This project was born out of a relationship with the London Borough of Sutton that has lasted several decades, and includes our design for the Sutton Life Centre (a multi-purpose community building), primary schools and refurbishments. Looking to use their land more effectively to meet an increased need for housing, and responding to Policy H2 in the London Plan recommending the use of small brownfield sites to reduce the impact on greenfield ones, Sutton had identified a number of opportunities for infill development. Often occupied by rundown garages, many of the sites were hidden in inhospitable places, but had a variety of interesting contextual conditions. Our brief—following a short competition—was to carry out a study to explore the potential of these ‘blind spots’ for development.
We visited nine very different sites during our research. Some were tucked behind high street shops or occupied an unbuilt gap in a residential row; others were interstitial areas on the edges of estates or unused plots backing onto neighbouring gardens. Rather than working remotely, we spent time at all of them, making sketches, talking to dog walkers and other passers-by, and looking in particular at the green amenities available.
Our study set out ideas for 44 new homes across the nine locations. We treated the projects as a family, developing a standardised palette of layouts and materials, and offered the potential for them to be constructed as a modular or panellised kit of parts offsite. The design principles were informed by the ‘Good Quality Homes for All Londoners’ supplementary planning guidance which sits alongside the London Plan. Most have the character of a traditional two-up, two-down and arebuilt in high quality handmade brick, with pitched roofs and recognisable chimneys. Throughout, we tried to hold on to the general amenity, the smallest moves that make the biggest difference to everyday lives. Stair cores have natural light, the large windows in the main living rooms are oriented for the best aspect at certain times of day, balconies are generous and hallways wide enough to bring the buggy in.