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Barretts Grove Apartment Building in London / Groupwork and Amin Taha

Barretts Grove Apartments in London Groupwork and Amin Taha

Barretts Grove is an archetypal Victorian street of two storey brick terraced houses later interrupted by detached apartment buildings, a tall red gabled LCC school and rubble walled church. The new addition sits amongst these later stand alone structures.

If the overall building form is intended to help complete the parade, it and its detailing is also architectonically driven by a choice of superstructure suited to residential use then developed to a smaller domestic and tactile scale. The tall red brick gable facing the street echoes those of the LCC school and is formed in plan by a 1 bedroom apartment with a second smaller block engaged at the rear to create the second 2 bedroom plan. The double stacked and open bond of brickwork states the envelope is not load bearing (of superstructure) but a screen enveloping the whole building including the roof. That is set out with an unbroken grid of large window and door openings to maintain the strength of form despite its slenderness.

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Wicker woven steel balconies are hung from every other aperture softening that material palette. These are large enough for dining and are alternated to allow neighbours the opportunity to develop the limited social space above and below them when communal gardens are not available. For similar reasons the front door is an extruded version of the bronzed window reveals, becoming a port-cochere with a bench made of the same CLT as the superstructure inviting use when meeting neighbours as well as being convenient to rest yourself and grocery bags while fumbling for keys.

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On entering it is apparent the exposed Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) acts as the superstructure for all walls, floors and the roof with visible construction joints expressing the method of assembly. Insulation with vapour barrier and protecting sheeting are applied to the outside face before a self-supporting brick rain-screen completes the exterior thermal and protective overcoat.

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Ceilings are also left exposed with the use of a fire retardant clear varnish and acoustic performance achieved using resilient boards, insulation and a floating timber floor above; these also accommodating the underfloor heating, power, data and hot/cold water services. The ability of the CLT to serve as structure and finish removed the need for plasterboarded walls, suspended ceilings, cornices, skirtings, tiling and paint; reducing by 15% the embodied carbon of the building, its construction cost and time on site. Timber also has inherently more robust and is perhaps a better and warmer domestic aesthetic. Window seats, timber cabinetry and full height doors some with leather handles, others with bespoke and articulated metal locks continue the sense of home.

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The project required a comprehensive understanding of the different materials involved and their structural properties as well as careful detailing because many of the loadbearing elements are exposed. The concrete basement provides a solid foundation for the building and supports the change in level across the site. The ground floor thickness was kept to a minimum by using the internal masonry walls as loadbearing structure and its soffit left exposed. The superstructure is six storeys of loadbearing CLT panels, spanning up to 6.0m with various voids for the stair and services. The roof is also solid CLT panels, carefully balanced against each other to form the open loft space. Cladding all of this is a staggered masonry façade that is decoupled from the rest of the building to allow it to expand and contract separately. Each of these materials serves a different purpose; acting and moving in their own way but with careful detailing, together they form the seamless combination of structural form and architectural vision.

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As a whole the building aims to sit sympathetically within the roofline and streetscape this side of the street. Though it has a carefully proportioned balance of openings within the brick façade, closer to the Dutch gables ends of the adjacent school than standard London streets it consciously aims to be idiosyncratic with layers of detail and form that are again closer to the Arts and Crafts desire for the organic than Georgian neoclassical order.

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This application of design and detailing to varying scales is best described by Edward Ford’s identification of ‘articulated’ and ‘autonomous’ details and the reciprocity of social spaces an echo of Hertzberger’s social housing and specifically Aldo Van Eyck’s idiom ‘tree to leaf as city to house’. This combined approach having the benefit of providing coherent streets with the opportunities for social interaction and illustrating how care can make speculative residential developments feel more like homes as opposed to a readymade and identical white painted commodity.

Architects: Groupwork and Amin Taha
Project: Barretts Grove apartment building
Location: London, UK
Photography: Timothy Soar

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