A scheme for a development of six new townhouses for the developer Lightbox. The site is set within the Dulwich Estate, a large established residential area in South East London which is characterized by extensive areas of mature planting and landscaping. The project takes its name from Edward Milner, a Victorian landscape gardener who lived in a house on this site in the mid 19th century. Edward Milner was a national figure who worked on a number of celebrated landscape schemes, such as the 1851 Great Exhibition, as well as gardens within Dulwich. The Dulwich Estate is recognized for the quality of its post war residential architecture and the relationship between the area’s houses and this verdant landscape are a key part of the unique atmosphere and appeal of the area. An existing consent was in place, with Syte Architects obtaining planning permission for a revised design proposal.
The site is steeply sloping and is surrounded on all sides by large, mature trees. The buildings are carefully positioned within this woodland landscape, set back into the slope amongst the existing trees. The character of the building is defined by its relationship with the trees and the landscape, very much in the tradition of the existing architecture of the Dulwich Estate.
Throughout the houses a variety of carefully placed openings frame views of the trees. Changes in volume and ceiling height are used to create spatial variety within the interior, with living spaces in each home arranged over two floors around double-height spaces. This approach allows natural light to permeate into the heart of the homes and creates a variety of views through the interiors of the house to the trees beyond. Natural light is filtered through the leaves of the adjacent tree canopies creating a particular atmosphere within the interior. On the upper storey, this character changes somewhat and the windows frame expansive views out across the tree canopy to the city beyond.
The palette of materials is kept simple. Large elements of the superstructure needed to be in reinforced concrete for structural reasons. A decision was made to use this as the internal finish to one wall of the house, with a board marked visual concrete finish being specified. A smooth concrete finish is used for slab soffits. The use of oak for stairs, joinery and some floors add warmth to the spaces. Externally a brick with an inherent surface variation was specified and is set against surfaces of crisp zinc and copper, which will weather gracefully into the site.
To the rear of the site, at the base of the slope, an area of mature woodland has been augmented with new planting to form a communal garden, directly accessible to all residents from their private rear gardens. The first new residents began moving in at the start of 2020. As the summer of lockdown progressed the value of such spaces as a focus for a residential community has become apparent, and the feedback from residents is that this space has been invaluable.
Photography by Peter Landers