Soft Cities

Colm Lacey - Soft Cities

Mary Duggan and RUFF complete ‘pavilions in park’ housing in Croydon

By Rob Wilson.  First published in Architects Journal, 20/03/23 – https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/mary-duggan-and-ruff-complete-pavilions-in-park-housing-in-croydon.

Red Clover Gardens consists of 157 homes for private sale, affordable and social rent, arranged across five facetted blocks within a landscaped park-like setting. The scheme, at Couldson in the south-east of the London Borough of Croydon, was commissioned by Croydon’s in-house developer Brick By Brick, which has now been almost completely wound down following financial difficulties.

Each pavilion block’s composition responds to the site’s sloping topography, rotated to maximise views out and with the flats’ layouts arranged around corner loggias.

In response to the level change of 8m across the site, the blocks step in section in their ground-floor lobbies, with primary and secondary entrances. The blocks range in height between five and seven storeys, each accommodating one, two and three bed dwellings, with a mix of tenure that includes 50 per cent social rent and affordable housing.

Three brick colours are used across the five buildings to provide differentiation, while all blocks share a projecting brick detail.

Mary Duggan was retained client-side to monitor the landscape and façade while Ruff Architects was the delivery architect, working with the contractor, CField Construction.

Architects’ view

The site conditions posed huge constraints due to the extreme topology. But because of that problem, a more adventurous housing typology was necessary, which we explored and tested rigorously during Brexit uncertainty in direct response to the associated concerns around material supply costs.

Fortunately, the project was led by a dedicated client cognisant of housing procurement, the pressure on construction budgets, and willing to support an uncustomary design to find answers.

The landscape structure and retained trees set the housing pavilion positions across multiple fully accessible terraces, each providing democratically designed homes with spaces to play, to garden, to walk, to socialise and to feel protected. Significantly, in long views from Cane Hill, the scheme sits beneath the tree canopy, respectful of the suburban character of Coulsdon.

The project has no firm or static conclusion. It is intentionally designed to be informed by its natural surroundings, guided by and enhanced by its future residents.
Mary Duggan, director, Mary Duggan Architects

The scheme is the culmination of a collaboration from 2018 between us, Ruff Architects (as delivery architects), the client (BBB) and the design team at Mary Duggan Architects. We are proud to see the completion of Red Clover Gardens at Lion Green Road constructed by the contractor (CField).

The key to its successful delivery lay in developing a thorough understanding of the design concept. From the outset, Ruff Architects sought to interpret the careful material design, massing, landscape, and the unique relationship between buildings, to ensure our decisions at the technical design stage would protect and enrich the original narrative.

Our request to be appointed client-side initially at RIBA Stage 3B enabled a full understanding of the intricacies of the scheme. This led to a collaborative and robust novation. The depth of knowledge transfer through design workshops with Mary and buildability reviews with BBB underpinned a quality-focused approach. CField adopted this, allowing construction speed to become a key cost saver, safeguarding the carefully considered design.

Ruff Architects is accustomed to working through all stages of design and delivery. We had five other BBB projects at the time in planning as part of the New Addington 700 home proposals and had recently completed two social housing projects in Oxford for Greensquare and Oxford City Council.

LGR has been a nationally leading construction project in terms of technical delivery of buildings over 18m. Four of the five pavilions required significant design refinements and specification of products new to the market to achieve compliance with Approved Document B. The additional challenges of Stage 4 design and delivery, predominantly while working through the pandemic, ensured a close relationship with the contractor was quickly formed.

Our experience, combined with a dedication to the continuity of the design, helped us focus on practical decisions, balancing the importance of the overall scheme intent. We conserved key aspects of the materiality and the quality of the design through the on-site delivery, while providing flexibility where required to address commercial realities. In our opinion, what has been created is a hugely successful, innovative, and affordable housing scheme. A scheme that is not only beautiful but creates a set of individual and unique shared spaces helping to enhance an emerging community.
Paul Ruff, director, Ruff Architects

Client’s view

The design development process on this scheme provided a really interesting comparative analysis of development options for outer London sites. The site was complex, with significant level changes and an unusually varied set of boundary conditions and adjacencies, including rolling green belt, a public car park, an incredibly busy town centre distribution road and even a scheduled ancient monument.

Cost and spatial efficiency were crucial considerations as well as deliverability under different potential construction methodologies. We worked collaboratively with the design team to review various development approaches and building typologies including point blocks of varying scales, perimeter blocks, traditional townhouse layouts etc. Each was closely analysed with respect to a range of criteria, including planning capacity, domestic qualities, engineering considerations, environmental impact, net-to-gross areas, wall-to-floor ratios, maintainability etc. We were initially slightly surprised that a ‘pavilions in a landscape’ approach emerged as the most appropriate response, but it actually made perfect sense to us once it did.

The development of the strategic planning response seemed to echo this, with initial dubiety over the arrangement in plan giving way once the proposal was viewed in the context of the site, and the architectural intention and expression were fully presented. Now complete, I think it’s a wonderfully different scheme, providing a range of resident-focused internal and external living spaces.
Colm Lacey, managing director, Soft Cities (instructing client in a previous role)

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