Wednesday, 30 March 2011

A window on the world in Georgina Road, NW1

Last Sunday we had the unfortunate event of joining some Spanish friends who wanted to go to Camden Town. Not that being with my friends was unfortunate, but Camden is a force to be reckoned with. On exiting Camden Town one is confronted with exhausting pedestrian foot traffic versus rumbling vehicles. Away from the main thoroughfares leading down to Euston and King’s Cross or up to Holloway or Kentish Town where seemingly endless retailers rub shoulders with fragments of housing - a clue to the residential areas that lie behind the commercial landscape – there is a sense of a quieter areas and the Camden takes on a completely different character.

We have a project just across the road from the Camden Town Tube Station – away from the main thoroughfare – which we visited last week. Not somewhere we would have considered desirable, off the beaten track Camden is full of suprises! The house is a delightful late 18th /early 19th century terraced stucco house formerly owned by London Borough of Camden. Like many neighbouring houses the property is now under private ownership. Putting aside the debates about councils selling off their housing stock and the subsequent shortage of affordable housing - the fact that the house is now subdivided into two flats is typical of the decadency in many parts of London, with Camden by no means an exception.

Georgina Road is typical of houses of this period. Elegant features in the form of wrought iron railings
and sash windows stand the test of time when behind the facade the houses are subdivided into flats

Although the culture of subdivision can be good as it satisfies a market for occupiers who are unable to afford whole desirable and sought after properties, or need only a fraction of a sizable property, the process can develop into a can of worms when occupiers who think their builders are doing work by the book are instead breaking all the rules and do not comply with Building Control. These unscrupulous working methodologies tend to go unnoticed except when the owner decides to sell up a property and a solicitor is needed in the process. As a consequence the impact of unregulated development can be costly, with solicitors potentially shaving off the value of a property because of an unregulated alteration.

A case in point is at Georgina Road, where our Clients, an elderly retired couple who have been Camden residents for many decades are in the process of selling their ground floor and basement 2-bedroom flat on a Grade 2 Listed Building with the intention of moving to the country side.

One front door concealing two further front doors leading to two flats

To improve circulation the owners commissioned a builder to close up a door between the hallway and the living room and open up a new doorway between the kitchen and the living room. Here they inserted a marvellous double solid wood antique door.

At the same time the existing door between the hallway and the kitchen was replaced with a beautiful Monastic glazed door with fine detailing.

Isometric view of the house showing ground floor flat

However neither the double doors between the kitchen and living room and the monastic new door between the hallway and kitchen were fire rated 30 minutes or comply with Building Regulations. These are requirements that the builder should have known and implemented accordingly without necessarily compromising the appearance of the antique and Monastic doors in question.

Much to our clients distraught when she came to sell up she was instructed by her buyer’s solicitor that all work undertaken must be upgraded to comply with the current Building Regulations. This included alterations to the fabric of the Monastic and antique doors that would considerably alter their appearance and strip them of their aesthetic value.

Our role is to find a solution to pass Building Control and we obtained a Certificate of Completed Works that is only issued when the District Surveyor can verify that the works in question meet satisfactory requirements. We like the role of this type of Surveyor. Though first and foremost their role is to protect us, they are willing to work with us in finding a solution to meet our client’s needs or the retention of various elements, such as the pair of antique doors.

Detail of the new door specified by us completed with 30 minutes fire rating
to replace the Monastic glazed door that was carefully removed and set aside

Our solution was to survey the property and produce a set of plans that show where new fire rated doors and a new system of smoke and fire detectors are to be installed. Whilst the panelled antique double door was retained in-situ, the Monastic glazed door didn’t comply (the antique glazing didn’t meet the minimum 30 minutes fire rating), so was removed and set aside, and replaced with a fire rated door. In addition we opened up a dialogue with the District Surveyor and offer the possibility of using an existing sash timber framed window as a means of escape from the living room. However the means of escape is to a hard surface lightwell at basement level! Better to jump and break a leg than stay inside when the smoke is all around.

Amela trying out the Building Control approved means of escape. Note the antique doors saved by us

A testimony to our client's satisfaction

Thursday, 24 March 2011

St Giles International, Southampton Row, WC1

Most work undertaken by us tends to be small domestic and commercial properties outside central London, or at the very least in zone 1 & 2, (with exception of the Hut at Spa Fields, 2006, which was our first public project) so when an opportunity arose to survey an historic mixed use building in the heart of Bloomsbury we jumped with paralytic enthusiasm.

Hailing a cab near Old Street close to our offices in Shoreditch, we made it to St Giles International English School in WC1 in no time at all. Venture northwest between Holborn and Russell Square, Southampton Row is a busy trajectory connecting some of the most notable scholarly institutions in London, from the British Museum to the southwest to University College London at the juncture between Bloomsbury and Euston. As like many busy thoroughfares, Southampton Row is graced with a variety of buildings that reflect the capital’s evolving fashion, wealth and architectural pattern during good and bad economic times.

St Giles College, Front Elevation. Note the cantilevered clock above the grand entrance

Incorporated into the façade of the building is a clock - something that is less common in new buildings - but the norm in older buildings providing a point of reference for departures and arrivals. Nowadays mobile handsets are the source of time keeping for many students it is still great to see that this handsome feature is still working.

St Giles College door surround and worms eye view of the clock

Whereas some building are Post War, plain fronted and utilitarian with simple fenestration housing budget accommodation, others are earlier building typologies, such as grand Edwardian red brick buildings embellished with stone quoins, ornate window surrounds and magnificent entrance fronts. Those travellers who have a keen eye will notice on the approach to the junction with Russell Square at the north side of the street a fine looking clock between the ornate bay windows projecting at second storey level. Directly underneath the clock a broken pediment draws the eye to the entrance of this distinguished building.

