Perimeter block, courtyardPerimeter block, infillRow houseSlab, point-access
Chronos Buildings
Proctor and Matthews (Stephen Proctor and Andrew Mathews | London, England | 2000-2002
Image of Chronos ...
Street facade at the connection to the existing historic building to the east

ProjectChronos Buildings
ArchitectProctor and Matthews (Stephen Proctor and Andrew Mathews
CityLondon
CountryEngland
Address9-25, Mile End Road E1
Building TypePerimeter block, courtyard
Perimeter block, infill
Row house
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellings65
Date Built2000-2002
Dwelling Types1, 2 BR flats and maisonettes, 3 BR townhouses
No. Floors4-5
Section Typeflats and maisonettes
Exterior Finish
Materials
plaster, galvanized steel, cedar, terracotta, glass , brick, aluminum
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesshops, garage parking

Housing construction in east London has long been dominated by the Docklands work along the Thames. Most of this building was done either as conversions of existing warehouses and other buildings or as new construction on sites vacated by former maritime activities. A different, perhaps more challenging opportunity for new housing in east London, however, rested with the problem of rebuilding dilapidated parts of the existing pattern of blocks. Building opportunities in these neighborhoods are typically on smaller sites that have to co-exist in the diverse context of existing heterogeneous districts, buildings from various periods, styles, and with different geometries and alignments. The recipient of an RIBA Housing Award in 2002, the Chronos Buildings are built on such a site, a block at the corner of two major streets, Mile End Road, a major east-west street along the south side and Cambridge Heath Road extending obliquely to the north.

The site presents two distinct design situations: the perimeter of the block and an odd, left-over space on the interior of the block. The perimeter infill site is located along Mile End Road between an historic 17th century building and some rather ordinary 3 story brick apartments at the corner. The awkward-shaped space on the interior of the block is accessible only through the perimeter of the block. The architects applied two different building typologies in the design of the two sites.

The first, a 4-story infill wall that consists of 3 floors of flats above a zone of shops along the sidewalk, completes the perimeter of the block along the south side along Mile End Road. The second, takes the form of two terraced blocks on the interior of the block that back up to adjacent buildings with small fenced gardens and face one another across a narrow court. The space between the two is used for both vehicular and pedestrian circulation. The meandering space between wall and terrace buildings forms an irregular court that is partially landscaped, but functions mostly as an access drive from Cambridge Heath Road, a ramp for basement parking beneath the infill building, and individual parking spaces for the terrace dwellings. The three buildings contain 65 dwellings, including 1 and 2 bedroom flats and maisonettes, and 6 three bedroom townhouses.

The infill building along Mile End Road is expressed as a 4-story high continuous rectangular slab, finished in white plaster, that transforms to a 5-story cylinder at the east end. A 4-story high steel frame, several feet deep is attached to the plaster wall. Terracotta panels with large rectangular openings are attached to the outside of this frame forming a continuous screened surface at the 1st & 2nd floors. The frame forms a loggia of free-standing round columns at the sidewalk and extends above the top of the two floors of terracotta to form a sunscreen/trellis for the terraces of the dwellings on the top floor. The space between plaster wall and terracotta/frame is a zone of balconies for the apartments facing the street and is detailed as a partially open space with glass balustrades that allow light to penetrate down behind the front screen. Sliding cedar louver panels help control sunlight into the balcony zone. The eastern end of the façade transforms into a white plaster cylinder 5 floors high that has an open pilotis at the ground floor, hoizontal strip windows, and sets back a few feet from the virtual surface of the apartments. The round shape is a critical compositional device that helps make the transition from the 4- story brick wall of the existing building at one end of the site to the taller, slightly angled, turreted historic brick and stone building at the other. The framed terracotta screen extends partially past the cylinder where it is expressed as a larger opening that is engaged by small balconies cantilevered forward of the center axis of the cylinder. The zone of glazed shop fronts is carried into the ground floor of the cylinder affording a view of and an entrance to the inner courtyard. The street entrance to the apartments is located midway along the shop fronts. Behind, in the courtyard, the façade is brick with horizontal windows and has a similar layered open structural frame at the bottom two floors. This applied frame incorporates storage areas for trash cans, frames stairs to the slightly raised rear shop entrances, supports a trellised gallery at the second floor that provides access to the top three floors of flats, and makes a formal transition to the 5-story cylinder. Again, the plaster cylinder is articulated as a separate element, open at the ground floor with balconies cantilevered toward the courtyard.

On the interior of the block, a double 4-story high row of 8 terraced dwellings is aligned north south along a narrow court that is defined by a wall and water sculpture at the north end. Expressed as an abbreviated “mews” the space between terraces serves both pedestrian and auto access. A narrow strip of landscaped space between the road and the buildings is defined with several structures for trash cans, short flights of stairs to the lower apartment and a longer stair to the second level and a short gallery that provides access to apartments here and to access stairs inside for the maisonettes that are on the top two levels. Vehicles are parked in this zone between stairs. As with the infill building, the combination of stairs, covered gallery and upper balcony forms an articulated structure several feet deep that is attached to the façade. The organization of the section is reinforced in the choice of façade materials: plaster for the flats on the bottom two floors, with the maisonettes on top of 2 floors rendered in brick and the continuous roof terrace in gray plaster and glass. The materials and details used in both infill and terrace buildings here are virtually interchangeable with Proctor Matthews’ Millennium Village Phase 2 project of the previous year: galvanized steel frame, prefabricated panels in plaster, terracotta and red cedar, cedar trellises, tempered glass roof panels, powder-coated balustrades, and timber windows.

The street façade of Chronos is certainly one of the most skillful design interventions in London in recent years. The terracotta panels of the layered false façade maintain the surface planer qualities of the street as well as the recessed depth of the balconies and help provide some protection from sun and sound. The galvanized steel frame is expressed as a tectonic element that turns into the round columns of the open loggia in front of the shops and becomes an open trellis at the roof. Finally, the juxtaposition of the extended frame past the white plaster cylinder and the cantilevered balconies, pilotis and curved glazing that treat it as a partially free-standing element help terminate the wall and make the spatial adjustment to the very plastic decorated qualities of the historic building next door. Density requirements and the limitations of the height of the street wall doubtless resulted in the need to build additional dwellings on the block interior. Here, the situation is much more problematic because of its peculiar shape, the adjacency of other buildings, and because this was about the only way to get access to parking beneath the street building. While the model of the English Terraced house as an idealized housing type is a compelling paradigm, this is something less than an ideal site and the mews idea ends up being the slightly truncated modernist caricature of real terraced houses. The section is dense, there is a complex mix of apartments, houses and maisonettes, and the application of the layered tectonic frame solves a lot of detail problems. But the use of this as a building type for the interior of blocks is questionable. Robert Rummey’s landscape for the courtyard was limited by the fact that this space is mostly occupied by cars, but the trees, fountain, and patterned areas do soften and help pedestrianize this space.

The Housing Design Awards, 1997-2003, Royal Institute of British Architects

RIBA Journal, April, 2002, pp. 42-48.

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