Page D3.2 . 31 May 2006                     
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    Abbott's Wharf Housing


    Pretty in Pink

    The concrete-framed buildings at Abbott's Wharf are mainly white with tasteful pink, red, and yellow panels. The buildings are oriented on a north/ south axis with inset floor-to-ceiling windows on the east and west sides to allow in daylight without excessive solar heat gain. The narrow north and south sides have minimal glazing.

    Frameless, prefabricated balconies are vertically offset from one another on the facade, overlooking the public square and mooring basin below. Car parking is located below grade at the water level which, while practical, does nothing for the narrow, public walkway (without handrails) between the buildings on the water's edge.

    The public face that all buildings in this area, including Abbotts Wharf, present to the canal at ground level is uninspiring, a sharp contrast to the generous open plaza created between the buildings at Abbotts Wharf.

    The four buildings comprise 200 dwellings with a mix of affordable rent, shared ownership, and private sale. The clients, private developers Telford Homes and East Thames Housing Group, insisted that the external appearances of the buildings be similar, so as not to discriminate between the different economic groups. They wanted a high quality of design for all units.

    Planning officials supported the development, which includes ground floor live/ work and commercial spaces. The mayor of London wrote: "There are many positive strategic aspects of this proposal, including its regeneration of a brownfield site with an attractive waterside development that enhances public access to the canal and reintroduces a basin inlet. The high-density, mixed-use development will also contribute to meeting London's housing needs and includes a significant element of affordable housing in accordance with the draft London Plan."

    Reinventing Urban Context

    In a competitive process, Jestico + Whiles were chosen for their unconventional approach to the site, which is surrounded by 1960s, low-income housing blocks and run-down warehouses. "It doesn't have a conventionally strong urban context," explains project architect Eoin Keating. "it is a triangular site on a row of industrial buildings."

    Rather than facing the buildings parallel to the water, maximizing views of the canal but blocking key pedestrian routes, the architects began with a strategy of orienting the buildings perpendicular to the water. "It opens views through the site, and all flats have direct sunlight and balconies," Keating explains.

    Another main strategy was to create a way for the buildings to relate positively to the water's edge by slightly rerouting the water to bring it into the development. "The new mooring basin deflects the water into the site and when using the tow path, you have to take a short detour into the new development," says Keating.

    The water cuts in between the two eight-story housing blocks. But on either side, the space between the blocks functions as an urban wall, cutting off views from road to water by raising private courtyards up on a raised stone plinth. This is a much needed private outdoor area for tenants, but not a welcoming urban strategy. From the outside, it appears that the buildings are arranged in two main blocks split by the basin, making their footprint seem much larger than it is.

    Historically, this was an area of warehouses, wharfs, and docks, all focused around their relationship to the water. The Abbotts Wharf development is a modern interpretation of this and respects the existing urban grain, while introducing a residential density in a neighborhood otherwise at risk of becoming totally car oriented due to suburban sprawl.

    Surprisingly, Abbotts Wharf has been placed on the SkyscraperCity Forums listing of new tall buildings in London. "The tallest building is only 13 stories," Keating protests. "But, maybe it feels taller; the site is somewhat isolated, at the end of a previously undeveloped site."

    Mixed Luxe

    London is not a city in which highrise housing is associated with subsidized, government-owned, low-design-quality buildings. Instead, the trend set by the nearby North American-style Canary Wharf development is for a relatively few, sought-after residential towers with sweeping views among the commercial highrises.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    The Abbotts Wharf housing development by architects Jestico + Whiles, with a public park visible in the distance.
    Photo: David Churchill

    ArchWeek Image

    Between the buildings, a new public route through the site leads pedestrians to the canal and a new mooring basin.
    Photo: David Churchill

    ArchWeek Image

    All flats benefit from full height glazing leading to private balconies.
    Photo: David Churchill

    ArchWeek Image

    Elevation looking south.
    Image: Jestico and Whiles

    ArchWeek Image

    Site plan. The layout allows access to the water and generous sideways views of the Limehouse Cut.
    Image: Jestico and Whiles

    ArchWeek Image

    Ground floor plan. A public route in the center of the site is flanked by private courtyards between the buildings at the edges of the site.
    Image: Jestico and Whiles

    ArchWeek Image

    The lower level parking lot and plinth (with the private courtyards on top) face onto the narrow route along the canal.
    Photo: Brady Peters

    ArchWeek Image

    The new public mooring basin between two of the buildings. A driving force in the scheme's design is the reworking of the relationship between water and building.
    Photo: Brady Peters


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