Redevelopment of a 1930s housing estate

Redevelopment of an estate in Clapham, south London, doubles the density of the site, but also offers larger homes and opens links across the area, finds Craig Becconsall.

St John's Way - A network of streets allows movement through the estate

The St John’s Way development in Clapham, south London, by social landlord Peabody Trust was designed by Hawkins Brown Architects and is replacing a 1930s, inward-looking estate with a mixed tenure scheme. Situated between Clapham Junction station on St John’s Hill Way and Wandsworth Common, the housing-led scheme creates new local links.

The original flats on the St John’s estate were considered inappropriate because the rooms were too small, the layouts inconvenient and there were problems of damp and condensation. All existing residents are to be rehoused and a new community centre, café and learning space are to be provided.

The redevelopment will almost double the residential density, while providing larger homes. The higher density is achieved with one, two and three bedroom apartments and three and four bedroom triplex apartments, including ‘executive homes’. The scheme includes blocks between four and 12 storeys high. The 153 homes in the first phase were completed last year, while a further 375 homes are planned in two more phases to be finished by 2020.

Creating streets through the development

The new layout opens the development to its surroundings. A new pedestrian avenue crosses the site, which links the station to Wandsworth Common and a community centre.  A new network of local streets through the scheme is the key to promoting movement within it. The new pedestrian spine along Danvers Avenue is part of a strategy to replace the courts that previously characterised these spaces and remove divisions that they created on the estate. At the heart of the place will be Monarch Square, which is to provide a focus for the community to gather in.

While some trees remain, it would have been far better if more could have been strategically integrated. The public realm will need to work hard with the higher density of population. Softer landscape can help encourage active use and greater attention might have been given in this regard.

Close attention to detail and interest

Drawing inspiration from the past, the first phase sets the benchmark expectations for good things to come. The scheme excels and stands out with its attention to detail. The palette of materials is varied – see the example below.

St Johns Way - Varied palette of materials

There are various brick types and bonding, coloured tiles, glass and metal perforated panels, and artistic reveals and crafting. The welcoming and personal touches at each entrance are signified by brightly coloured glazed bricks. The blocks are clad in a different colour brick with changing build lines. The internal designs are spacious, in total contrast to the pre-existing homes.

However to achieve the density, the scale of the blocks with limited breaks, may mean natural light will be compromised. Oversized entry points go some way to addressing this but may still not allow enough light penetration.

Using sculpture to inject fun

Sculptor Rodney Harris has created brick reliefs camouflaged within the building, recalling the site’s history and residents’ memories. Harris has drawn from local historic features like the lavender fields, river wharves and warehouses, mills and breweries. The detailing is welcoming and fun. These references evoke placemaking quality beyond the norm.

Click on the image below to expand it.

St Johns Way - Relief brick work and motifs

This scheme delivers density and sustainability but the architects have also incorporated local distinctiveness and addressed accessibility issues. This is a good scheme and phase one sets the bar with elements of delight, fun and exciting expectations for the remaining phases.

18 May 2017

This article was first published in Placemaking Resource.

Craig Becconsall is a review panel member for Academy of Urbanism and Design South West Design Review Panel.