London could turn to the mansion block as one answer to its housing crisis, with modern variants on the typology created to provide high density homes in both the centre and potentially revitalized suburbs.
That was one of the sentiments to emerge from a packed breakfast talk this morning a NLA, kicked off by Claire Bennie and her look at the lessons 1930s mansion blocks could provide. Those schemes include the one Bennie herself lives in – Ruskin Park House in Camberwell, an art deco scheme of 241 flats in two blocks. Its success is in part due to its communal gardens – ‘a great community condenser’, pub, and other facilities, with densities of 111 dwellings per hectare.
Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands director Alex Lifschutz said that with economics and demographics changing, flexibility is key, and the ‘long life, loose fit’ principle should be applied to buildings so that they can flex to different uses. ‘We have to assume we don’t know much about what’s happening at the moment and certainly not in future’, said Lifschutz. The practice is designing two towers at East Village which allow for this flexibility with their central core allowing the designer to be ‘nimble’ and adapt for different configurations. This includes a new market of shared living, where a larger living space is required, and is handled by balcony space that has been ‘encouraged’ into the living rooms.
East Village is certainly adopting a principle applied by the Great Estates and the mansion blocks they built, said Get Living London chairman Stuart Corbyn, in that they offer an investment in the long-term, despite the ‘endless challenges’ thrown up by politicians. ‘What we’re trying to do is build up a community by having all the facilities that people might feel they need to live’, he said. And certainly the mansion block offers an urban scale with an attractive and convenient density, said consultant Rosemarie MacQueen. They also have ‘this amazing quality of combining urban frontage with signifier of domesticity’, said Alison Brooks, creative director of Alison Brooks Architects, who is working with LDS on six and seven-storey blocks for 229 new dwellings and, importantly, frequent ground entrances, in South Kilburn. Or perhaps, said Maccreanor Lavington founding director Richard Lavington, with over 600,000 semi-detached homes in London, the suburbs could be where the focus should lie. His practice’s ‘multi-detached’ idea seeks to intensify the suburbs on a plot-by-plot basis. If five per cent of the semis in outer London could be replaced with four-storey detached mansion blocks, some 81,000 new ‘Multi-detached’ homes could be created, facilitated by local development orders, said Lavington.