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