• Architecture
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Urban Design
  • Housing

Ocean Estate,
Tower Hamlets



Project Details:

Placemaking on a large scale to transform a deprived estate into somewhere desirable where people really want to live.

Client: East Thames Housing Group, First Base, Bellway Homes, Wates Living Space and Spitalfields Housing Association

Construction Value: £200m

Completion: 2014

Location: Tower Hamlets


  • First Time Buyer Awards 2019, Best Urban Regeneration Project: Shortlisted
  • London Construction Awards 2016, Regeneration Project of the Year: Winner
  • Planning & Placemaking Awards 2016, Best Housing Scheme (more than 500 homes): Highly Commended
  • Planning & Placemaking Awards 2016, London Region: Shortlisted
  • Housebuilder Awards 2016, Best Regeneration Initiative: Shortlisted
  • London Planning Awards 2015, Best New Place to Live: Winner
  • WAN Awards 2014, Urban Design: Shortlisted
  • Urban Design Group Awards 2014, Practice Award: Shortlisted
  • New London Awards 2014, Housing: Shortlisted
  • Housing Design Awards 2014, Complete: Shortlisted
  • RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence 2014, Leading the Way for Planning in Community: Shortlisted
  • British Homes Awards 2013, Affordable Housing Development of the Year: Winner
  • British Homes Awards 2013, Apartment Building of the Year: Winner
  • British Homes Awards 2013, Best Multi-storey Building: Commended
  • What House? Awards 2013, Apartment Building of the Year: Silver medal
  • Premier Guarantee Excellence Awards 2012, Multi-storey Development of the Year: National Winner

Images: Tim Crocker

New homes
Community engagement
Enhanced biodiversity
Enhanced public realm
Social value
Sustainable drainage
Access for all
Child friendly design
Low energy use
Dual aspect homes

Where we started

The Ocean Estate in Stepney, east London, was one of the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods when we became involved in 2009. Residents were disillusioned with past attempts at regeneration, but were keen for the site to be improved. It was blighted by street crime and the majority of housing was no longer fit for purpose.

Developers were invited to bid for the site, and working with Bellway Homes and East Thames Housing Group (ETHG), we worked up proposals to refurbish 1,200 existing homes, deliver over 1,000 new homes and significantly enhance the landscape.

Stepney, east London, in 1981, photo by Phil Maxwell

An early concept sketch

Our winning approach focused on involving local residents and we instigated monthly forums, annual fun days and other local events to enable people to ask questions and give direct feedback to the client and design team. A programme for Community Champions was also developed, which offered resident volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills in return for conducting, analysing and presenting research work on the estate. These findings were then used to shape our proposals.

Consultation events ensured we prioritised the community's needs

We were tasked with securing planning consent within just 29 weeks of our appointment to meet HCA funding deadlines. This already tall order was combined with a need to improve upon the original brief – it did not account for enough family housing and ETHG wanted to use their own design guide, which outlined larger space standards than those prescribed by the London Housing Design Guide. In short, we needed to provide much more on the same site, and quickly.

Ocean Estate offers the regeneration and family housing that Stepney so badly needed

Outwardly, the scheme is designed to be tenure-blind


We focused on creating a real sense of place within the new Ocean Estate. Existing monolith housing blocks have made way for smaller buildings, designed to recreate a more traditional street pattern. Forming new routes into and through the site, where pedestrians and cyclists are given priority, improves its permeability and safety for residents and the wider community. A shared surface approach to street design with seating and tree planting has created incidental spaces for residents to inhabit and feel proud of.

The site of a dense building has become a pedestrian axis

Ocean provides 240 high quality new mixed tenure homes and retail space

Both of the new buildings are designed around central courtyards spaces which are designed for shared, flexible use. Variation in scale and materials of built form responds appropriately to the context. East-west wings facing onto parks are taller to maximise the number of homes that can enjoy views, whereas those running north-south are much lower to allow sunlight into the courtyards and not impose on the low rise terraces opposite. This approach also meant that we could add more family housing at ground level and more homes in taller buildings to improve the viability of proposals. The relationship of ground floor terraces overlooking communal courtyards has resulted in enlivened and safe spaces for residents to enjoy.

Importantly, the design of the new buildings does not distinguish between each of the different tenures. Variation in bricks and balconies picks up the styles of neighbouring architecture, whilst colour adds vibrancy and gives the estate more of a modern look and feel.

We instigated a competition to find a local artist to develop a concept that could be integrated within the regeneration. Henna Nadeem abstracted elaborate textile patterns from the area’s heritage, using the colour palette within the architecture, and fused these with the core circulation space design.

Wings running north-south are lower to permit sunlight to enter courtyards where planting and play are sensitively combined

Local artist Henna Nadeem created bespoke pieces for each core

Our work on the Ocean Estate has transformed a post code. It’s seamlessly integrated the new and old communities and carefully fused together architecture and landscape to create a genuinely mixed, thriving neighbourhood.

Gary Tidmarsh, Chairman

As testament to our success on the Ocean Estate, we have subsequently been asked to work on the last phase of development. Currently on site, this final piece of the puzzle will provide 225 new homes on the edge of a public park and complete the regeneration within this part of Stepney.

Aerial view of the new Ocean Estate

Masterplan for Ocean Estate

Ground floor plan for Block E

Ground floor plan for Block F

Core team

Gary Tidmarsh


Matthew Goulcher

Managing Director

Tony Hall


Glyn Tully

Associate Director, Head of Urban Design

Kate Digney

Associate Director, Head of Landscape

Simon Lea

Associate Director

Julia Park


Tom Randle

Senior Associate

Ben Monteagle


Georgie Revell


Oscar Bond

Senior Architect

Andy Jobling


Alistair McEachern