Drawing board: S333's Old Dairy, Bloomsbury
S333 rethinks the London mews with its terraced housing on the site of a former Express Dairy distribution centre
S333 is turning a former dairy site in Bloomsbury into new housing and commercial accommodation. The £10 million project, which won planning permission last month, has been an opportunity for the architect to rethink the London mews, with the housing conceived as a terrace of five properties wrapped in folded metal cladding.
Designed for WX Investments and Urban Style Regeneration, the scheme occupies a triangular site between the rear of the grade II listed terrace of Regent’s Square to the north and St George’s Gardens to the south. Once part of the burial grounds occupied by the gardens, the site became a distribution centre for Express Dairy but has been unoccupied for some years.
S333’s design positions the 1,102sq m commercial accommodation separately to the west at the entrance to the site. The housing element tapers in an 1,810sq m wedge from just beyond this towards the east alongside the listed St George’s Gardens wall.
One of the main challenges was to limit overlooking into the gardens and minimise the impact on the view from the terrace. S333 plans to retain the dairy’s northern boundary wall with its pitched profile to maintain privacy for both new and old developments. Large expanses of glazing are limited to the lower levels, screened from both park and terrace by the two boundary walls.
Instead of a straight terrace, the development line will pull in and out in response to mature trees in the gardens to give a more animated profile and create a communal front courtyard. This will be combined with corrugated metal cladding to give a “fuzziness” to the building form that softens its presence, according to S333 director Dominic Papa. The material also refers to the warehouse formerly on the site.
“We’re rethinking the traditional London mews but also reflecting the industrial quality of these quite quirky spaces,” he says.
The development will excavate down to give an extra, lower ground floor while avoiding the visual impact of a higher terrace. The ground floor will be slightly raised to increase light into the basement and ensure that those sitting down on the ground floor living space can see into the park.
Bedrooms are positioned on the top floor with study/bedrooms in the basement. Each house has its own back garden and a sunken terrace within the middle of the roof, except for the corner house. The first four houses — three with three bedrooms, one with two bedrooms — occupy 10m-wide plots with the three-bed corner unit tapering in height but occupying a 20m frontage. A single roof form with variable pitches covers the whole mews terrace, the pitch reducing towards the corner.
“We haven’t designed a house and repeated it but have designed a form that’s right for the site and gives the right space, and then divided that up — some houses end up being a pitch and a half,” says Papa.
As well as the burnished metal of the cladding, the materials palette includes glazed, milky white tiles for the patios and rear wall — a reference to the site’s dairy past. Timber reveals and soffits will be used to emphasise the large front doors that help visually break down the size of the development. The terrace will have a concrete ground and basement structure with a timber structure for the upper levels.
S333 has been working on the project since 2007 and previously designed a larger mixed-use scheme that was refused planning permission. The practice hopes to start construction of this latest scheme in approximately 18 months’ time.
Copper-alloy cladding will be used on the facades
Folded metal cladding will be used to minimise the impact of the glazing on both park and terrace — an issue that was a priority for the planners.
S333 had initially considered heat-processed wood and also brick, but this was discounted because it would have been too heavy, and also appeared too harsh on such a long elevation. Instead, the plan is to use a high quality pre-fabricated, profiled, copper-alloy cladding, chosen for its robustness, texture, ambience, and its ability to catch the light.
The colour also tones with the bark of the trees in the adjacent park to give the building a background effect.
On the front elevation, 2.4m-high, 500mm-wide windows will be recessed within the folds of the cladding, the deep reveals ensuring that the glass is always in shade.
To the rear elevation, the upper windows will always be angled and arranged in pairs of 2.2m-high units divided by a fin to restrict overlooking. The bespoke cladding will be built on a timber frame attached back to the main structure.
Architect S333, Clients WX Investments and Urban Style Regeneration, Planning consultant Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, Structural engineer Packman Lucas, Sustainability and M&E XCO2, QS WT Partnerships