Donnybrook quarter was commissioned by Circle 33 Housing Trust in 2003, after it was selected as winner of the Architecture Foundations’ high profile “Innovations in Housing competition” from 150 entries worldwide.
It has since won a Housing Design Award and the Royal Academy Architecture Prize.
The project has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and has attracted significant media and academic interest.
It has been described as a model for large scale, high density, low rise urban design.
These three short preambles are offered as a means to providing an ideological and political context for the project.
1 '…the passion for improvisation, which demands that space and opportunity be at any price preserved. Buildings are used as a popular stage. They are all divided into innumerable, simultaneously animated theatres. Balcony, courtyard, window, gateway, staircase, roof are at the same time stages and boxes.' Walter Benjamin, 'One Way Street', 1924.
In his 1924 book 'One Way Street' the Marxist cultural critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin describes the culture and form of the city of Naples. In it he captures fleetingly but beautifully the idea of a city and of architecture animated and activated by the business and activity of its occupants and of space as inert without people and
culture. He sketches for us the colour and frantic activity made possible by spatiality that is 'permeable'-which invites occupation. He gives an intimation of the fragile and complex reciprocal relationship that exists between people and spaces, between culture and architecture.
We believe that space conditions, and is in turn conditioned by, society and culture and that architecture can create the potential for social action and activity.
2 In 1997 Lord Rogers' Urban Taskforce produced recommendations, which through the government's urban white paper make a new kind of project possible. The Taskforce recommended a radical rethinking of zoning policy that for generations has given us boring and inconvenient mono functional neighborhoods. It recommended the introduction of tax breaks for the development of urban sites, and perhaps most significantly, it recommended the introduction of new planning guidelines allowing construction at substantially higher urban densities.
Donnybrook quarter would not have been possible without these major shifts in government policy.
3 Seventy percent of the buildings that make up London are housing. Housing is what creates the very fabric of the city. It is what is all around us; it forms the boundaries of public space. We can say, therefore that when we design urban housing, we design cities. Housing schemes should never begin as housing schemes but as urban designs. Designs for housing should be driven in the first instance by an idea about the city. We should design streets and public spaces first - domestic layouts should follow.
Donnybrook Quarter contains housing, but more fundamentally it is a celebration of the public social life of the city.
“Our proposal is a celebration of the public social life of the street. Every aspect of the design is configured to promote buzzing, thriving public space made with a hard edge of buildings. Streets overlooked by balconies, bay windows and roof terraces. Streets where people might enjoy to sit out, kids to play, people going to and from their homes or just passing through.” Peter Barber, Competition Text, 2002
Urban strategy- the street
Donnybrook is a low rise, high density street based city quarter located on a prominent corner site just south of Victoria Park in Hackney.
The scheme is laid out around two new tree lined streets which cross the site creating very strong spatial connections with adjacent neighborhoods and a handy cut through for their residents.
The streets have an intimate scale being 7.5 m wide and bordered on each side by two and three storey buildings.
At their intersection, at the heart of the scheme, the two streets broaden out into a delightful tree lined square.
Throughout the project public space is heavily overlooked by the residents on either side. Balconies and oriel windows overhang the street, terraces and the numerous front doors create a sense of ownership and the opportunity for personalisation (pots, deck chairs, hanging baskets).
Along the south edge of the site the buildings rise to three and a half stories with a landmark corner building at the junction of Old Ford Road and Parnell Road. Non residential uses are introduced at ground floor.
Along the eastern edge of the site an elegant residential terrace follows the slow sweeping curve of Parnell Road. At its north end the terrace rises to 4 stories marking an entrance to the site and terminating a view along Rushton Street.
In formal terms the project is conceived as a rectilinear grid inflected and morphed by the complex geometries of the adjacent streets and urban form. To this extent it is highly contextual.
Unique’ notched terrace’ housing typology
There are a variety of ‘out of the ordinary’ dwelling types at Donnybrook including some highly unusual ones and 2 bedroom courtyard houses.
But the most significant innovation is PBA’s ingenious double stack hybrid terrace/courtyard housing typology (or ‘notched terrace’).
This new type comprises in each bay;
-An upper maisonette entered from the street up a gated external staircase through a delightful courtyard garden in the ‘notch’ at first floor. The living area has a fully glazed screen which faces south over the courtyard. At second floor there are two double bedrooms, a bathroom and a balcony overlooking the street.
-A ground floor 2 bedroom apartment with large open plan living area and a fully glazed screen giving access into a rear courtyard.
The ingenious sectional arrangement removes the problem of British Planning systems overlooking rules dictating back to back distances and has unlocked the potential for very high densities with a scheme that is only three stories high.
This unique housing innovation has fascinating implications for the dwellings and their relationship with the city:
- creating a hard edge to the street with no front garden. ( a reworking of the ubiquitous Victorian worker housing type known as ‘the back of pavement terrace’.
- enabling every dwelling to have its own front door with circulation between units concentrated in the public open space of the streets and not in gloomy stairwells and decks. - creating the strongest possible visual and spatial relationship between the street and dwellings so that every inch of public space is overlooked. - making it possible for every single dwelling to have its own good sized private outdoor space in the form of an 8 m x 4 m courtyard garden and a very high level of privacy. - making it possible to achieve high densities of 400 habitable rooms per hectare with a scheme that is only between one and three stories high.
Our scheme provides residential accommodation for approximately 130 people in 40 units as set out below;
2 x 1 bedroom house 2 x 2 bedroom house 1 x 4 bedroom house 14 x 2 bedroom duplex apartments 1 x 3 bedroom apartment 3 x 1 bed apartment 14 x 2 bedroom apartments
and 3 live/work units on Old Ford Road providing 2 x 2 bedrooms, 1x 1 bedroom and a combined total of 119 m2 workspace fronting Old Ford Road at ground floor level.
The scheme density is around 400 habitable rooms per hectare.
21% of the total number of units are set aside as affordable housing units
The street brings people into close proximity. It is a place where residents are highly visible to each other, where there is a strong likelihood that they will meet.
Our scheme is designed to promote a high level of interdependence between residents and, in the long term, it is hoped that this might help to empower a group of people which is strongly self determining - a community which can sustain and govern itself.....
Our design for Donnybrook Quarter is driven by an optimistic, but we think realistic, view of society and of an architecture that can help shape cities that are economically and socially sustainable.
PRECEDENTS AND INFLUENCES
Courtyard housing in Casablance by Morrocan architect Jean-Francois Zevaco
Courtyard housing in Evora by Alvaro Siza
Pullens Buildings. A little known group of tenements in Elephant and Castle with extraordinary second floor gardens…. Corbs ‘toit jardin’ writ large.
De Klerk meets Duiker…. Picturesque meets functionalism ‘ souped up minimalism.’
Corb- Pessac, Oud -row housing, Mart Stam -Stuttgart….. Early Modernist housing projects before they turned their backs on the clty.
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