The Guinness Partnership has submitted plans to developed the Mansell Street Estate in the City of London, close to Aldgate and Tower Hill. The scheme will see the current 194 flats, all social rented, replaced with 197 social rent apartments and 309 private rent flats.
The designs have been put together by Acme Architects, a rising star who have won recent acclaim for their Victoria Gate shopping scheme in Leeds, but who have been largest active outside of the UK.
The scheme replaces a rather drab 1970s dark brick council estate, devoid of the flurish of the two other large City residential estates, with a collection of buildings that appear to have not only been designed by different starchitects, but also built in different eras and organically collected into one cohesive whole.
Each building has a different materiality, often paying homage to the designs of nearby buildings without being overly deferential or fitting into rigid guidelines of existing styles. Indeed perhaps the greatest success of the design is in the radical updating of many prior styles at once. In one building this means bringing together expressionist concrete echoing brutalism, but making it more organic and flowing.
In one building this means bringing together expressionist concrete echoing brutalism, but making it more organic and flowing. In another, this is involves taking the ultra-reflective glass of the city’s offices, but employing it in balconies in the shape that perhaps is best described as punk.
Other buildings update familiar architectural idioms such as Streamline Moderne and New London Vernacular, but twisting both far from their recognised style base.
The influence of recent continental, and especially German, architecture can be seen in the designs. This is perhaps unsurprising given Acme has designed major schemes in several German cities, which has clearly infused their own design.
Care appears to have been taken with the estate regeneration process to consider and cater to existing residents, which has presented itself in a desire to keep the existing tenants on site and upgrade their accommodation. Significantly, the large number of studio flats in the current blocks are replaced by one bedroom units, expanding the living space for existing residents.
Moreover, while single aspect flats are inevitable in such a dense urban site with height limitations from protected vistas – the scheme only rises to a maximum of thirteen stories, north facing flats have been avoided by careful position of cores, and expressionist, geologically-inspired facades mean that even single-aspect flats have windows facing in different directions.
The scheme also contains new restaurants and cafes, as well as assembly and leisure space and non-residential institutions, having over ten times as much non-residential floorspace as the current buildings. While not quite making the scheme truly mixed use, they open up the site creating new pathways in London’s psychogeography.
With so much of what is designed in London following an increasingly rigid pattern-book of the New London Vernacular zeitgeist, the scheme is a refreshing break that reminds us of the quality that is possible when developers are willing to invest in design.
The influences of a wide variety of architects can be seen, but their element of their styles are blended together in the way of many of the best artworks. Nods to Frank Gehry can be seen in the rippled facades of some buildings, while brick arches reminiscent of work by London architect Peter Barber are found in the same buildings.
The City of London has a relatively small population, being largely a workplace after homes moved out with the railways in the 19th century. The Corporation that runs the City has always seen in necessary however to have some population in order to justify its existence, and its other housing stock is world renowned – the brutalist Barbican complex, and the Corbusierian colourful friendly-modernism of the Golden Lane estate. It also operates large amounts of social housing in neighbouring boroughs of more traditional design.
Guinness & Acme have clearly desired to create a scheme that matches the success of the City’s other large estates, and if the quality of the renders translated into built-fabric, we are likely looking at a new location for architectural pilgrimage and almost certainly a future Stirling Prize winner.