The many pasts, present, and perceivable futures of London's Battersea Power Station
by Anmol AhujaNov 14, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Anmol AhujaPublished on : Mar 27, 2023
Terraced townhouses, having remained a rather essential strand in London’s housing (and by extension, urban) fabric, have found myriad and interesting ways to thrive in the present, away from their Georgian or Victorian conception. They have remained, for some centuries now, an imperative middle point between the mass of welfare State social housing and isolated ownership: the haven of the ever elusive middle class. While those ways lean more towards economic than architectural, situating them as recurring monuments as opposed to remnants in the housing crisis gripping the British capital, their contemporary architectural interpretations—attempt to not just tie two vastly disparate times, but also to situate an architecture—are often remarkable than not. This has more to do with the element of care, I believe, than the virtue of simply standing out or blending in, or both, especially when it comes to the visual preservation of a rather ubiquitous architectural form in London. This language of care is manifested in nostalgic callbacks to brick arches in The DHaus Company’s proposal for six terraced, partly subterranean Mews houses in Northwest London, set in the Dartmouth Park conservation area. Both brick, in its versatility as a material and an entire visual language in itself, and arches, structurally constricting yet defining, are proponents of that vocabulary of care.
For a linear arrangement of terraced houses tied to the hip and marked by that enhanced solidity, the initial concept was steeped in somehow enhancing the two historic public greens on either side of the site, and having the site serve as a literal link between the two—something the project architects, David Ben-Grunberg and Daniel Woolfson, playfully term a “futuristic Victoria throwback.” What finally manifested was instead a visual, and perhaps, spiritual link, with the six terraced houses, capped at a single storey above the adjacent Highgate Road by a green roof, to preserve an unbroken ‘green’ line of sight, with the greens now additionally acting as buffer spaces between alternating structures. This seemingly has a reductive effect on the scale of the full structure, neatly framed in a series of arches facing the bustling main street. The property, conversely, is accessed via College Lane in the back, to have an unperturbed frontage.
The arches and brick as definitive materials of this architecture are derivative of, and inversely a nostalgic nod to the many railway arches, tunnels, and bridges framed by similar arches in close vicinity of the site. “It just felt right to reference this important infrastructure," state Ben-Grunberg and Woolfson on the instinctive borrowing of the arch from the site’s fabric as an ‘urban artefact,’ perhaps more than an element of construction. The contextual drawing further renders the composition of the housing block, with the architects noting varied influences from Neo-Classical British architecture, with hints of Palladian and Inigo Jones’ architectural language, while settling on a certain purity in form, conveyed through iterations of the rectangles and arches. “At University we explored the notion of the complete rejection of context to focus solely on explorative architecture, but in this project, we feel that we did both—the context made for a radical exploration of the architecture,” conclude the architects on the site’s effectual context.
The context further serves to guide a number of design decisions and processes, even in phantasmic forms. The site was previously occupied by a derelict petrol station since the 1950s, and was identified by the local council as a “negative contributor to the local conservation area.” Its graffiti-lined walls, large forecourt, and oversized canopy blocking visual avenues, and proving to be an impedance for the streetscapes, coupled with an overall disconnect from nearby residential buildings, were all cited as reasons for doing away with it, especially in light of the accumulation of antisocial elements. Digging into the earth to clean up the contaminated site then became a valuable benefit for the project, with the ground now being renewed for greens and a part of the building after being excavated and cleared out of large petroleum tanks from the 50s.
Another addition to its sustainability narrative is the usage of timber framed construction wherever possible, according to the architects. While the retaining walls to hold the subterranean structure were decreed to be all reinforced concrete, they become a shell ensconcing the main lightweight prefabricated timber structure of the units, constructed off-site and assembled in-situ over a few days. The monumentality-inducing arches too were carefully and precisely cast in concrete off-site, a contemporary constructional spin on the traditional arches it draws from and tips its hats to.
Brick slips formed after the team iterated on brick bonding patterns to differentiate the different areas of the building, and to bring a certain 'order' to each of the facades, form the exceptional cladding scheme of the building. A glimpse of the details involved in the schematic is visible in the tiered curvature of the arches, especially their junctures with the horizontality of the rest of the façade, and the black-coloured lightweight steel cross bracing holding the giant arches in place. The steel arches that remark and pronounce the interiors of the space occur in a similar striation as the outer brick-clad arches, pronouncing the layered nature of the arches and the brick, creating a miniatured perspectival view from each of the dwellings. These further hoist a rotating clear glass door, providing access to the terraced upper patio facing Highgate Road.
Each of the individual units rounds out to around 130 sqm, including three to four bedrooms, and a curiously dubbed 'garden room.' The units bear an identical layout, with the exception of the units at the sides having extended light wells that contiguously stretch along the sides as an elevational feature, and the access to the units being either flushed with the pathway or through steps, depending on the level of ingress from the sloping College Lane. A front garden marks the entrance to individual units, alongside a private bin storage area, and a lightwell to illuminate the Northeast facing rooms along College Lane. In an interesting reversal, the upper floors consist of the living spaces—bedrooms, bathrooms, and the lightwell adjoined to the College Lane façade, while the more public spaces of the household are pushed to the basement, comprising an open plan living room and kitchen space. The sunken garden facing Highgate Road is a definite highlight, accessed from this level, looking onto the newly grassed greens, but is suitably cut off owing to the sloping nature of the site, allowing ample daylight and little to no visual or audible disturbances to permeate.
"It all started with a two-year planning process, we had to win every single argument no matter how small or large to justify the proposal," state Ben-Grunberg and Woolfson, on the uphill battle it was to bring the building to its completion, now earmarking Highgate Road with its rustic, endearing townhouses. Close by, an interwar-era pub, the Southampton Arms, serves up real Ale, sumptuous meat burgers, and pensive views of 'The Arches.'
Name: The Arches
Location: Highgate Road, London
Architect: The DHaus Company
Client: Design Ventures / EFKERIA Ltd
Project Architects: David Ben-Grunberg, Daniel Woolfson
Structural Engineer: AMA
Planning Department: Camden, Special thanks to Charles, Alex, Elaine and Rob
Planning Consultant: Washington Young & The Heritage Practice
Glazing Contractor: Vitrocsa by BRAVA WINDOWS
Prefabricated Concrete Arches: Phoenix
Timber Arches: Materialise Creative Design / Cut Online CNC Studio
Visualisation: AVR London
by Dhwani Shanghvi Jun 03, 2023
The landscape and its accompanying architecture for the museum project is designed to be experienced as a walkthrough with serendipitous encounters with submerged masses.
by ABB May 31, 2023
Switzerland-based Burkhard Meyer Architekten BSA revitalised a 50-year-old sports centre by incorporating innovative design, interconnected facilities, and streamlined automation.
by Almas Sadique May 31, 2023
The Chinese architect Xu Tiantian's works are on display at the Auditorium of Teatro dell’architettura Mendrisio as part of the Swiss Architectural Award 2022 exhibition.
by Almas Sadique May 29, 2023
The residential structure in Belgium is a single family home that is built along the undulating landscape in its vicinity.
make your fridays matterSUBSCRIBE
Don't have an account?Sign Up
Or you can join with
Please select your profession for an enhanced experience.
Tap on things that interests you.
Select the Conversation Category you would like to watch
Please enter your details and click submit.
Enter the code sent to
What do you think?