81–87 Weston Street, London

Solidspace’s Tetris-style mansion apartment building at 81–87 Weston Street in Bermondsey, London, is the result of a 10-year collaboration between the developer and architect firm, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM). Defined as ‘slow architecture’, the time taken to develop the design and the approach, using finely crafted and bespoke materials, brings an elegance that redefines brutalism for the 21st century. A JCT Major Project Construction Contract provided the contract solution.

81–87 Weston Street epitomises Solidspace’s development speciality—finding gap sites and pocket sites, which are challenging due to the technical/spacial constraints and the context of layers of historical architectural styles—and transforming them into extraordinary homes. Weston Street is based on the idea of providing high-end ‘mansion flats’ which offers luxurious materials and bespoke craftsmanship, and aesthetically sets out to offer a distinctiveness of style that is often missing from average luxury apartment developments. Weston Street goes further by also utilising its design to provide a more communal feel for its residents.

Situated on the south side of the Thames close to London Bridge on the site of what was previously a small warehouse, the site is bordered by Guy Street Park to the east and west. The building comprises two interlocking staggered sections, each stacked around a stair and liftcore. The long southern face is formed at ground level by the wall of the original warehouse, serving as the boundary to Guy Street Park. This establishes the new building in the history of the site as well as providing privacy. The appearance is of a turreted town rising above a city wall.

The scheme provides a ground floor 470m² office space and a residential space totalling 1,400m². The eight apartments comprising the residential area are made up of 5 two bedroom and 3 three bedroom units ranging in size from 118m2 to 155m². The entrance to the office is on the shorter eastern facade, whilst the north houses the entrance to the apartments from a mews-style court.

The large open-plan office has a meeting room, with service spaces tucked between the cores. Two dominating windowless concrete walls are given life by the use of strip skylights and an oculus set in the terrace above.

All apartments are split-level and open-plan, providing living, kitchen, dining, and study areas. The design is based on Solidspace’s ‘DNA: eat, live, work’ philosophy. The interlocking living spaces are arranged at half levels around a double-height volume. The living, kitchen and dining areas are separated by stairs rather than doors, which contributes to the unbroken, flowing feel of space and also maximises the sense of space available in a tight footprint. This layout is supported by an innovative sprinkler system which removes the need for fire doors in the apartments. Only the bathrooms and bedrooms are separated by doors, often on different levels.

The overall structure is a concrete shell, cast in-situ using rough-sawn douglas fir panelling. This gives a textured patterned surface where exposed that exudes calm. The building is faced with creamy-blonde Weinerberger brick—lighter than usually seen in London, which helps give the building contrast in its surroundings but matches with the pre-cast concrete balconies. The balconies are cantilevered in an exaggerated way so that residents are able to stand fully away from the building and look back at it.

The fenestration is in the form of large anodised aluminium spandrel window panels which are oak framed internally and set in deep reveals. On the south facade the windows are large L and T shapes to mirror the interconnected spaces within each apartment and which visually help contribute to the ‘tetris’ appearance. The bronze colour adds warmth and contrast.

Both internally and externally the building reflects AHMM’s design philosophy—“essential architecture”—where nothing can be taken away and nothing needs to be added. An example on the exterior is the way in which ventilation is achieved. Instead of installing air vents, the brickwork itself is opened up to create decorative lattices that provide practical air ventilation. For the interior, the simple but highly crafted surfaces and limited palette of terrazzo, parquet, oak, walnut, aluminium and concrete are designed as a nod to post-war Milanese apartment blocks. Everywhere, the quality of the materials is allowed to dominate, without adding any extraneous details or clutter.

The project is very much a celebration of the craftsman and the specialist. The joinery, in particular, is a major feature of each apartment as it forms walls of shelving, cupboards and panelling, which conceal the storage areas and bathrooms. Such was the complexity of the joinery that a workshop was set up on site utilising the ground floor office space. A team of specialists worked to template, manufacture, lip, produce and soft fit all of the bespoke oak and walnut panelling before it was sent off to be veneered and finished.

There is no doubt that this level of quality and attention to detail comes at a price, and these luxury apartments are unmistakably high-end. They challenge the status quo of luxury developments by favouring hand-made materials over manufactured. However the length of the development time, and the close collaboration between client and architect has been crucial in enabling the project to maximise spatial and architectural value. This is not only in the selection and quality of materials—the exposed, textured concrete, bespoke joinery, brick envelope and anodised aluminium—but also in creating innovative solutions to provide space and light within a tight sight. Not forgetting also the logistics of building within a confined space at the same time that redevelopment works of the neighbouring London Bridge Station were also being carried out.

A building of this nature requires experience of complex projects right through the supply chain, from the client/ developer, architect, contractor, through to the various specialists, sub-contractors and crafts. The JCT Major Project Construction Contract is suited where, such as in this case, a very experienced developer is able to work with the project team for a period of time to develop their vision of the project. The Major Project Construction Contract allows the flexibility for parties who have their own bespoke requirements and are able to work collaboratively. For Weston Street, it is atestament to the construction process that a ten-year labour of love between developer and architect is able to achieve such a striking result.

81–87 WESTON STREET: PROJECT SUMMARY
Start on site: ………………………………………… July 2015
Completion: …………………………………………. February 2018
Internal area:…………………………………………. 1,926m2
Contract:………………………………………………… JCT Major Project Construction Contract
Client/Project Manager:………………………….. Solidspace
Architect:……………………………………………… Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM)
Contractor:…………………………………………… Bryen & Langley Quantity Surveyor/Cost Consultant/
CDM Coordinator: ………………………………… Orbell Associates
Structural Engineer:……………………………….. Form Structural Design
M&E Consultant:…………………………………… Desco
Landscape Architect:…………………………….. Coe Design
Fire Consultant:…………………………………….. Optimize Europe
Acoustic Consultant:……………………………… Sandy Brown Associates
Concrete Frame:……………………………………. Oliver Connell & Son
Environment Consultant:………………………… Hilson Moran
Planning Consultant:……………………………… AZ Urban Studio
Party Wall Surveyor:………………………………. Andrew Karoly
Approved Building Inspector:………………….. MLM
CAD software:………………………………………. MicroStation
Estimated Annual CO2 emissions:……………. 9.9kg/m2