The Green Bunker
In support of an RFP from Brick-by-Brick, Croydon Council’s residential development company who were seeking new design partners, an example proposal for a modestly-sized (c.10-15-units) urban project was needed. Having previously identified a long-neglected gap-site on the Uxbridge Road this was used as the basis for HCM’s design suggestion.
The corner site has the advantage of a footpath between it and the adjoining property thereby giving it dual access / aspect, which was advantageous in terms of providing both active street frontage for studio / workshop spaces and a ‘high-street’ retail unit as well as direct residential access; the latter being given their own front gardens.
For the majority of the units, starting from first floor level, their point of focus is a series of layered courtyard gardens along with an entrance atrium and upper storey greenhouses that deliver an on-site allotment facility for residents. A multi-layered gabled roofscape gives range and variety to the block belying its high-density format.
COVID has highlighted the challenges of people spending many months holed-up indoors. Homes, we have found, need to offer the flexibility to house different working and resting spaces with options for privacy and for sharing for numbers of people under one roof, and as the seasons change also an outside space to expand into. Not a luxury everyone enjoys.
The Green Bunker is the set of private walled-gardens that form the heart for housing clusters. They allow for incidental encounters with neighbours; space for play; space for imagination; even space to grow your own fruit and veg. Such spaces from part of the immediate community that are secure and private for the residents.
We were inspired by the stories of people incrementally running marathons around their gardens to raise money for charity. People used the spaces they had imaginatively to do incredible things. It proves how important these spaces are where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The Green Bunker aims to give people extraordinary spaces; just imagine what they will do with them!
Design process and rationale
Think, research, be inspired, question, think some more and review what you have prepared; then repeat as required until what you have is the right answer for the project at hand. No two projects, no two sites, no two communities (we could go on) are the same so any design dogma that stems from a one-size-fits-all mantra – unless the dogma begins “think, research, be-inspired, etc.” – is to be feared. This is the way we work, our process and our rationale.
Approach to designing homes that best meet the needs of local communities
Out of all the criteria noted in the design process / rationale section a critical one here is most certainly “question”. It is important in two key ways: the most obvious one being to ask – and even more importantly listen to – the people involved in the process; both those delivering it and the end-user. Secondly one should also question those the brief itself as there is no guarantee that it is right. We expect all our ideas to be questioned and want them to be, it is a critical part of the process of the review and refinement of design and should be practised in all directions.
Approach to environmental concerns
There are a great many circles to be squared under the umbrella of the environment: too much glass makes for too wasteful a house to heat but one lacking in daylight becomes depressing to occupy resulting in other bad outcomes. These, in a global sense, are microscopic matters but the macroscopic is made of all the myriad of such matters. Getting enough of the small things right, or at least well-balanced, will help a lot and ensure we all have a future.
Impacting upon the built-environment to generate new structures can have long-lasting effects upon the community, ideally for the good but, alas, all too frequently for the bad. This may not stem from malicious intent: indeed, it can stem from an over-zealousness to improve certain aspects of an area that also then diminish others. With this in mind we consider it to be imperative that all sides of the debate be listened too, which will include those being specifically designed for as well as those whose existing environment may change as a result.
Delivery considerations: planning, costs, procurement, construction/fabrication
Spend to save is a motto of dubious parentage: it can have very positive outcomes if expenditure is brought to bear to build for longevity and the minimisation of maintenance requirements, but all too often it is a mantra for serial-developers who can achieve discounts for buying in bulk and building repetitively. Smaller, more varied schemes developed on a less-frequent basis do not permit such a business model although careful, practical thinking and planning can achieve results.
To finish we go back to our starting point: think (carefully about the brief, planning policy and what’s right for the site), research (materials and methods of construction), question (those who know more than you about specific things), think some more and review (to ensure that you’ve got the right answers). With sufficient application the planning consent will arrive the cost plan will be agreed, and the tender awarded at the right price. Thereafter the building will have a long and useful life and please its occupants and passer’s-by alike.
07 / 2023