The main entrance shows a well combined mix of proportions with different scales

To the rear of the façade the Edwardian interior leads into a post war extension housing a series of rooms that are less generous in proportion than those at the front. It is not known if this is a simple extension hacked onto the rear of the Edwardian building or whether the rear part of the old building sustained damage and perhaps removed either in part or whole. Either way the location of the main stairs at the rear of the Edwardian section of the building seems odd for a building of this size, as a more centrally placed stairs would generate better circulation and impression for a building of this character.

Compared with the Edwardian Baroque of the earlier building facing Southampton Row, the later
rear Mansard extension is comprised of a utilitarian aesthetic and asymmetrically arranged services

In any case on plan the concept or notion of this building is a typology comprised of two parts with the Edwardian section plugged into its later cousin and the stairs acting as the fusion between each architectural component.
The nature of the post war extension up against the rear elevation of the existing building
has created a series of odd shaped rooms which are ideal for storage

Formerly the home to St Giles Secretarial College where young ladies learnt the etiquette and business of office PA, the EFL college St Giles International commissioned us to survey the 3rd floor for legal purposes. The survey will inform a Planning Application and subsequent works to convert floors 3 & 4 from student accommodation to new classrooms. Divided into two extremes – the old building populated with pupils attending class, and the later building entirely vacant for refurbishment – the atmosphere was strange, reverberating between hustle and bustle on one hand yet eerily quiet on the other. Although surveying the later section of the college was straightforward: unrestricted access and empty rooms, some new areas of the 3rd floor functioning as study rooms had to be surveyed as and when pupils finished their class or took a break for coffee.

St Giles College, London WC1 - Our initial Layout Plan of the 3rd Floor

The project reverts the upper floors back to their original typologies. Ladies who attended St Giles in the 1950s boarded upstairs and attended classes on the 1st and 2nd floors. However the design will be in contrast to the dark stained timber panelling and leather upholstery furnishing the Reception and Director’s suites. The new classrooms will reflect the efficiency, quality and ethos that St Giles International College is built on as well as meeting the professional aspirations of the students who will once again occupy the upper floors at tree level and gain inspiration from all that lies beneath.

Seemingly endless windows look out onto another seemingly endless fenestration.
We wonder how many windows there are in London?

At the rear of St Giles College the courtyard gives way to a budget hotel.
We like this view and enjoy the rhythm between the fenestration and grain of the masonry

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Joint Planning Application at Nightingale Road, BR1

Most of the planning applications we deal with are for single properties, however when two neighbours get on very well we can provide a joint application for them. A case in point is the following:

When our Client (residing at No. 98 Nightingale Road) approached us for first time a few months ago, they initially instructed us (Studio Idealyc) to prepare and submit drawings for a Planning Application to extend their semi detached property. The original schedule was to replace an exiting rear single storey PVC glazed conservatory for a double storey rear extension, but due to the proximity of their property with their neighbours, we rapidly explained them the negative consequences that this proposal could project in the living standards of the residents at the adjacent property (100 Nightingale Road), and subsequently, the overall reasons that could easily lead to a drastic refusal from the Planning Team at Bromley Council.

100-98 Nightingale Road, BR1 / Aerial View of Front Elevation - Cardboard model Scale 1/100

During our initial free consultation meeting we strongly advised them that in order to obtain the permission for extending their property, it was going to be convenient if a Joint Planning Application were submitted for both houses.

Following our advice, our client opened a dialogue with their neighbours, in which they clearly expressed the intentions of extending their property. This idea was approved by their next door residents, but subject to the condition that in our proposal we should incorporate a similar extension to their own property.

Front view of both properties. Our client house, 98 Nightingale Road, BR1 - to the right in colour

After a few weeks preparing the most practical solution for the resident of both houses, Studio Idealyc has just recently submitted a Joint Planning Application to London Borough of Bromley. The proposed works involve a two-storey extension to the rear of these semi-detached properties, up to the height of the eaves and not extending the existing wall plane at the rear (north) elevations, so minimizing its impact to neighbouring properties and their aspect. The purpose of the proposed extension is to provide additional kitchen and breakfast/ dining room facilities at ground floor level. At second floor level new accommodation at each address would comprise a new bedroom and bathroom. The extensions will greatly enhance the conditions for each of the occupiers.

Rear of both properties. 98 Nightingale Road - to the left, with the existing PVC conservatory

At No. 98 the family of five (two adults and three children) would have access to wider facilities and more recreational space in keeping with a family of this size (there is currently only one bathroom for four bedrooms). Meanwhile the occupiers at No. 100 Nightingale Lane, who are a young family would benefit from enhanced living accommodation suitable for a growing family. This development would encourage both families to stay at their addresses, rather than look to move to larger premises, possibly outside the London Borough of Bromley.

Proposed work illustrating a two rear storey extensions in both properties

The proposed design provides better homes for each occupier, benefiting the local community, shops and services. The proposed would also enable the children to continue at their chosen school, preventing discontinuity between school years. Our proposal would take account of the local housing stock in terms of material finishes and where possible, reuse the existing brick, minimizing the impact of sourcing from outside the locality, and meeting a sustained approach in line with local government Policy. It is hoped this approach would also reduce the number of skips and clearance vehicles as well as minimizing the number of deliveries and associated disruption and inconvenience. New windows and doors would be in keeping with the existing. We would also investigate the reuse of the existing rear doors and windows, together with existing bricks, where possible, as a commitment to reduce the impact of the works as well as promoting sustainable design.