Located on the edge of Newham’s Wanstead Flats, Forest Houses sees the transformation of a former builder’s yard into three new-build homes - including one 3-bedroom family house and two smaller 2-bedroom houses. The scheme also comprises the remodelling and extension of a former end of terrace shop that straddles the entrance to the site, to create another 1-bed home.
The site is bounded by a row of terrace houses to the front and the parkland of the Flats to the rear. The client’s brief sought to maximise an under-used and constrained brownfield plot, and deliver a site-specific solution that can respond to and respect the neighbouring properties through orientation and massing. With a number of previous planning permission failing to unlock the plot, D-P-Q took a radically different approach, using an iterative design process to test ideas through spatial models and open dialogue with the planners, rather than being limited by pre-defined solutions.
Tucking into the furthermost corner of the site, D-P-Q’s innovative design for the new-build homes is based on ‘upside-down’ living - moving bedrooms to the ground floor and positioning the kitchen and living spaces on the projecting first floor. This simple re-arrangement gives living spaces elevated views during the day, and a more secluded feel to the bedroom spaces beneath.
In a nod to the site’s light industrial history, the upper floors of each home feature a sawtooth roof profile, sensitively designed to mirror the height of the rear addition eaves of the adjacent dwellings and avoid the appearance of an overly dominating, bulky development. Here the first floors are purposely orientated north, with large, principal windows offering plentiful daylight, natural ventilation views over Wanstead Flats in the spaces that are used and enjoyed most often by residents. From the outside, the glazing reflects the natural surroundings, rooting the scheme in its context, while the two windows along the east and west facades are permanently fluted and frosted to ensure privacy and avoid overlooking for close neighbours.
At ground floor level, a carefully-considered jigsaw arrangement means the three units efficiently interlock layouts around a series of lightwells and courtyards, optimising the number of family homes on the site while introducing a strong relationship between inside and out. Reflecting their practice ethos of maximising the ‘spaces in-between’, these draw natural light and sunshine deep within the floorplan, creating private outdoor spaces and tranquil views from all of the bedrooms. Windows have been arranged so that hallways look into courtyards, creating a sense that all routes are connected to the outside and retaining the design’s distinct sense of brightness, generosity and openness throughout. Furthermore, Forest Houses introduce a new, subtle point of connection to the Flats, allowing residents direct access to the expansive grassland via the boundary wall.
Brick and metal feature as the primary elements of a robust, long-lasting and easy to maintain material palette, which helps to develop a site-specific architectural language and breaks down the building mass to a human scale. Light-coloured brickwork seamlessly blends into the boundary walls of neighbouring plots, wrapping around the ground floor spaces and courtyards to create a ‘plinth’ like appearance. Permeable ‘hit and miss’ detailing features in both the private courtyards and lightwells, and subtly recessed brick identifies the entrances, adding texture and softness.
Perching above, the lightweight first floor volumes are all clad in the same profiled metal sheets to create a highly textured and unified external envelope that flows between the walls and the roofs. Within, structural elements are left undressed in an honest, unfinished approach. White, exposed blockwork is complemented by a tactile cross-laminated timber structure above, building a connection with the surrounding tree canopies.
Celebrating simplicity in materials and innovation in design and construction, the low-tech yet super-insulated project fuses traditional and modern methods of construction to create a truly sustainable and efficient-to-run home. This can be seen in the careful balance of glazing to insulation in the façade, which optimises thermal performance for residents, while an air-source heat pump enables low-cost, low-maintenance living.
The masonry construction at the base of the project lends itself to the irregular shape of the site and complex floor plan. Once constructed, the first-floor ‘pods’ were then delivered as CLT panels and assembled in less than 5 days. All materials were responsibly sourced and chosen for their longevity, recycling capabilities and ability to provide a healthy, toxin-free home.