Brentford Lock West, Hounslow
A project for ISIS Waterside Regeneration (The development arm of British Waterways, which is also owned by developer Igloo and Muse Developments) to progress Phase 1 of a wider masterplan by Swedish urban designers Tovatt and Klas Tham, to deliver 150 homes (of 600 planned through further phases) plus a further 550sqm of commercial space.
The project has been named Brentford Lock West, due to its association with the canal and the bustling Brentford Town, nearby. Duggan Morris Architects were selected as part of a collaboration of Riches Hawley Mikhail, and Karakusevic Carson through an invited competition in September 2011. The team approach was defined by an ethos of open and inclusive collaboration which led to a cohesive identity for the project as a whole. This dynamic has enabled the design team to extract a clear understanding of the contextual considerations of site, community, ecology and above all the core fundamentals of the outline consented masterplan.
The site itself is characterised by a sense of being on the edge of the city and countryside, within easy reach of both. The waters edge has a serenity, a calmness of moored canal barges, herons and runners. Commerce Road, on the other hand, has a far more robust and hard edge characteristic of city fringe industrial zones. The Canal itself is a piece of historic infrastructure, a permanence within a changing landscape which will positively influence the scheme. Equally, the lightness and fragility of the larger industrial sheds suggests the potential for a rich and varied language, with varying scales and appearance, drawing on the unique qualities of the site. Promoting greater links to the high street and places such as the conservation area to the east is vital. Thus improving the towpath as well as linking this to an integrated public realm will open the site up to celebrate Brentford’s waterways and promote links between the Great West Road businesses and Brentford town centre. In this respect the site has lots of potential as a catalyst for a lively neighbourhood.
Following the successful competition stage, the project focus has been on consultation with wider community representatives, which has included an iterative feasibility and site appraisal process to assess and calculate project viability. The project evolution has been scrutinsed by the client team against the masterplan ethos and the design and site wide guidelines, requiring a multiple options testing process.
The process has also been subject to design review by Design for London as one of the key project stakeholders, and to follow by the original competition interview panel including Rowan Moore and George Ferguson. In a sense, the tri-part relationship of the three architects practices, has forged a necessary bond in which the building mass, density, scale, orientation and material developments of each block are intrinsically linked, in order to deliver the cohesive whole.
The project is also driven by a high ambition for a low environmental impact with sustainable technologies developed alongside passive ecological means including harnessing the physical properties of the canal both in terms of providing a means for cooling, but also for educational means. Additionally, productive landscapes for growing and harvesting are included at roof and terrace levels, to enable the landscape and public realm to act as places for play and leisure.
The Duggan Morris Architects scheme consists of forty five residential units fronting onto the canal-side and split over two plots. The canal side is a quality marker for the site, and the response to this has been specific in the context of the overall approach. The newly designed blocks facing the canal are denser and higher than the other housing units, and designed to take advantage of this amenity space and in turn to articulate the canal in terms of massing, and life.
The buildings are conceived as cranked blocks following a meandering neighbourhood street held together by a large base plinth. The blocks are designed as a pair, both following a series of simple rules. The predominant building material is brick, whilst a subtle play with the details defines positions of windows and balconies. The inverted roof forms and materials evoke the forms of the nearby waterside sheds with their series of inverted pitched roofs . The buildings constituting block G, ‘frame’ communal spaces both between the blocks, and within the neighbourhood street. These interstitial spaces are thus the key to the success to the scheme and each space has its own language and treatment of hard and soft landscaping.