Tall, Lean, In-between

The studio will consider three recent challenges facing the design of tall residential buildings in London: the stringent requirements for their careful placement and contextual efficacy in the city, the shift towards low carbon construction, and the provision of amenities and open spaces for dwelling units severed from the ground.

Our response will be framed by three interrelated themes at their respective operative scales. The first, Tall, recognizes that this vertical building type has always been an exception rather than the rule in London. Its troubled history, as failed mass-produced modernist tower blocks in the 1960s to its recent use as a tool for excessive densification in service of speculative capital, has cast doubts on its continued relevance. On the other hand, its modest footprint relative to its height, is still instrumental towards the provision of much needed affordable housing on brown field sites across London. The design of a tall building thus should transcend the justification by numbers approach towards the consideration of its role as a punctuator in a low-rise city. In other words, as an urban artifact that embodies and reifies the idea of collective living that simultaneously acts to cohere the fragments of a city that grew by increments and chance.

The second, Lean, deals with the potential of thinking about tall building structures pared down to their bare minimum to achieve low carbon construction. We will approach this through the design of hybrid structures – primary steel or concrete frame with secondary timber structure – to mitigate fire safety requirements for buildings taller than 18m. This lean hybrid structures offer the potential of reversible and flexible space in housing design, a reconfigurable tectonic that prolongs its life span by eluding programmatic redundancies.  

In-between, the third theme, addresses the predicament of stacking large amount of dwelling units above ground, severing them from amenities and open spaces. The provision of these in-between spaces – between private dwelling and common spaces, and between indoor and outdoor temperature zones – will enable us to rethink the design of forecourts, lobbies, corridors, vestibules, hallways, terraces, patios, balconies, and loggias as spaces to dwell in rather than to merely pass through. As such, they allow us to conceive of the in-between spaces for work, leisure and repose as distinctive and yet connected rooms.

We will be working on a live site, in Ledbury Estate, London. Located along Old Kent Road, in the borough of Southwark. The current plans by Southwark Council and voted by the estate’s residence, calls for the demolition and replacement of four 13-storey housing blocks built in 1968 that has deteriorated structurally. The design task is to design a cluster of tall residential buildings, comprising of affordable housing, workspaces, and communal amenities, following the themes of Tall, Lean, In-between.

Ian Lowrie, Associate at Serie Architects will join the studio as Teaching Associate. We will be working with Paul Karakusevic, architect and masterplanner of Ledbury Estate regeneration scheme. James Masini (Development Manager), Patricia Lewin (New Homes Project Manager), and Osama Shoush (Regeneration Project Manager) of Southwark Council, will be our guide and critic as we approach the complex and challenging task of designing a new generation of tall buildings for Ledbury Estate.

This course will meet weekly on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Christopher Lee will be in residence on the following days: January 28; February 10, 11, 24, 25; March 11, 31; April 1, 14 and for final reviews.
Ian Lowrie will be in residence on the following days: January 25, 28; March 8, 11; April 14, 15, 29 and for final reviews.
Class will be held via Zoom on all other Tuesdays and Fridays.