Midtown, Midrise, Mid-door

The studio will consider three recent and significant shifts in the design of collective housing in London: the viability and desirability of working from home; the emphasis on low carbon construction; and the requirements for energy efficient dwellings. Our response will be framed by three interrelated themes at their respective operative scales. The first, Midtown, addresses the changing nature of workspace and their related amenities brought about by the pandemic. As work and home increasingly become a single space, this compels us to rethink the concept of the 15-min city to perhaps a 5-min city. It points to the challenge of how we integrate workspaces in, or close to dwelling spaces, alongside third spaces – urban resources and amenities – that bridge and support the other two. 

The second, Midrise deals with the potential for carbon neutral construction offered by cross laminated timber structures. The most effective scale for timber construction is in the midrise, between six to twelve storeys, and the structural spans afforded by the modularity of rooms. As CLT structures are often concealed by another external cladding material, making them mute to the tectonics of the city, we will explore the possibility of cultivating an architectural grammar of timber construction that is more conspicuous in its urban context, whilst maintaining the need for weather protection. 

Mid-door, the third theme, challenges the 'fabric first approach' of Passivhaus in housing design. This static temperature, airtight approach often produces thick and solid facades and leaves housing typologies unexamined. We will instead adopt an adaptive comfort approach and explore the potential of using in-between spaces – mid-doors – as environmental buffers that mediate different micro-climatic zones. Mid-doors, as spaces to dwell in rather than merely to pass through, allows us to conceive of work, common spaces, and landscape as rooms in their own right. In this way, housing and workspace typologies can evolve meaningfully in response to climate change and the shift in how we live and work while contributing to a new conception of Midtown.   

We will be working on a live site, at the centre of Hackney Wick, London. Located just west of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and part of the London Legacy Development Corporation masterplan zone. A formally industrial area on the edge of the Lea Valley, Hackney Wick has historically suffered from isolation and lies in one of London’s most socially deprived boroughs.The design task is to create a new mixed use neighbourhood centre here, comprising affordable housing, workspaces, artist studios and communal amenities.

Ian Lowrie, Associate at Serie Architects, will join the studio as Teaching Associate. We will be working with Dr. Wolfgang Kessling, a physicist, climate engineer and director of Transsolar on the principles of Adaptive Comfort. Peter Maxwell (Director of Design), Hannah Lambert (Design Principal,) of London Legacy Development Corporation, and Paul Karakusevic (Partner) of Karakusevic Carson will be our guide and critic as we approach the complex and challenging task of transforming Hackney Wick.

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