More about Beecholme

Beecholme is also the first postwar "mixed development" housing scheme in Hackney, with a mixture of houses and flats with the taller block having five storeys and containing one-bedroom and bedsit accommodation. It is featured in Volume 15 of Hackney History and was the site of Beecholme House, the family home of Maj. John André (d. 1780), who was executed as a British spy in the American War of Independence.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Aspirational housing - so-called and actual

NOTE: updated 12.15 pm GMT Sun 9th Dec & typos corrected.
updated 7.40am + 18.49 GMT Tue 11 Dec

The fashion to label recreated Victorian and Edwardian buildings street facade design as "pastiche" in the derogatory sense has surely met its end with the perfect counter-argument at Union Square, Islington.

Anyone still decrying all re-creations of desirable, attractive Victorian and Edwardian facades as "pastiche" will hereafter simply be showing how out of touch they are with what's happening on the ground and proof of the opposite.

I'm not saying it's the only way to produce truly aspirational housing, just that it can be the most appropriate - and be good design, having stood the test of time.

Similarly, all buildings with recreated historic facades to match the character of the adjacent/surrounding historic buildings can be the most appropriate.

I do like and think there's a place for creative and original modern design within conservation areas - when it's at its best.

It can be unexpected and aesthetically extremely attractive.

It can also be visually, emotionally and intellectually very effective, but only when the new creates a contrast with the surrounding historic buildings that gives added depth and context to both the old and new.

Unfortunately, this rarely (if ever) seems to happen where social housing or developments with an "affordable home" percentage is concerned and is only seen in the most expensive and cutting edge buildings, usually overseas.

It is a shame and a missed opportunity - good design   need not cost the earth.

Although not housing, the sort of contrast between oldand new I'm talking about does exist though, here in London. This office extension at The University of London at St Mary & Westfield is one such example:

The new section seems to cut into the Victorian and from the other side, seem almost to float.
The photo above doesn't do it justice - the contrast in real life is quite profound and very effective. 


Clapton Common and the Conservation Area

I can't believe anyone would have the temerity to call the Clapton Common design below "aspirational".

For something to be aspirational it has to at least be desirable.

It looks like one of a hundred 1960/70's library and council offices dotted around the country.

In fact, unbelievably, it was a design considered appropriate by the Hackney Planning Committee, even though in the Conservation Area.

It is a commonplace design offering nothing new aesthetically, nor is it visually attractive.

Taken in isolation, that is the best you can say for the building, but when you add the Victorian & Edwardian buildings and the environment of the square, the design becomes even less attractive.

It visually detracts from the period buildings, making the vista as a whole neither coordinated or contrasting - just a seemingly unplanned visual mess.

If you dropped the building into parts of the East end along the canal as it was a few years ago, with really run down salvage yards, lots of corrugated iron surrounded broken down wood sheds and pot-holed roads, the contrast between the single storey level of the sheds, combined with the different quality and type of materials (rusty old corrugated iron and new brick and glass), would create a contrast and elevate the new design to being perhaps "interesting" - at most.
Nothing, no environment would make it actually visually appealing, and that's saying something. It is just too common-place a design, with those 1960/70's civic building associations.

For a modern building to work at the Common, with it's Victorian and Georgian great houses, it would have to be a unique, unseen before design, have "the shock of the new", actually be visually attractive and look at least as "high end" as the great houses were at the time they were built.
It could be done, but would take an architect who is a creative artist first, and one with a touch of genius.


Within Conservation Areas and where the buildings, including housing are already desirable, attractive and aspirational, the best and easiest solution is to faithfully recreate them.
Where there are Edwardian and bigger Victorian town houses, recreating them is especially effective, producing truly aspirational housing as witnessed at Union Square (north side), built by the Hyde Housing Association.

The townhouses are not only very desirable, in the context of Union Square the design is arguably the most appropriate.

Read the full Guardian article.

Now I'm not suggesting town houses are necessarily the only or best solution for Clapton Common, but a 4 or 5 or even 6 storey Edwardian block would create just as much internal floor space (for whatever use) and look "in period", preserving the character of the conservation area.
                Perhaps like this 5 storey row (incl. basement), many of which have been turned into office space all over London:

An ideal alternative would be to create the facade a large 4 or 5 storey Edwardian or Victorian house would have. In fact recreate something similar to the great houses already at the common - a new "great house". That would also create as many offices/as much internal space as the "civic" block and give the common another building people will want see standing for the foreseeable future - a new "heritage building".

The point is, it is possible to design new building that visually matches or sits well with the adjacent and in a conservation area this approach should not simply be dismissed as "pastiche".

I think it should be encouraged and given preference.

So lets give "pastiche" the thumbs up in the context: facade matching adjacent historic building design & style - to mean: visually appropriate, in character, enlightened, intelligent, desirable and fashionable.

If you agree, please tell the Council & the Planning Committee

As secretary of the Beecholme TRA and secretary of the Hackney Homes Residents Panel (panel of TRAs throughout Clapton, representing some 16,000 residents) I do know that I'd be very hard pressed to find any Hackney Homes resident not agreeing that (in a context like Union Square) recreated Victorian or Edwardian Townhouses would be their first choice.

As secretary of the Clapton Arts Trust I also know the same is true of the Conservation Committee members, Clapton councillors, Hackney Society and Clapton Arts Trust members I regularly talk to, both in relation to housing and historic buildings in general

So why the Hackney Council Planning Committee continues to even consider such inappropriate bad design, which destroys the character of the immediate area (as the Clapton Common development pictured above) is a complete mystery.

Tell the Council & Planning Committee its just not good enough!

• YOU DON'T want to live in a cramped 1970/80s design box
• YOU DO want to live in recreated spacious Edwardian townhouses or housing with facades that sit well with or match the historic adjacent.

Use the online form

In Conservation Areas
• Preference should be given to new building design with a matching period facade design - and this approach encouraged.
• Historic buildings, especially in a conservation area, should be conserved with any visible new additions ideally matching the period.

The visual environment is critical to quality of life
Decent room sizes are critical to quality of life

Make your views known to the council

Use the online form

My Design Protocols & Gold Standard

Post by David White, Dec 2012

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