Since 2011, the London borough of Camden, Karakusevic Carson Architects, and the residents of Bacton Estate have been working together toward an ambitious masterplan for the site’s redevelopment.
Af Nina Tory-Henderson
Although the built fabric of the existing estate was in poor condition, its social fabric remained cohesive – a thriving and rooted community with families reaching back four generations. The locals expressed an overwhelming desire to remain living there together, among trusted friends, family, and neighbors. The recently completed first phase of the masterplan was, therefore, a concentrated effort to provide new homes within the neighborhood prior to rebuilding the existing estate, avoiding the common ‘double decant’ situation whereby residents are forced out of their homes for long, sometimes unforeseeable periods of time during demolition and construction. In November 2015, 44 social-tenant families were rehoused in new, generous homes designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects. Phase 2 of construction, begun in 2017, will provide a total of close to 300 dwellings of mixed-tenure housing.
The Bacton Estate development is part of the London Borough of Camden’s Community Investment Programme, a response to stripped government funding that makes innovative use of council-owned land to improve public facilities. Bacton Estate is a flagship project for the program using a cross-subsidy funding model — the sale of private homes funding the new social housing. Camden Council as client and developer retains any value generated from the sale of the units, which is then reinvested back into social capital without the usual developer cut.
Camden Council & Karakusevic Carson Architects’ scheme is highly ambitious in its deliverables of liveability, sustainability, durability and exceptional public space, but its presence remains humble. The architects have worked hard toward a generous, simple and robust design for the Bacton Estate community.
To the north of the existing estate, the completed Phase 1 intelligently makes the most of its tight triangular site bordered by a railway line. Council homes of four-story terrace houses and two to three-bedroom maisonettes provide 35 – 70% additional space from London standards. Each townhouse boasts four or five bedrooms, two living areas, three bathrooms, kitchen, and dining on the first three levels, and is capped by a secluded roof terrace. Each floor is given full-height, Juliet balcony windows overlooking the south-facing communal courtyard, flooding the living spaces with natural light. Lined up along the railway in a proud row, they take their cue from traditional London townhouses with strong vertical rhythms and handsome brick facades.
Karakusevic Carson Architects specified quality, sustainable and durable materials throughout. Most notably they have championed the use of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), which accounts for most of the structure. Although not yet widely adopted in the UK, CLT is known as ‘the engineered wood of the future’ due to its exceptional structural properties, prefabrication and therefore minimal waste and speed of construction, low-energy production processes, good thermal and acoustic performance as well as C02-absorbing and storing capabilities.
Other materials were chosen for their utility of low maintenance and durability: zinc roof panels, frosted glass balustrades, textured brickwork, solid timber & aluminum composite window frames, hardwood engineered floorboards, and ceramic tiling.
The generosity of the design continues to the site’s public spaces. A large portion of the plot is given to a central communal courtyard with the new dwellings arranged around it. Simple and delicate fin-bar steel railings contain small gardens at each terrace entrance, forming an elegant streetscape. Textured brickwork, varied openings, double-height entrance lobbies and alternating recessed and projecting balconies create stimulating and considered facades that give back to the urban realm.
The success of the Bacton Low Rise Estate redevelopment owes itself to a rigorous, transparent and inclusive design process between the architects, residents, and council. The existing community was critically engaged during all stages, with their needs and desires at the core of design decisions. Community consultation events (seven during design development and over 20 during detailed design) went above and beyond the “tick-the-box public engagement” frequently found in the architecture world. Robust dollhouse-like models were constructed for accessible communication; broad material samples were presented, through which residents could customize their individual homes; there was even a collective visit to the brick manufacturer in Belgium. Importantly, there was a focus on education through this process, including training sessions on reading architectural plans, navigating the ins and outs of complex planning processes and imparting knowledge on best practice design and construction methodologies. Following such an inclusive and collaborative process, the residents hold a strong sense of ownership, identity, and pride in the estate’s redevelopment.
Bacton Estate is a strategic, thoughtful and sensitive project in all aspects of design, funding, construction and community engagement. It is exemplary of what architecture can, and should, do.