Pitman Tozer tames another tricky site with its Kindred House tower in Croydon
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Pitman Tozer tames another tricky site with its Kindred House tower in Croydon

Nov 05, 2023

On an unenviable Croydon site, once a constrained surface-level car park bounded by a flyover and a disparate array of semi-suburban terraces, sits a new 25-storey mixed-use development providing an equal split of affordable rent and private homes rising above a weighty, sweeping plinth of flexible retail and office space.

It seems improbable that in 2016 this towering block began life as a proposal for a bus depot, energy centre and eight terraced houses. The client, Brick By Brick, and the architects, Pitman Tozer, saw the potential for something more ambitious. Together, they tested different building types and massing to bring together a bigger brief within a unified whole. The bus depot was canned after TfL discovered that the space below the flyover was not fit for purpose; the energy centre will follow in a future phase of the development; and the eight terraced houses became 128 apartments.

The five-storey plinth houses a mix of lettable retail space, stores, plant rooms and surprisingly quiet offices adjacent to the road, all acting as a buffer for the affordable apartments on the opposite side of the plan. All the accommodation above is apartments, six per floor, within a volume split into two slimmer elements.

This is not the first time Pitman Tozer has delivered housing adjacent to such transport infrastructure. The practice has a history of creating projects that work with, rather than shy away from, a site's inherent constraints. Gap House, a home for Luke Tozer, one of the practice's directors, and his family, is an early testament to this ethos and his belief that ‘good design adds most value within the trickiest sites’.

The tightly worked plan takes an awkward site between two west London villas, just 8ft wide at its entrance, and widening at intervals along its length, and creates an ample, airy four-storey, four-bedroom property flooded with light. The attention that Gap House garnered led to a commission for an apartment block on another difficult site. Completed in 2014, Mint Street in London's Bethnal Green is the six-storey sibling of Kindred House. The matte black and green glazed bricks of Mint Street's curved principal façade conceal winter gardens that act as a buffer between the living spaces and an east London overground railway line, an idea that Kindred House adopts and refines further.

Practice directors Tim Pitman and Luke Tozer have first-hand experience of living opposite major infrastructure. Just before they established their practice, they spent a formative couple of years sharing a flat in Trellick Tower. The iconic Brutalist block is bounded to the north and east by the Grand Union Canal and to the south by the A40 and train tracks leading from London Paddington station, an experience which taught Tozer that ‘there can be joy in what is considered to be an urban blight’.

Similar to Trellick Tower, the sheer size and relatively isolated site of Kindred House means that it is a de facto landmark. It is the outermost of the town centre's cluster of tall buildings, with no immediate neighbours similar in scale, and signals a sense of arrival at central Croydon.

The site is bounded by the gentle bend of a 1980s flyover to the south and a multistorey car park immediately opposite; the remainder of the surface-level car park that it was built upon to the west; and an assortment of terraces, semis and apartment blocks constructed in an over-saturated palette of red and orange bricks. By contrast at Kindred House, a restrained palette of terracotta-toned brick and anthracite-coloured aluminium is used almost exclusively, combined in varied bonds, forms and compositions to create subtle shifts across the façades.

Balustrades, mullions, spandrel panels and services doors all read as a close-knit family of components, even layering over the brick-clad upstand at the tower's top to create a delicate crown.

A quarter of a million hand-laid bricks were used to create the near-monolithic elevations of the stepped, bisected volumes. Everywhere, except the darker alternating coursing of the slim, recessed lift block, uses the same stock. Pale mortar is used across the skin of the scheme, and the three-brick-deep reveals utilise a darker shade to amplify the intensity of their shadows. Despite being near a conservation area, Kindred House's immediate context has little in the way of a coherent or consistent urban grain or aesthetic. With little to work with, the A232 is Kindred House's anchor and form follows flyover – the shallow curve of the southern façade echoes the geometry of the road, its curvature rising from the podium level to parapet.

The exterior of the newly completed scheme, which began on site at the outset of the pandemic, is best appreciated from the other side of the A232. Viewed obliquely from the south-west, with a zig-zagging flyover in the foreground and the rumble of passing cars, the block feels singular and monumental. From this vantage, the narrow western façade and its broken corners appear at their most slender, the deep fins of the lengthy southern elevation shroud the windows with an equally deep shadow, making the scheme appear almost skeletal. Each broken corner subdues the scale of the scheme and, internally, is its most impressive feature. Each apartment incorporates a winter garden that shields the full length of the living spaces from the noise and pollution of cars below. Of the floors which have six apartments (the majority of levels), four are on the corners of the building, two are central. Lightly textured tan tiles, wall-mounted lights and a sequence of chunky white columns evoke the qualities of an ancient arcade or portico.

Like the exteriors, the interior palette is similarly restrained. Monochromatic walls, kitchens and sanitaryware set the tone. A recurring motif of chevron-patterned tiled, timber and carpeted floors introduces colour and texture throughout the living spaces, bathrooms and communal areas. The principal features of the muted interiors are their abundant daylight, distant views and stillness.

Each flat and each office of Kindred House is an unexpected oasis of calm. A consistent backdrop of cars, people, varied scenery and constantly shifting light connects occupants to the activity and life of Croydon, aiding the sense of serenity, rather than upsetting it. The heft and scale of Kindred House's outward appearance tackle its tricky context well, belying the deftness, lightness and serenity within.Nile Bridgeman is a designer, writer, and co-founding member of architecture and design collective Afterparti

The complex brief and challenging site conditions drove a design that creates a mixed-use scheme with high-quality homes on a challenging site.

