Maccreanor Lavington’s Waterside Park in the Royal Docks
Maccreanor Lavington is creating urban character in London’s Docklands. Here Gerard Maccreanor explains the firm’s housing block.
Could you say something about the scheme’s context?
Gerard Maccreanor: This project will create 169 apartments and 11 town houses in the most easterly block of Waterside Park near the Thames Barrier and the Royal Docks.
It is part of a larger scheme for Barratt Homes, Taylor Wimpey and the London Development Agency, masterplanned by Allies & Morrison, which is also designing housing in some of the other phases.
Our block is part of the second phase. It is Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4, designed to Lifetime Homes standards, and is mixed tenure.
How did you set about deciding on an appropriate urban form and density?
GM: The approved Waterside Park masterplan for up to 780 apartments is for a fairly dense, urban block typology which will be one of the first projects to respond to the context of the docks not as city edge, but as part of urban London.
London has grown by 500,000 people since 2001 and is expected to grow by another 700,000 by 2017. Most of this growth is predicted to take place in the east.
The Royal Docks, with its good infrastructure, available land plus support from the mayor of London and developers such as Barratt who are feeling confident of developing here, have all the drivers in place to meet the challenge of providing for this growth and to create a special extension to London.
Waterside Park with its compact city development model is a substantial and key project in the current change in perception taking place. It is right by the extremely beautiful but under-used Thames Barrier Park, has access to the river, is adjacent to the DLR and will be within walking distance of a Crossrail station.
What projects did you look to for inspiration?
GM: The HafenCity quarter in Hamburg, a mixed-use dockside regeneration and extension to the city has been a reference project for the Royals for many people. It is mixed-use, dense but with buildings of moderate height – 8-12 storeys – and has a fantastic public realm.
Two aspects of HafenCity are particularly revelant. First, it integrates successfully large office buildings with residential and leisure uses, which is an aspiration for the Royals.
Second, HafenCity is developed as a compact city extension with mostly medium height buildings. In the Royals building heights are limited by the passenger safety contours from City Airport. The relationship between the buildings, the public realm and the water space of the docks is therefore directly comparable.
Hans Kollhoff’s Piraeus building in Amsterdam is also relevant, especially its generous entrances (Inspiration BD October 2, 2009).
We admire how Hans Kollhoff’s buildings always create a distinct base that mediates between the scale of the street and pavement and the building. The generous entrances in this respect are an appropriate gesture on a large building such as this and its relationship to the North Woolwich Road and the high-level DLR track.
How do you go about creating urban character?
GM: Allies & Morrison and our practice come together on how we view cities. We’re not looking to reinvent but to evolve the cities we know. The scheme is based on the idea of the street and makes a clear definition between the public realm and private spaces of the building.
It is also essential to have active facades along North Woolwich Road facing the DLR viaduct. The project has ground-floor commercial uses, a gym, bicycle storage and the main entrances along this facade.
There was a lot of discussion within the wider team, and directed by Design for London, about how to revitalise and unify the character of North Woolwich Road. Muf and Peter Beard from Landroom are both busy with the design of the wider public realm to create a more attractive setting around the docks and in particular the space under the raised DLR track.
Dealing with parking is also essential. If you allow large swathes of parking around developments they become disconnected from the public realm. Here, all the parking is beneath raised courtyards which are structurally robust enough to take substantial planting and trees above.
What site factors governed the composition?
GM: The north-east corner had been identified in the masterplan as the area for a taller building. Our development rises to 14 storeys here, near the bend in the DLR viaduct and steps down to six and seven storeys along the north and east. The terrace of houses along the south completes and encloses a courtyard between the different buildings.
The design of the northern block is driven by finding a response to the busy road, viaduct and the northerly aspect.
Avoiding the elevation becoming overly defensive with windows as small punched holes was of primary importance. The perception of a noise problem can often be as strong a factor in the experience of nuisance as the real level of the noise.
