Review: Partial redevelopment of a north London council estate

Pembury Circus replaced council tenements with housing blocks of varying heights and materials, but more activity at ground level could help deter anti-social behaviour, finds Katy Neaves.

More activity at ground level could help create a safer environment (PIC Katy Neaves)
More activity at ground level could help create a safer environment (PIC Katy Neaves)

Situated at the junction of Dalston Lane, Pembury Road and Amhurst Road in Hackney in north London, the Pembury Circus development successfully knits itself into its context. The development is a joint venture between the housing association Peabody Trust and housebuilder Bellway Homes, and was designed by Fraser Brown MacKenna Architects. It is a residential led mixed use scheme, comprising around 270 studio, one, two and three bedroom apartments, along with a community centre and a supermarket.

Located as part of the Pembury Estate, the neighbourhood has a difficult history of crime and anti-social behaviour. The original buildings provided unsuitable bedsits and were demolished in 2007. The new apartment buildings, completed last year, now address this key corner site and form three parcels. The tallest building marks the corner at 14 storeys, with adjacent parcels stepping down to seven and three storeys mediating between the taller building and its surroundings.

The palette of materials is varied in terms of the brick types, coloured tiles, glass and metal perforated panels. This successfully breaks up the overall mass of the development.

Access and frontages

The new homes link into their context by broadly aligning with adjoining streets and blocks. Pedestrian movement into the existing estate is via Hindret Road, Tolsford Road and Orchard Grove. It is well connected to public transport with links on the London Overground from Hackney Down to Liverpool Street taking around 10 minutes. This, along with regular bus services along Dalston Lane and Pembury Road, reduces the need for car ownership.

Walking around the development is a safe and pleasant experience. Car parking is limited to the provision of mobility and car club spaces.

Both the community centre and retail unit provide active street frontages along Dalston Lane. Along this façade, the apartments reflect the nineteenth century buildings opposite, with stepped entrances at street level. The remaining apartment blocks are accessed from a number of cores around the development.

Big brother

The apartment blocks have been arranged to frame and overlook two courtyards. The southern courtyard positively addresses a 2.5 metre change in level and feels generous in size with the buildings being setback at ground level.

At the time of visiting the development, the northern courtyard, which is gated, was in shadow. Gated environments and CCTV are intended to reduce anti-social behaviour. Encouraging even more ‘eyes on the street’, by increasing activity at ground level in the public realm and on the streets, would be a bigger deterrent.

Katy Neaves is an associate director at planning and design consultancy Turley, specialising in townscape and visual impact assessments. She is also past chair of the Urban Design Group and sits on the London Borough of Wandsworth’s Design Review Panel.

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