Review: Town centre housing development

The design of Berry Court in Bournemouth is inspired by the coastal town's Art Deco buildings, but Richard Eastham asks whether the scheme needed so much car parking.

Berry Court's design picks up on some of the Art Deco features of nearby development (PIC Richard Eastham)
Berry Court's design picks up on some of the Art Deco features of nearby development (PIC Richard Eastham)

Who wouldn’t want to live in a spacious Art Deco inspired flat, within walking distance of a vibrant town centre and close to an award-winning beach? A place where the sound of the sea can be heard from your balcony? Berry Court is a residential development of 113 apartments, which offers just that experience. Built on the site of a 155-space surface car park, it is situated on the edge of Bournemouth town centre. Occupying a plateau of higher ground but surrounded by mature trees, the site can be considered inconspicuous and tucked away.

The aims of the project included the promotion of high quality town centre homes for rent. It was developed by Bournemouth Development Company, the council’s public-private partnership with Morgan Sindall Investments.  Berry Court is conceived as a build to rent scheme for young professionals not ready to purchase a property. Publicity at the time of construction said these homes were aimed at: "Professional people in tech, financial services, tourism and other sectors who want the flexibility to move around as they progress their careers".  

The residents moved in late last year, and it would be interesting to know how their actual occupations match up to these expectations. It is also noteworthy that the promoters have anticipated a transitory community here, with an expected turnover of residents, and not households putting down lasting roots in a town centre environment.

As a result, there is unlikely to be a mix of the young, the old and those bringing up children at Berry Court. Of the 113 apartments, only four of them have three bedrooms. The rest are either one or two bedroom flats. Is this the right long-term response for our evolving town centres?

A question of car parking

The project was required to maintain the previous 155 public car parking spaces, which are included in a new decked car park. The development then added a further 62 car park spaces, allocated for residents.

Perpetuating the ability to access the town centre by car in an age of climate emergency is a questionable objective. Could there have been a more sustainable response to access and movement issues in such a central location? Thankfully, the car park is located behind the main residential element, away from the street.

Designed in a different style to the main building, it could be mistaken as part of a separate scheme. However, with its hidden position, the typical car park appearance has little impact on the overall good impressions that Berry Court presents to the street.

Elegance and simplicity

Despite these reservations about the mix of occupiers and the number of car park spaces, the delivery of the scheme in terms of the quality of the build and materials, the scale and massing, and its response to the site context is admirable. The architect, BrightSpace Architects, was inspired by some of the Art Deco buildings in the town when making choices over materials and form. The curved forms, the generous balconies, the muted shades of grey, the restrained palette of materials and the unfussy finish sit well against an inherited mature landscape close to the new buildings. The main access is clear and legible from the street.

Meanwhile, the retention of two masonry pillars reclaimed from an earlier building on the site, both engraved with the Berry Court name, is a welcome touch (shown below, photo by Richard Eastham). These mark a dedicated pedestrian access, that responds to a desire line from the adjacent street network.

Berry Court

This scheme demonstrates a highly efficient response to a tightly constrained town centre location. Berry Court uses the retained onsite landscape features to best effect and it is a refined and stylish response to the requirements of modern urban living. It therefore seems a shame that only a narrow demographic will get to enjoy the obvious benefits of living here.  

Richard Eastham is director at the planning and design consultancy Feria Urbanism.

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