One of the most challenging aspects of architectural design is that of re-purposing existing buildings using what’s already available. Retrofitting an existing building for a new and different purpose rather than developing an entirely new design and building on previously undeveloped land can be challenging.
Alma-nac’s Paxton House
This is the approach alma-nac took in the transformation of Paxton House, a derelict former office building that is now a sustainable designed block of 43 flats. At the heart of the design are a number of innovations: the use of exterior access walkways, the design of paired couplets of flats and flexible use spaces that explore innovative ideas in the architectural design sector.
The work has gained recognition in a number of ways and alma-nac are very proud to have our work with Joseph Homes featured in Housebuilder magazine in May 2018. Paxton House was also covered by Architects Journal’s “First Look” feature in June 2018 and winning the prestigious AJ retrofit award in September 2018.
Start on site: January 2015
Completion: October 2017 (occupation date)
Gross internal floor area: 2,495m² (43 units)
Form of contract or procurement route: Construction management
Construction cost: £5 million
Construction cost per m²: £2,004
Client: Joseph Homes
Design software used: ARCHICAD
Property development company Joseph Homes and its CEO, Joseph Rajah has always had an open mind when it comes to the use of innovative architectural solutions to maximise the use of difficult sites. For Rajah, it’s all about creating homes that provide the best possible value through creativity and innovation delivering “innovative, healthy homes” across London, with space-efficient layouts and creating build to rent buildings that enable people buy their own homes.
As a result of this innovative attitude, Joseph Homes and alma-nac have worked on several projects together, the most recent of which is Paxton House. The project’s primary objective was to transform a derelict 1960’s office block into a block of 43 residential homes with shared communal spaces.
Mike Stott of Joseph Homes said, “Working with architects alma-nac, we created an innovative design that is beautiful, useful and durable; thereby producing an offering in the area that created real value for local buyers whilst setting a precedent for property sales prices”.
This was achieved with the use of an external circulation strategy, which allowed for the accommodation of a greater number of flats than would otherwise have been possible.
A particularly interesting aspect of the design is the decision to avoid the central corridor type of arrangement that commonly provides access to residents living in apartment blocks. Instead, alma-nac created “couplets” of apartment units. Each of the dual-aspect apartments is accessed via a series of stacked walkways that are tucked behind the northern edge of the block.
On the other side of the block, each unit has a south-facing living space and balcony. The balcony design, an angled slatted balustrade, provides privacy from neighbouring apartments and gardens, while allowing views out towards the nearby railway tracks and surrounding area.
“Given the existing footprint and building aspect, a central corridor servicing flats on either side would have resulted in north-facing, single-aspect apartments”, explains Alma-nac director Caspar Rodgers.
The external walkways by which residents gain access to their homes also function as service routes which means there’s no need for internal service transfer. In this part of the building, the floor is finished with a layer of chipped rubber, which ensures acoustic dampening and reduces the noise made by residents and service providers using the walkways.
“We designed an external circulation structure running across the north-facing elevation, acoustically dampened and physically offset from the building to minimise its impact to occupants. This doubles as a services tracking route, increasing the available head-height within the apartments, and reducing issues of internal service transfer.” added Rodgers
Paxton House also features communal spaces that are open to all residents, including a spare bedroom and a multi-use workspace, which have been termed “micro temporary accommodation” spaces. And, flats in each couplet share semi-private lobby areas, to help foster a sense of community between neighbours and throughout the building.
Most of Paxton House is clad in white GRC panels and stainless steel providing a stunning contrast to the timber louvres and balcony slats. The exterior is also defined by movement activated LED strips, which light walking routes throughout the building. Positioned to avoid lighting private spaces, they provide plenty of light for people using the exterior walkways after dark.
Early in June, the Paxton House project was shortlisted for the New London Architecture Awards 2018, in the Housing category. Paxton House along with another alma-nac project, the London Animal Hospital will appear in the New London Architecture exhibition of London’s best new projects. The New London Architecture Awards honour the best architecture, planning, and development schemes in the city, recognising projects that contribute to making London a better place to live and work.