The cluster of taller elements around a central core provides a high number of flats per floor and a composition of slim elements to create a complex silhouette on the Croydon skyline. The plinth provides start-up office space and flexible commercial space at ground-floor level. The scheme includes a new public space and improved public realm that stitches it into the neighbourhood.

The deep brick reveals are an integral part of the solar control strategy and the scheme represents a further development of a winter garden typology as an environmental buffer, which we first used at Mint Street in Bethnal Green.Luke Tozer, director, Pitman Tozer Architects

The principle of repurposing land used for car parking is an inherently sustainable approach. The scheme makes best use of precious brownfield land.The fabric has been designed with deep reveals to reduce the solar gain by providing shade and has avoided the need for mechanical cooling both to the homes and commercial element. Winter gardens provide environmental buffer spaces that help to insulate the homes both thermally and acoustically from the nearby busy road.

In operation, the centralised plant located on the flyover side serves all office, commercial and residential uses. It is designed to plug into the proposed local sustainable energy centre, which is due to be developed on an adjacent site.

Green roofs have increased biodiversity and reduced rainwater run-off, as has the planting to the new ground-floor public realm and communal roof terrace at 22nd floor level. The single core provides a shared entry and circulation for all the tenures.

Larger shared ownership homes are provided over lower levels, with affordable rent apartments above and market sale homes higher up. The 22nd-floor roof terrace is for all residents to enjoy.

The ground floor of the building is raised above the 100-year flood level, with a continuous void below to allow for anticipated flooding and climate change.Luke Tozer, director, Pitman Tozer Architects

A key environmental design challenge was how to keep the dwellings comfortable, given the proximity of the building to the A232 flyover. The noise and fumes from this road and the energy centre due to be constructed adjacent to this site meant that the building couldn't just rely on large opening windows to avoid overheating, so even more care had to be taken than usual over the façade design to minimise solar gains. We worked closely with Pitman Tozer, modelling the façade iteratively to optimise the articulation so that the solar gains were minimised while maintaining good daylight and views out across the city. The result was low solar gains to the occupied spaces so that residents do not need to choose between comfortable temperatures and comfortable acoustic conditions or air quality. NOx filtration is included on the mechanical ventilation system to maintain good internal air quality.

Additional free cooling is also provided via the control of the MVHR units, which are designed to run at a higher rate when the external temperatures are below the internal temperatures during the summer.Henry Rock-Evans, principal engineer, Max Fordham

Kindred House provides much-needed housing close to the facilities of Croydon Old Town centre. The distinctive silhouette marks a gateway into the south of the town centre following the curve of the adjacent to the A232 flyover. The high-quality design responds creatively to its challenging site and provides well-designed and affordable homes for a mix of households and start-up office accommodation, as well as new, high-quality public open space.Andrew Percival, executive chair, Brick By Brick

The warm red multi-tonal brickwork was selected as a response to the local context – brick buildings with stepped roof forms and a varied skyline – and also to emphasise vertical proportions and façades with layering and depth. We were interested in how shadowing from a deep façade in a tall building could passively regulate overheating and eliminate the requirement for mechanical cooling. Although the use of prefabricated façade units was designed in at tender stage, the winning contractor favoured traditional hand-laid brickwork.

The development of a primary and secondary grid provides an ordered framework, with vertical proportions accommodating the structure and internal partitions behind.

Standardised windows, spandrels and balustrades are inserted in the grid to give a composition in which subtle variation balances economy, efficiency and high quality. The external corners are accentuated as key locations where full-height glazing to winter gardens maximises views out of the building.

Supporting the horizontal banding and allowing the use of a standard-sized masonry support structure, floor slabs are stepped at the perimeter of the building. The dropped edges in turn provide support for secondary metalwork that provides an anchor for the brickwork of the piers.

Balustrades, supported on the reinforced concrete slab, are a two-part element: base brackets fixed prior to application of waterproofing and the balustrading face fixed over. Soffits at window heads are designed to conceal intake and extract for the MVHR system, regulating air quality internally with NOx filters to deal with poor air quality from the flyover below.Jonathan Crossley, associate, Pitman Tozer Architects

Start on site  September 2019 | Completion  December 2022 | Gross internal floor area 13,500m² | Construction cost Undisclosed | Architect  Pitman Tozer | Client  Brick By Brick | Structural engineer  Conisbee (pre-tender), Whitby Wood (construction) | M&E consultant Max Fordham | Quantity surveyor Core 5 | Principal designer Socotec | CDM co-ordinator Gleeds | Approved building inspector London Borough of Croydon | Main contractor Henry Construction | CAD software used Revit | Annual CO2 emissions 61.27 kgCO2/yr | Daylight consultant Point 2 Surveyors | Planning consultant DP9 | Transport consultant Steer | Landscape consultant LT Studio | Acoustic consultant Max Fordham | Sustainability consultant Max Fordham

Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >2% 85% (habitable rooms) | Percentage of floor area with daylight factor >5% 16% (habitable rooms) | On-site energy generation 75% heat from CHP with construction of district heating centre on site adjacent | Heating and hot water load 23.41 kWh/m²/yr | Carbon emissions Not supplied | Annual mains water consumption 105 l/day /occupant | Airtightness at 50Pa 3 m³/h.m² | Overall thermal bridging heat transfer coefficient (Y-value) Not calculated | Overall area-weighted U-value External wall: 0.16 W/m²K, floor: 0.12 W/m²K, roof: 0.1 W/m²K, windows and curtain walling 1.4 W/m²K | Embodied/whole-life carbon Not calculated | Predicted design life 60 years

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TagsCroydon Housing Pitman Tozer

Start on site Fran Williams