Church Street

London. 2009

  • Project Details
  • Completion: 2009
  • Cost: £7 Million
  • Clients: One Housing Group

Church Street resolves a fractured grain by exploring ideas of a site within a site and a building within a building. Two villas – each composed of a group of interlocking volumes wrapped in a robust brick envelope – face each other across a communal courtyard on this deep but narrow plot. The pattern of openings punctuates the blocks and imposes a golden-section-derived sense of order over the complex geometries of overlapping forms. Developed for One Housing Group, this new build project accommodates 55 tenure-blind homes for families, couples and single people on the site of a disused shirt factory in London’s east.


Brick Awards: Best Public Housing Development 2009 CABE Building for Life Silver Standard Award 2009 Housing Design Award 2007

1894 Ordnance survey map showing the site being used for housing and the main Church Street show as a major through route.

1993 Ordnance survey map showing the site in manufacturing use (possibly already disused), new Plaistow Road complete and has replaced Church Street as the main route.  Neighbours to west and east replaced with current buildings.


Existing site: South elevation panorama


Existing site: View of Church Street taken from corner of Church Yard.

Site Constraints 

This is a deep site with a narrow street frontage, and the only access available is from Church Street. 


An analysis of the site revealed issues with height, overlooking and daylighting angles, if the opportunities of the site were to be maximised.


When combined with a review of possible forms for the volume required, it became clear that the most efficient was a long single block to the centre of the site, but this left very little useable communal amenity space. 


Splitting the block in two and rotating it, and then pushing a block to each narrow edge of the site creates a large, central courtyard for both amenity and outlook from the new buildings. This also created a natural division between the RSL and the shared ownership flats, so that they can be managed independently.



The immediate surroundings of the site consist largely of three to four storey residential properties, with some retail and services forming a local centre at the junction of Church Street and Plaistow Road. There are taller blocks nearby, and the design team were asked to consider that the local centre may in the future be redeveloped more densely as it nears the end of its useful life.


It was felt that a five storey building could be appropriate, both as a response to the present condition and as a transition to a potential future taller neighbour.


However, the present condition meant that the scheme needed to address the small scale of the existing street and its relationship with the historic church opposite.


The “villas” were each treated as a set of interlocking brick envelopes, of 3, 4 and 5 storeys, aligned to respond to site edges and neighbours. On the front villa, this explicitly dealt with the context, with the smallest block on the narrow street edge relating to its three storey neighbour. The four storey block then set back to the building line of its four storey neighbours, while the tallest block sets back again to align with its twin villa accross the courtyard.


The villas are always seen in this context, a linking piece within a complex and somewhat disparate urban context.


Interlocking forms in each Villa

The villas are each made up of a group of interlocking blocks wrapped in brick envelopes.


These interlocking forms create complex geometries as they intersect, and the choice of brick work as a constant envelope material gives the façades a natural order, by the repetition of the brick module and a carefully gauged rhythm of opening and solid sizes.


The breaks in the system where the blocks intersect create larger openings for entrances, or special windows onto common parts.


The brick envelopes continue into the building, with the facing brick from external façade treatment becoming the lining to the internal common parts. This reinforces the idea of the brick enveloping interlocking blocks, and one robust material running through the development.



The rhythm of solid and opening sizes needed to read as a well proportioned system, imposing order over the complex geometries created by the interlocking forms.


The head and cill heights to the windows are constant, to give an ordered grid effect, while the the rhythm is provided by the two opening widths options, set by the room they light. 


The proportion of the openings was derived from the golden section, and the set openings size continues across the balcony recesses, and around the corners, so that the solidity of the masonry block is broken down at the edges of the blocks. The same proportioning system determines the size of the solid masonry panels between the windows, to give a balance between solid and opening across the façade.


Entrance Sequence


The entrance to 48 Church Street is at the junction between the interlocking brick forms, directly opposite the entrance to the churchyard. This is also the point where the street narrows, and changes from commercial to residential.


The brick plane folds back into the entrance hall, and the entrance door screen is recessed , forming its own glazed corner, under a dark soffit.


The front door gives onto a communal hallway.  This leads to the first core, then into the courtyard for access to the rear block. A view through the hall shows the courtyard in the distance for those entering the block. Each core is independantly secured.


The courtyard itself is a floating platform between the blocks, covering the basement car park. Void to either edge allows for daylight and natural ventilation to the space below.


Very simple graphics, based on a brick module, provide a splash of colour to draw the eye to the address and wayfinding within the scheme.


Internal Common Areas


The internal common parts take the brick treatment from the external envelope right to the front door of the flats. A robust and cost effective finish, it requires little maintenance over time. Signage graphics are simple and in a limited palette based on a brick module size.


The internal corridors take up the junction between the interlocking brick boxes, so that the hallways are tapered to suit the angles between the blocks.


End windows in most of these hallways bring daylight into these spaces, softening the effect of the brickwork, and allowing views out.


Landscaping and Basement


Working with Terra Firma Landscape Architects to create a useable and robust communal courtyard area for use by all residents, the courtyard is the primary route for the tenants in the rear block and a ramp deals with the one metre change in level between the front and the rear block.


Platforms within the landscape divide it up into smaller useable spaces, with lawn, or hard surface, or planters. Changes in level are used to give each space some individual definition.


Privacy for the ground floor residents is provided by wide planters against the buildings, while at each corner small private spaces abut the edge to the void lighting the car park below.


Material and Construction Details


The philosophy behind the development is that of a limited palette of simple, robust materials combined together into a carefully proportioned whole – both the elevations and the flats themselves.


The buildings are a concrete frame structure with a dark facing brick by Freshfield Lane Brickworks Ltd, selected for their mottled coloured appearance.  A naturally coloured mortar complements the colour of the brick. The bricks were laid as stretcher bond with a bucket handle finish to the mortar joint.


Balconies are lined with painted cement board, robust and easily maintained. The balustrades to balconies and windows are glazed and clamped into galvanised steel, intended to be painted dark grey.


Windows and Balcony doors are timber with aluminium facings, all powder coated in dark grey to give a crisp contrast to the brickwork details.

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