Transforming a deprived part of the capital to provide much needed and much improved homes, facilities and streets for the local community.
In the mid-90s, the Aylesbury Estate in south London was infamous for a number of reasons: it was Europe’s largest council estate with one of the highest crime rates in the UK, and was one of the most deprived areas in the country. With deteriorating buildings and disillusioned residents, the estate was in need of extensive regeneration when Tony Blair came to power in 1997. He visited Aylesbury the day after his election victory, pledging to improve the living conditions for local people once and for all.
At this time, the London Borough of Southwark had developed two separate masterplans for the estate. When work on these faltered, and before the council started further work on the overall estate regeneration, we were commissioned to develop a pilot scheme on the south west corner of the site, being mindful that the wider masterplan would have to link with ours later on. Our work needed to demonstrate Southwark’s commitment to the local community and set the standard for future development.
At the outset, we carried out workshops with the London Borough of Southwark, residents and local businesses to explore the various options for improving Aylesbury Estate. Whilst the Council were originally keen on a part refurbishment, part new build scheme, it quickly became apparent that this would not make best use of the site. With all parties in agreement, our approach was then to demolish the existing stock and build better accommodation in its place, while reintroducing the traditional, legible streets that had been lost when the estate was built in the 1960s.
With the existing housing running east to west and all roads running north to south, the starting point for our masterplan was introduce a new grid of streets. We designed the housing as a series of smaller buildings, with taller elements running north to south and lower buildings running east to west to create courtyards and maximise sunlight into all homes. The existing street market was moved into a square on the north eastern corner to draw activity to the proposed new day centre, and new east-west routes were introduced to create better links to neighbouring areas.
Our main challenge was to simultaneously increase the density of the site whilst reducing building heights. We achieved this by creating smaller building footprints with central courtyards, an approach which meant a range of homes could be provided, all with access to private amenity. Being pre-London Housing Design Guide (LHDG) standards, we tested internal planning extensively with residents to ensure the new homes would comfortably accommodate their needs. In fact, we all but predicted the LHDG standards, as all homes in our masterplan met or exceeded its recommendations.
A number of innovative details were introduced within the buildings themselves to create a better environment for local people. One features a large communal atrium space, where residents are more able to meet their neighbours and spend time than they would in a normal corridor. A new day centre has become a landmark for the estate, despite being only a few storeys high. By using a dramatic black zinc cladding with a warm exposed timber structure, it looks markedly different to the residential buildings. Similarly, a pocket park introduced in front of a Victorian Board school gives it the visual prominence it deserves and provides informal play space for the surrounding family homes.
Consultation with the existing community continued after the first workshop and throughout the design process. We created a full size show home on the estate to show residents different layout options: open plan, kitchen/diner and living/diner. These options were exhibited separately in the show home over three weekends so residents could see how their new homes could look and vote for their preferred option. The results were spilt equally three ways, and so the new homes were built accordingly: a third are open plan, a third have kitchen/diners and a third have living/diners.
Our involvement at this early stage of the regeneration of Aylesbury demonstrates the importance of listening to the needs of local residents. Since completion, this phase has won a number of national awards for high quality design and placemaking - but most importantly, existing and new residents love where they live.