As part of the regeneration of west London, a scheme was proposed to create a mixed-use residential led development on the site adjacent to North Acton underground featuring a series of amenity space in the form of private balconies, terraces, shared roof gardens and allotments. LEWIS CATCHPOLE sits down with the lead landscape architect of the project Rob Beswick of BD Landscape Architects to find out how it came to fruition.
Talk me through the design brief
The Rehearsal Rooms is a high density mixed-use development which is designed for the private rental sector, it provides 173 one, two and three bedroom flats and shared communal spaces, supermarket and commercial space at street level. It is part of an emerging neighbourhood around the North Acton underground station in west London.
We have worked with the developer, HUB, for a number of years on a range of high quality residential projects across London. We also knew the lead consultants called Newground Architects from previous collaborations at King’s Cross and the Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes.
The brief for the project was pretty simple; creating better homes for everyday Londoners.
This development – one of the first purpose built Build to Rent schemes in the country – was aimed at the mid-market sector and the client’s desire that this was the first private rental scheme in Ealing and its aims were to stand out with sustainable well thought out designs.
They bought the site in 2013 and it already had outline planning consent. HUB appointed BD in 2014 with the wider design team and our brief was to review the consented scheme and to propose changes to improve and rationalise layout to improve the efficiency and maximise communal spaces, which is key for residents and to tailor the design to the private rental sector.
We were keen to set a new benchmark for housing that is better tailored to how people want to live, rather than how developers think they should.
What was your answer to the brief?
We reviewed the consented scheme and then the real key was to try and maximise the quality of the community spaces, the external terraces – we had a total of two blocks of 16 and 13 stories linked by a lower section of four stories so the building filled the whole site so there was very little public realm at a ground level. The idea was to maximise the number of terraces and vary the character within each terraces so there is a lot variety for future residents, it was completely reworked from the previous scheme.
Is that what makes this project unique – working on multiple levels?
Yes. This was one of the first private rental sector projects we worked on in the studio with flats that were aimed not for sale, but for rental, so as a design team we did have to carefully consider how each of the spaces could respond to the end user. In common parts the desire was to encourage legibility and interaction between residents and provide a range of purpose-designed communal spaces linked to the shared external gardens. The inside and outside spaces (the link between architects and landscape architects) work together to allow people to congregate and mix. The range of facilities for residents was key includes rooftop allotments, communal bbq terraces, a residents lounge and use of onsite electric car.
Each terrace had to work hard to provide useable amenity space with a distinct character that responded to the nature of the private rental development. We developed a roofscape strategy of accessible, communal, productive and playable terraces alongside biodiverse areas with green and brown roofs on this confined urban site.
On the first floor a grid of multi-stem birch trees set within giant flowerpots provide dappled shade to the play and exercise terrace, that is equipped with a ping pong table, gym equipment and incidental play set within a patchwork of impact absorbing rubber crumb to create a space to socialise with seating and views to the wooded buffer that runs along the tube line.
Going up to the fourth floor the terrace here is conceived as an outdoor room – a place to relax, an in
viting south facing terrace for social gathering – BBQ’s, food prep areas and communal dining areas create a space for residents to enjoy alongside a strong landscape character with a copse of umbrella form fruiting and flowering trees within generous but lightweight raised planters.
On the 13th floor is a resident’s allotment with a series of planters for residents use, creating a landscape to encourage the growth of the community. Fruiting espalier trees suited to the limited planter depth wrap around the central lift core that is also detailed to store the communal gardening tools accessible from the terrace.
On the 14th, 15th and 17th floors a mix of living roofs create valuable habitats including wildflower areas, sedum and brown roofs with plug planting to increase biodiversity in line with local biodiversity action plans and BREEAM ecology targets.
The public realm wrapping around the Rehearsal Rooms was small but had to be robust and well detailed as it extended from pavement through into undercroft
parking court and seamlessly into the internal building receptions and access cores’.
So you wanted every floor to feel different?
Yes, we wanted it so that if you lived there you knew that the 13th floor terrace was the allotment space, the first floor terrace was for exercise or yoga and the fourth floor terrace is the outdoor living room able to host barbecues and seasonal gatherings. It was quite key that each terrace was legible and contemporary – we were not afraid to use bold colours and innovative materials and semi mature trees planting to create a good quality landscape.
What were the specific challenges?
With large semi mature trees and the constraints of rooftop terraces loadings you need close collaboration with the structural engineers, architects and wider design team. We located trees above the structural columns within the building and they were an integral part of the design from the outset. With the variety of the different terraces – managing to keep costs down but retaining the quality of the landscape was challenging so you have to work with all the consultants to create something special.
Is this the first rooftop project you have done?
No we have designed a fair few and are starting to get a good portfolio of completed terraces for both residential and commercial clients. It is always interesting. There are a lot challenges so it’s about a balance between working with the architects and engineers to create something practical and beautiful.
Are they becoming more popular in the industry?
Definitely, most of our projects incorporate a variety of public realm and gardens in the sky – for another client in the Royal Docks with dRMM architects we are designing a scheme that has a dozen terraces at different levels! Understanding the technical requirements is key as they are technically challenging due to pressures of structural loads, desiccation and wind load, irrigation needs alongside waterproofing. However you see projects like the Bosco Verticale in Milan featured on Planet Earth 2 and how the wider public is more aware of urban green facades and living roofs and they are definitely become more commonplace.
How big was the team?
We are a team of 10 landscape architects at BD, I was the lead landscape architect working with Emma Gibson who was project landscape architect through the planning, tender and construction phases.
In the wider design team we had to closely collaborate with the multidisciplinary team including civil and structural engineers – especially important given the loading requirements of each terrace with semi mature trees – sustainability consultants to maximise the BREEAM potential – planners to rework the extant consent – QS’s to keep within budget – and future building management team to understand maintenance requirements and aftercare.
This was a fairly slow burning project from instruction in 2014 for concept design through planning and tender in 2015 when it started on site and through to 2017 when it completed so it wasn’t the quickest.
The overall construction cost was just over £30 million and the landscape/external works budget can’t be disclosed – suffice to say that each element had to be cost effective and provide value for money and survive the inevitable value engineering process.
So the project was completed in 2017?
It was completed last summer, residents are now living there and it has proven successful and been well received. Prospective clients are visiting and we are getting new projects on the back of completed roof terrace developments and starting to get a reputation for innovative, hard working and contemporary landscape architecture.