When does a mansion block cease to be a mansion block? London’s second ever neighbourhood plan (in Fortune Green and West Hampstead) was very clear that residents valued the neighbourhood’s red brick mansion blocks.
“The main architectural feature of the Area is the notable red brick Victorian and Edwardian terraces and mansion blocks. These buildings have numerous design features, detailing and characteristics - which are highly valued and appreciated. The Area therefore has a strong and distinct architectural heritage- including a significant number of listed buildings as well as large conservation areas - which are extremely important in signifying the Area’s look and feel. Preserving and enhancing the architectural heritage of Fortune Green and West Hampstead is of great importance to local residents.”
In 2015, many local residents were therefore dismayed when, shortly after their Neighbourhood Plan was agreed, the local council made proposals for a development on their own land which, though not entirely without merit many felt only paid lip service to the local neighbourhood’s preferences. As so often, due to the ‘design disconnect’ which infects nearly all communication between professional designers and the wider public, it was a case of professionals using words to insist that a proposal was in keeping and of residents looking at pictures and responding that it self-evidently was not.
Working initially for local residents and then for a commercial tenant, Create Streets created an alternative proposal to show how a different approach could both fit in more harmoniously but also provide more space for shops and homes. We called our proposals Rudying Mansions and West End Mews though it also included two further mansion blocks (Railway Mansions and Potteries Mansions) and a pocket park (Potteries Green).
We began, as we always do, by examining the surrounding streets. West End Lane is the main local high street running to the immediate west of the site. It is visually characterised by largely red brick elevations, visual complexity and decoration, a mixture of flats above shops and mansion blocks with white detailing on the brickwork, bay windows and modest set-backs from pavement. It is predominantly three to five storeys. Lymington Road is the residential road that abuts the north of the site. It is characterised by red bricks, white detailing, generous front gardens, semi-detached houses and what Osbert Lancaster termed ‘Pont-street’ Dutch or ‘Jacobethan’ design.
Our proposals replaced the existing business and employment space on the site with nearly 17,000 square metres of development. This was composed of 97 homes (including 11 mews houses and 8 maisonettes), 5,000 square metres of flexible employment space (with high floor to ceiling heights and dedicated service access), 550 square metres of shops and over 100 square metres of communal space. The scale was a mixture of two storey mews houses, five storey mansions and one six storey mansion block along West End Lane. The proposed detailing and names of the new Mansion blocks were intended to ‘fit in’ with the area and with the Fortune Green and West Hampstead Neighbourhood Plan. The average residential density was 153 homes per hectare.
The masterplan had six main elements:
West End Mews - a conventional London mews with two storey houses running along the north of the site. It was entered via an arch off West End Lane and had a modest paved square at its entrance. A Communal shop (conceived as a flexible community-run not-for-profit coffee bar, community restaurant, meeting room or events space) looked out onto the square. The houses had private gardens backing onto the private gardens of Lymington Road.
Potteries Green – a neighbourhood pocket park at the end of West End Mews.
Rudying Mansions – a conventional six storey mansion block (five storeys with sixth set back) running along West End Lane. With ground floor retail and access to two modest communal gardens.
Railway Mansions and Potteries Mansions – two conventional five storey mansion blocks between Potteries Path and West End Mews. They were composed of flats above maisonettes. Both mansion blocks had use of modest communal gardens as well as access to Potteries Path and Potteries Green.
Ongoing commercial use – the development sat upon an area of flexible business space to permit the ongoing functioning of Travis Perkins or of a similar commercial operation. Access to this was from a dedicated ramp at the South East corner of the site underneath Rudying Mansions.
The names were intended to reflect the history of the site. In the middle ages the area was known as le Rudyng, a name which indicates a woodland clearing before changing its name to West End.
All the mansion blocks had their top storey set back and there would have been potential for green roofs and terraces. All mansion blocks had access to communal gardens for estate residents in addition to access to Potteries Green.
The mews houses were set along the more sensitive north of the site with private rear gardens between them and the gardens of Lymington Road. All the buildings, West End Mews and Potteries Green are set above the basement commercial space. The typology, detailing, massing and urban form were conceived, in line with the local Neighbourhood Plan, to fit in with the wider neighbourhood and conservation and ‘look as if they have always been there’ with red bricks, white detailing and vertically elevated windows and balconies.
The three mansion blocks running along the south of the site were deliberately separated to break up the scale and increase light into West End Mews. The reason for adopting such a conventional approach was to ensure that these quite large new buildings fit in as well as possible and did not contradict the conservation area or the local Neighbourhood Plan. Access to the commercial space at below ground level was via a ramp running below Rudying Mansions on the south of the site.
We provided our plans free to the local council. They proved very popular with local residents and also featured in London’s Evening Standard. Sadly, they did not appeal to local officials and so Rudying Mansions and West End Mews will never be.
Team: Create Streets, Francis Terry and Associates, calfordseaden.