Perimeter blockRow houseSlab, corridorSlab, gallery-access
Coin Street
Haworth Tompkins Architects | London, Great Britain | 2001
Image of Coin Stree...
Garden (south) facade

ProjectCoin Street
ArchitectHaworth Tompkins Architects
CountryGreat Britain
AddressStamford/Coin Street/Cornwell Road/Upper Ground
Building TypePerimeter block
Row house
Slab, gallery access
Number of Dwellings59
Date Built2001
Dwelling Types4 & 6 BR townhouses, 3 BR maisonettes, flats
No. Floors4-5
Section Typepoint-access and gallery access
Exterior Finish
brick, metal, glass, wood, concrete
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesparking, shops, comunity center (later phase)

This public housing project, located in a very busy district in Southwark, close to the national theaters, the hi-rise IBM headquarters, the London Television Center and Waterloo Station, is a modern interpretation of the traditional Georgian residential square. The site had been a used for a parking lot and was sold to a community group, the Coin Street Community Builders by the Greater London Council just before the GLC was disbanded in the 1980’s. A group of young architects were invited to participate in a limited competition for the design of a group of about 40 dwellings including a large parking garage. During the competition, a community social center was added to the program to be built on one side of the square in a 2nd phase of construction. In the final design there are 59 dwellings organized on three sides of the site around a garden built on top of the garage. The community center will be built along the remaining side thus completely enclosing the garden area.

The site concept is striking in is clarity and simplicity. The dwellings form residential walls on three sides of the central garden. On the street side, this perimeter wall is defined as a simple brick wall 3-stories high with recessed openings and a revealed metal cornice. On the interior of the block dwellings open to fenced private gardens and have extensive glazing, balconies, terraces and trellises. Along the east and west sides, the perimeter is made up of 4-story high houses that step back above the 3rd floor forming terraces on both sides of the building. The north side of the block is 5 floors high and extends to each corner of the block. Along the north side 3-story dwellings correspond to the height of the brick datum, but on top of this is a row of 2-story maisonettes that open to terraces and have access from an open gallery on the inside of the block at the 3rd floor. Shops replace the 3-story houses at the corners of the block where there are lobbies that access the flats and maisonettes above. Another entrance midway along the north façade provides an entrance to the garden. The increased building height here responds to the more urban edge along this side of the site and renders the top maisonettes as south-facing garden villas.

The street facades are rendered as a veneer of brick behind which the recessed windows and upper wall form a secondary layer in metal that seems to pass up behind the brick cladding to the metal and wood clad walls of the top structures. The recessed layer of metal cladding is also expressed at the house entrances along the street and at the building entrances. The materials change on the garden side to continuous floor to ceiling glazing, vertical wood siding, concrete walls, and fences that define each private garden, the wood slated balconies, and cantilevered sunscreens.

Careful detailing along the sidewalk eliminates many of the security and privacy issues that plague ground floor dwellings. The entrance ensemble for each house consists of a gated recessed vestibule that is clad in metal and glass and provides a protected area off the sidewalk. Entrance here is through the gate, toward a wall with a raised window that allows a view of the entrance, a translucent glass door, and clerestory windows on the two sides of the entry hall and small toilet. There is also a small storage closet to one side for bikes and prams. Other careful detailing of the sidewalk area along the building includes a wide sidewalk, separate structures for the garbage cans, the planting of trees, and clusters of perpendicular parking. In contrast to the closed, dense quality of the street facades, the garden facades are articulated as a zone of balconies, trellises and sunscreens to the garden façade. The detailing of trellises and balconies is carried up to the rooms and maisonettes on the roof level where the solar panels for domestic hot water are mounted. Each dwelling has a 7-meter deep fenced garden that is the spatial extension of the living spaces.

Great care was taken to landscape the roof of the parking garage on the interior of the block. Planters have been built for mature trees, there are flower beds and defined circulation and play areas so that huge expanse of paving typical to garage roofs has been mostly avoided. The garage has parking for 250 cars. Income from the parking forms a subsidy that helped make the perimeter block idea and the construction of 3 and 4-story houses economically viable in the rental social rental market.

Of the 59 apartments at Coin Street, 32 of them are either 3 or 4-story houses. There are very few examples of family dwellings of this size and quality in the public sector. The London terrace house is an important reference for these row houses and, although the split-level entrance typical to the terrace type is different, the 4-story height, opportunity for extended families and work-at-home activities, and private garden are features both types share. The top floor of the 4-story type is virtually a separate penthouse with ample terraces front and rear. The maisonettes on top of the north block are also rendered as a similar penthouse condition.

Larger buildings surround Coin Street and the argument could be made that even at 4 and 5-story heights, the project is under-scaled for this urban context. Along the street, the building seems even lower because of the step-back at the top of the brick. But the room density is still about 50% higher than the Lambeth Borough standard. While great pains have been taken to make a sustainable landscape on the garage, the long-term health of the scheme depends greatly on the maintenance of this area. The future of the courtyard is also dependent on how successfully the 2nd phase of construction for the Coin Street Center completes and sustains the private realm of the courtyard. Urbanistically, there is a critical difference between the model of the London residential square and that of the perimeter block. The landscape of the square, even though fenced off for the exclusive use of the residents, was part of the public realm and provided critical spatial relief to the space of the street. The courtyard interior of the perimeter block, however, is entirely privatized and thus is totally removed from the public realm. This is to reverse the traditional relationship between residence and street and a critical quality of perimeter block projects like Coin Street will be how successfully the street is landscaped, energized with commercial activity, and maintained as a public space.

Architects' Journal, 31 July/7Aug., 1997, pp. 8-9.

Hardingham, Samantha, London: A Guide To Recent Architecture, B.T. Batsford, London, 2002, pp. 116-18.

RIBA Journal, Aug, 1997, pp. 20-21.

Home; A Place To Live, The Housing Design Awards 199702003.

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©2002 Roger Sherwood. All Rights Reserved