London, United Kingdom
“Fundamentally, focused interventions can avoid demolition of existing homes, whilst still making wholescale improvements to local areas and adding significant new density,” states Peter Barber Architects associate director Alice Brownfield.
“Environmentally, socially, and economically we cannot continue to demolish homes unnecessarily and instead need to focus on densifying our existing neighborhoods, improving existing buildings, and protecting social infrastructure and diverse communities.”
Following the London Borough of Camden’s brief, Peter Barber Architects have refurbished and developed Kiln Place, a post-war housing estate in Camden, increasing its density without demolishing any of the existing buildings.
The buildings have soft corners, colored window frames, and highly articulated massing to create levity and personality which has a subtle humanizing effect on the modernist-inspired estate architecture.
The homes are designed to high-energy standards and use a “fabric first approach” with high-performing U-values for the building’s fabric along with low air permeability.
New trees and planting, as well as increased access to the open space, significantly improve the biodiversity and accessibility of the estate.
Some of the most subtle interventions are the strongest indicators of what can be really transformative.
The tenants of the ground-floor flats were having to access their front doors by one of these entrance buildings, which led up a shared staircase and back down to a ground-floor corridor.
The corridor itself looked out onto a green, but was separated from it by heavy timber louvers, the whole area cut off from the street by a rail.
The architects have removed the rail so a new pedestrian passage has been created leading to those flats.
Amply spaced, lamp-lit, and overlooked by new dwellings, it passes up some steps to the now-louvers run of front doors, leading on to connect to an existing courtyard at its end.
These interventions are joined by new gardens and roof terraces and two accessible dwellings for social rent.
In all, the project is more than a sum of its many parts – the logic of all the new homes working in synthesis with the smaller interventions to bring the more monolithic slab blocks down to the scale of the street, and gently working the estate into its surroundings.
The newly established pedestrian passage into the heart of the estate is set on one side by two homes for private sale, and on the other by maisonettes for social rent.
Six more private-sale homes have been slotted onto a thin strip of sloping land opposite that runs along the north-eastern side of the estate.
Previously occupied by a handful of parking spaces and a grassy bank bounded by a low brick wall, the site had been thought undevelopable, narrow, and pitched as it is.
Bedrooms are set at the ground-floor and second-floor level in these new houses, the lower rooms half-sunk into the hill behind them.
Wedges have been cut from the plan at first-floor level to let daylight in through the glazed southern walls of the kitchens and living spaces, opening onto terraces overlooking the street and leading down a couple of steps to gardens that run along the back of the row.
Though the plot is small, the new houses don’t appear to crush or crowd the slab blocks opposite – rounded off at the ends and edges, this short, relatively low terrace instead articulates the natural progression that leads from the nearby overground station into a welcoming entrance for the estate, transfiguring an ambiguous boundary into an overlooked street rich with social potential.
Brownfield hopes that Kiln Place can be an example of how existing housing estates can be improved and made denser without resorting to wholesale demolition.
“Hopefully Kiln Place stands as a small but very practical example of how we can densify our cities without demolition and displacement of public housing estates,” she says.
Project: Kiln Place
Architects: Peter Barber Architects Ltd.
Lead Architect: Peter Barber
Contractor: Neilcott Construction Limited
Structural Engineers: MLM
Environmental / M&E Engineers: EngDesign
Client: London Borough of Camden
Photographers: Morley Von Sternberg