At present, the vacant form that stands on the site of 47-53a Leigh Road in the Highbury Fields Conservation Area is a tribute London’s happy urban fabric of profound diversity. It is a brown brick monument to Britain’s last age of austerity, a robust corduroy suit of a building with elbow patches; brandishing the heroic neo-rusticism of raked bricks with tectonic medieval flourishes: the former care home for young adults with learning difficulties is elaborately impractical, playfully unnavigable, an extravagant octagonal conglomeration of disorientating geometries.
The HTA design for Homes for Islington and Islington Adult Social Services comprises 11 self-contained flats and 2 supported flats served by a vein of varied shared rooms making up a spine of light spaces on this sensitive site has been granted Planning Approval.
The design forgets none of the creative vigour of its predecessor, but critically demonstrates a more robustly compassionate attention to the complex needs of this user group. Distinguished externally by an attention to brick and its particular properties in a remembrance of things done well through a subtle fusion of traditional details; details which one takes for granted will be rendered in high quality materials. Concerns around the impact of the building were addressed by Sunlight/Daylight consultants Waterslade. The landscaping, a challenge on a topographically complicated site, has been resolved by HTA Landscape to establish the sense of home, an accessible garden which excellently settles the plan amongst this grove of mature trees. Internally, front doors articulate a dignifying sense of the individual and read as a safe village of managed independence.
Building in a conservation area deserves a meditation on what it is we conserve: architecture conceived with an attention to the varied dimensions of human flourishing, concerned for a robust flexibility of space and a rigorous generous layout that deserves the conservation of repeated reuse and reappropriation over time. Furthermore, it is no mere ‘contextual sensitivity’ of aping proportion and style that bestows the right to be amongst such a neighbourhood, but rather , the embodiment of delight manifested in its very production. To this the design for Leigh Road enjoys to add the pleasure of subtle ornament within the gridded fenestration borrowed from neighbouring Beech Croft Court; the windows are here confidently deep set, crisply edged and tidily, enduringly built to long serve the sight of this home. It is the qualitative impression of personality in decoration, beyond the more measurable quantities of compliance, which inspire the affection needed for sustainable construction.
Throughout, this project has been rewarding, concerned for the real challenges that face the disabled, at a scale that is conceivable in a locality that is walkable, this is place-making in its truest sense in a context of considerable constraints.