Project DescriptionFROM RIBA:
Peabody has a fine tradition of providing social housing for Londoners and appointing the best architects to help them do so. Under the leadership of Dickon Robinson in the nineties and noughties, they upgraded and added to their ageing stock with excellent new developments (earning them an RIBA Client of the Year Award) but none so exquisitely done as Niall McLaughlin’s work in east London.
This is a brilliant piece of urban design. The dignified new building, with its refined proportions and details, replaces a well detailed and proportioned Peabody mansion block taken out in World War II by a V2 bomb, along with another block whose footprint now provides a garden at the heart of the newly completed courtyard still graced by the remaining three Edwardian blocks.
A casual comparison of the old and new elevations reveals the subtlety of the new architecture. The use of materials and form means that the new building complements its neighbours without mimicking them. It represents a re-invention of the deep reveal: the use of slightly projecting pre-cast reveals to the windows and balconies gives an unusual depth to the modelling of the facades, a subtle beauty. The way a sliver of the building on the south side slides out of the square and forms a very narrow and elegant elevation that leads one into the scheme, provides a further level of interest and architectural distinctiveness. It also made the scheme stack up – the extra few flats made viable the completion of the square that Peabody had not contemplated in 70 years.
Internally the plan naturally invites you to use the stair – and what a stair: residents must feel a million dollars, like stars on an ocean liner, all graceful curves, an elegant swooping hand-rail and all that top-light. All but the smallest flats are dual aspect. The plan also allows each flat a vestibule off the landing, an enclosed space they can fill with plants or the over-flow of their flats, it doesn’t matter because it is theirs. The balconies likewise: each has a generous deep balcony from which to watch the children play in the safe square.
The building oozes care. For example, the architects first chose a grey brick to match the soot- stained Victorian London brick. Then Peabody decided to clean the blocks revealing their glowing cream and, in the nick of time, the architects were able to change their order for a pale honey colour that gives the work so much more character. Darbishire Place was delivered through design and build but shows that the quality of the architecture and the continued involvement of the architect is more important to success than the means of its delivery. This is a proper use of an architect’s skills and makes the ordinary exceptional.