Igloo/Bell Phillips Architects’ Marklake Court – a community-led development

Marklake Court is a new community-led development of 27 council rent homes (flats and maisonettes) on the Kipling Estate near London Bridge.

Designed by the local community with Bell Phillips Architects, the project represents “an entirely ground-up approach to providing housing for social rent,” say the practice. The project demonstrates a unique model for the construction of new housing, delivered in partnership by the local community and the local authority.

 

Background

The Leathermarket Joint Management Board (JMB) is a popular and trusted Tenant Management Organisation, operating for the benefit of 1,500 council tenants and leaseholders in Southwark. Residents raised their frustration about the lack of genuinely affordable housing in the local area imploring the JMB to help. In response, residents from the Leathermarket area established the Leathermarket Community Benefit Society (CBS) in 2014 to bring forward new, genuinely affordable homes, led by the local community and for the local community. Recognising the need for professional support, the CBS selected sustainable regeneration experts igloo Community Builders as a Development Manager to inform their approach and guide them through each step of the development.

Twenty under-utilised garages on the Kipling estate were identified by the Kipling Tenants and Residents Association (TRA) as a potential development site and became the focus of the CBS’s activities. This infill site was ideal as it was small, within the JMB’s management area, and closely bordering the homes of existing residents. It recognised that the only possible way to develop the site without significant local opposition would require a development organisation that the local community trusted, respected and felt was sympathetic to their situation

Southwark Council – who are recognised nationally as having taken a visionary approach to housing issues – recognised that the local community was best placed to deliver the ‘hidden homes’ on this site and took a pioneering approach by enabling the community itself to become the developer. Southwark retained the freehold but transferred the site to LCBS on a long lease, allowing the Community to lead the project and manage the completed building.

Bell Phillips Architects were appointed and worked closely with local residents from the outset. Consultations began with a blank sheet of paper. There were no preconceived ideas about what the project should be, so the scheme is an authentic response to the community’s needs and aspirations.

At each stage of the design development – which took place over more than a year – the team developed designs with residents, listened and collected comments, then demonstrated how the designs responded to this community feedback.

It was also important for the CBS to address local housing needs as effectively as possible, through a focus on “right-sizing” homes. This meant that JMB residents living in properties too big for their needs were prioritised, giving them the opportunity to ‘right-size’ and simultaneously freeing up larger properties for other families in need.

To incentivise downsizing, prospective residents were given the opportunity to customise their own flats by choosing open or closed plan kitchens and the finishes for their own bathrooms, kitchens, floors and walls. Every aspect of the building was discussed in detail with new residents, from window sizes to finishes to the nature of communal spaces. Through this process, the existing community was brought together and strengthened, ensuring that residents would already know their neighbours even before they move in to their respective flats.

 

The development

Marklake Court is a high-density development created by award-winning practice Bell Phillips Architects, providing 27 high quality apartments and maisonettes (including three fully accessible homes) at a density of 1,051hrh / 302 units/hectare. A range of dwelling sizes, from 1-bed, 2-person units to 3-bedroom, 6-person units, allows the development to cater for a range of resident needs from downsizers to growing families. This mix was established following a detailed housing needs study of the adjacent housing estates undertaken by LCBS and igloo – which showed 30% of residents were living in inappropriately sized homes.

The building’s height and massing repairs a fragmented urban grain resulting from wartime bomb damage and subsequent postwar development that sits at odds with the historic nature of the Bermondsey Street Conservation Area. The massing of the building evolved through extensive consultation with the local community and responds to residents’ views that it should not be too tall and should maintain good daylight to the adjacent communal garden. The building forms a contemporary addition to the local streetscape comprising three elements: two modest blocks with sloping roofs (seven and five storeys respectively), connected by a three-storey portion with a roof terrace above. This arrangement forms an L-shaped wedge that extends the existing street frontage and embraces communal open space to the rear. Private front doors to maisonettes, balconies and communal entrances add activity and interest along the Weston Street frontage.

Residents were very clear that the development should feel like an integral part of the existing estate. The use of red brick enhances the development’s strong visual coherence and references local historic properties. Brick also offers the sense of permanence and robustness sought by local residents and responds to residents’ desire for a low maintenance building. The brick is detailed to enhance the sense of solidity and offer visual interest; feature horizontal courses of sawtooth brick are incorporated into the ground and first floors, and this detailing is extended around communal entrances. The horizontal sawtooth details were incorporated following a walking tour of the area with local residents, who noted the use of similar details in historic brick buildings.

The development makes the most of its trapezoidal site that overlooks adjacent open spaces, with Guy Street Park to the north and Leathermarket Gardens to the east. All homes are dual or triple aspect with generous floor to ceiling heights and windows that provide excellent levels of natural light and views for residents. Apartments are provided with generous balconies that create private outdoor space and provide views across the adjacent open space. From the outset the building has been conceived to foster a strong sense of community. A generous third floor roof terrace, with outstanding panoramic views incorporates planting, seating and opportunities for play. Balconies have been designed to encourage social interaction and generous communal entrances are designed to incorporate seating areas to encourage residents to linger and interact. To the west the building gives on to the existing shared communal garden strengthening the connection with the existing community.

John Paul Maytum, resident Chairman of Leathermarket CBS, said: “Involving residents right from a blank sheet of paper at the very start has enabled us to get the very best outcome for this site, while delivering as many homes as possible to meet acute housing need.

“Residents are much happier than with the traditional development approach, because they’ve shaped the design – from the size and layout of the building right down to choosing brick colours and the interiors of flats. Maintaining residents’ trust in this way allows us to open up sites that the Council couldn’t do on its own and really tackle the pressing need for new council-rent homes in this area. We’re delighted that Southwark Council has given the vision, commitment and practical support to make this scheme a shining example of what new council house building can achieve when it embraces a spirit of true partnership with residents.”

Councillor Leo Pollack, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “This is a hugely significant development as it epitomises what Southwark Council wants for its council tenants – genuinely affordable, very high-quality homes in a spectacular location that benefit the local community and have a wide-reaching positive effect for others in the borough. Every step of the design of this scheme has seen tenants’ involvement and I am delighted that this will continue through to the long-term management of their homes.”

Kym Shaen-Carter – Development Manager for igloo Community Builders: “Communities know their area best and know what is needed. Developing new homes in this way strengthens the sense of community, increasing social cohesion, ownership and pride in an area. By empowering community-led development more genuinely affordable homes can be delivered that seamlessly knit into the surrounding neighbourhoods.”