Bryden Wood's placemaking approach at Churchwood Gardens

Sustainable architecture: placemaking that wins hearts, minds, awards… and planning

Churchwood Gardens is a private rental sector development in south east London that was described by the Housing Design Awards 2020 judges as ‘genius.’

The ‘genius’ here is an innovative, sustainable architecture scheme that took a sloping, landlocked infill site with a history of failed planning applications and a number of protected species already in residence, and transformed it into a thriving community founded on green design principles. The project enjoys an integral connection to the natural environment, and creates a unique, urban garden feel for residents, while delivering 100% occupancy – and a waiting list – to its developer, Loromah Estates.

Placemaking for an unusual site

The constraints of the site gave us a lot to work with, and turn to our advantage. The steep gradients gave character and perspective, and also meant that we could vary the levels of entry into the nine stepped pavilions we designed for the accommodation (meaning many flats are fully accessible without requiring use of a lift), as well as concealing all the parking spaces, creating a traffic-free environment at surface level.

Apart from a small number of garages, the site had been undeveloped, open land under the ownership of our client since the 1960’s. It was (and still is) home to newts, bats and stag beetles, and many mature trees. We knew from the start that the natural environment would be a major part of the finished development, and green design principles  influenced not only the overall layout – the pavilions being arranged around a central communal green space – but also the choice of natural wood finishes for the facade design, and the wide inclusion of living roofs, both green and brown. The gardens contain extensive biodiversity areas which attract and support many different species.

Designing for sustainability

Future-proof sustainability was key and the properties – including all heating and hot water – are entirely powered by electricity. There are photovoltaic panels on the top roofs of all buildings. The under-croft parking is naturally vented, avoiding mechanical systems, and we have made use of extensive sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS).

Working with the community

Securing planning permission was sensitive, and it was important to us and the developer to minimise the impact on neighbours who had enjoyed open land behind their properties for many years. For example, we angled the buildings to address privacy concerns and perceived overlooking. We held extensive public consultation, including a church hall presentation with local councillors. And while some residents were bound to remain unhappy, most did recognise efforts we made to minimise the impact of the development. 

The lockdown imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic saw the urban garden style placemaking at Churchwood Gardens really come into its own. Residents could easily get out of their property and into the natural environment, while still feeling safe. 

A successful collaboration in sustainable design

In commercial terms, the development has been a success for Lomorah Estates. We achieved the maximum allowable density, and on completion every home was let within two weeks. Occupancy has remained at 100% and there is a waiting list. Many residents have asked to buy their properties.

Lomorah is an enlightened landlord, it should be said, in their approach to design and build, to the quality of the fixtures and fittings, and to maintaining a demographic spread within the resident community. They deserve great credit for having the courage to commit to our vision for this sustainable architecture project.

Our close collaboration with our client was a key feature in the success of this development, and collaboration is at the heart of everything Bryden Wood does best. With a clear and shared goal, creativity, skill and empathy, we were able to secure planning permission, overcome serious technical challenges and create a wonderful, sustainable and award-winning place to live in London.