Mæ Architects' sustainably rooted response to the community needs of Fulham

Empowering the space with a sustainably-oriented approach, the London-based studio designs a lightweight and adaptable community complex in London’s South Park.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Sep 07, 2022

How can sustainability be reinforced at the community scale? Can architecture take the baton forward to create powerful ripples in bringing a positive environmental change?

The Sands End Arts and Community Centre is Mæ Architects' sustainably rooted response to the brief of Fulham's local council that sought an inclusive public space where art and culture could bring together the widely diverse local community of the southwest London borough. The project derives its name from the original community centre that once stood on the same site that nestles the new development.

The Sands End Arts & Community Centre is located in South Park, Fulham, on the corner of Clancarty and Peterborough roads in London | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
The Sands End Arts & Community Centre is located in South Park, Fulham, on the corner of Clancarty and Peterborough roads in London Image: Rory Gardiner

Located on the north western corner of London's South Park, the centre sits next to the local landmark Clancarty Lodge – a 1903-built Edwardian park lodge and café which has been restored as part of the project, making way for it to serve as an arts space. While Sands End site has its own set of new connected pavilions, the lodge though closely linked to the entire complex, stands out in its clear distinction between the old and the new.

The centre is designed to represent itself as a public arts and culture space for the widely diverse community of South Park| The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
The centre is designed to represent itself as a public arts and culture space for the widely diverse community of South Park Image: Rory Gardiner

Mæ Architects’ architectural scheme take cues from the shape of the 19th century glasshouses of horticulturist James Veitch that used to be on the site. The spaces within the complex include a multi-purpose hall and a café, children’s day nursery, an arts yard, a common room, and changing facilities. A central courtyard while tying the different spaces of the site "provides outdoor seating and a vantage point to take in all the social activity". As per the design team, the courtyard presents "new planting, trees, hedges, green walls and wildlife habitats, that create a shaded retreat from the street while enhancing the local biodiversity".

The complex’s architecture closely ties the different facilities together | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
The complex’s architecture closely ties the different facilities together Image: Courtesy of Mæ Architects
  • The form of the structure which employs Cross Laminated Timber is drawn from the 19th century glasshouse of horticulturist James Veitch | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
    The form of the structure which employs Cross Laminated Timber is drawn from the 19th century glasshouse of horticulturist James Veitch Image: Rory Gardiner
  • People inhabiting the café which sits as a key interactive space on the site | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
    People inhabiting the café which sits as a key interactive space on the site Image: Elizabeth Henderson

Mæ’s simple yet distinguished intervention has won numerous accolades including the RIBA London Award 2022, RIBA London Building of the Year Award 2022, and the RIBA National Award 2022. Besides accomplishing its key aim of creating an accessible community space for the neighbourhood, the building’s sustainable construction is acknowledged for its striking use of recycled materials on 35 per cent of the built fabric. Other important features include framing made of Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) which, as per the architects, is noted for its "inherently low embodied energy values", in addition to the use of bolts over glue for the ease of disassembly, and an upcycled brick architecture. Supplied by Amsterdam-based manufacturing company StoneCycling which creates sustainable, high-end building materials from demolition and industrial waste, a special variety of brick known as 'Nougat' WasteBasedBricks® was produced for the centre, in response to the design brief, the architectural characteristics and the context. These nougat-hued bricks which create the impression of a natural stone finish has in their production upcycled over 28 tonnes of building material that have otherwise ended up in waste landfills.

  • The structural skin features the use of a bespoke brick created by upcycling industrial waste| The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
    The structural skin features the use of a bespoke brick created by upcycling industrial waste Image: Juli Richter
  • Space around the central courtyard occupied by informal seating | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
    Space around the central courtyard occupied by informal seating Image: Richard Chapman
  • Space around the central courtyard occupied by informal seating | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
    The central courtyard area curated around landscaped fringes evokes a moment of orientation Image: Rory Gardiner

Mæ Architects explains the spatial scheme discussing how spaces and connecting channels unfold within the complex: "At first users arrive into the entrance yard: this is a moment of orientation defining the transition from street into the centre’s landscaped fringes and the park setting - brick pavers and ground surfaces establish a pedestrian link between the new site and the park. Progressing to the lobby at the heart of the centre is a base from which users can continue their explorations; to the cafe, common room, hall and other facilities. The Lodge courtyard and terracing is the third part of the journey, providing outdoor seating and a vantage point to take in all the social activity.”

The project's landscape design by London-based studio J&L Gibbons has been drawn from the original horticultural pattern of the site and exotic nurseries.

Clerestory filters natural light into the Victorian architectural spaces of the centre | The Sands End Arts & Community Centre | Mæ Architects | STIRworld
Clerestory filters natural light into the Victorian architectural spaces of the centre Image: Elizabeth Henderson

A north facing glazed clerestory enables inlet of natural light from above the existing Victorian architecture, without being an obstruction. The interior design follows the same concept of lightweight structures, secondary to the lodge, resembling glasshouses. Enforcing a multi-sensorial experience with the usage of highly tactile material timber, the interiors are also made to embrace the overall idea of sustainability while keeping the structure bright and light

With a deep reverence for its past, in addition to a materiality and structural vocabulary that remain acutely aware of the present and the future, the centre voices itself as a subtle example of how sustainability should be kept as a priority, rather than a privilege, in shaping the world of architecture and construction today.

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