Therefore we have an enclosed gallery on the north with generous glazing and areas for seating. It is very much designed as a space for staying in and meeting your neighbours rather than just a traffic space. The apartments are then orientated on to the internal communal gardens and to the south.
The north elevations are elegant, urban and well proportioned.
The terrace of housing is constrained by flood risk which meant we couldn’t have any living accommodation on the ground floor. The challenge was therefore to design a street- orientated house that had a garage as frontage.
To achieve this we exaggerated the entrances to form bays along the facade and set back the garage doors forming covered areas to the entrance doors. The houses are dual aspect with the main living space and terrace on the first floor and a rooftop garden.
How did you articulate the elevations?
GM: In the context of this plan the residential buildings are primarily a backdrop to place-making supporting the public realm – they aren’t meant to shout architecturally, but instead are to be part of the urban fabric. That said, as we get older, our brick buildings are becoming less minimal and more decorative and articulated.
This building has a limited palette of materials; brick, glass, stainless steel and timber.
We articulate the mass of the tower with glazed set-backs to bring a richness and variety to the elevation and also bring light into the central corridor.
We are using patterns within the brick to create a refined building with a sense of texture and decoration. Every apartment bar one has a balcony designed as an articulation of the horizontal brick banding.
How optimistic are you that this development can help regenerate the area?
GM: Very. In recent years there has been a real convergence of opinion between Newham, Design for London and the London Development Agency over the way forward.
Barratt has already been active along the opposite edge of Thames Barrier Park with Barrier Point, an award-winning residential development that was probably the first scheme within the Royal Docks transforming ex-industrial wasteland with a striking modern landmark.
Siemens is relocating to the end of Victoria Docks and a number of other international companies are looking at the Royals as a potential area to move into when the Olympics open.
Since many of the games’ events are at Excel, there will be a big change in perception among Londoners about this part of the docks, which will be on their radar for the first time.
Even in a recession, this part of London feels quite dynamic – it’s on the cusp. When Crossrail opens at Custom House we’ll see this area change quite quickly. Waterside Park will be the first of a number of more aspirational projects to be built and an indication hopefully of what’s to come.
Building in brick: Standing the test of time
Maccreanor Lavington is well known for its use of brick. At Waterside Park, the practice is using Ibstock Bexhill dark brick on the apartments, one of a range of bricks the practice discussed with masterplanner Allies & Morrison.
This was thought to have more resonance with the industrial warehouses previously in the area.
“It’s a brick with a lot of variation in colour. On an overcast day it can appear dark and monolithic but in the sharper light of spring, especially after a rain shower, grey, red and purple tones become very visible” says Maccreanor.
Ibstock Bexhill will be laid in stretcher bond with horizontal bands of vertical brickwork at each floor level. The horizontal bands are articulated with set-back bricks top and bottom that exaggerate shadows.
For the terrace of houses, the architect is using a lighter brick by Belgian manufacturer Vandersanden.
“In the UK, brick is the vernacular material of choice,” says Maccreanor.
“Brick is sustainable even though in production it requires a lot of energy and its CO2 footprint is therefore larger than other materials, because unlike other materials it has more chance of being around in 50-100 years’ time.”
For most people, buying a home is the largest investment they make. A building with low maintenance made from a material that has weathered well and can potentially look even better after 10-20 years, is important so people can realise value when they move on.
“We have seen too many buildings, more so in Holland, where architects have experimented with unusual material in the facades, often attracting attention from the architectural press but also far too often trapping people in a diminishing asset,” says Maccreanor.
Architect Maccreanor Lavington Architects, Clients Barratt East London; Taylor Wimpey; LDA, Masterplanner Allies & Morrison, Planning RPS, Transport Colin Buchanan, Mechanical & electrical Whitecode Design Associates, Civil & structural URS Corporation, Landscape Townshend Landscape Architects, Brick supplier Ibstock (apartment building); Vandersanden (town houses), Windows M Price
Gerard Maccreanor was speaking to Pamela Buxton