladding system Powerwall Systems; passive stack ventilation Wilan; car park lift Kone; groundworks Kaybridge Construction; precast car park Composite Structures; timber frame Stewart Milne Timber Systems; window walling Rational Windows; cladding installation Protec Industrial; roofing and flashings Alexio Metal Roofing; CHP energy centre and district heating ABB Alstom Power; electrical services Chelsford Electrical; mechanical services Lorne Stewart; architectural metalwork SWE - Contract Engineering; specialist joinery East Kent Joinery; drylining and insulation Maiden Group; kitchens Commodore Kitchens

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.