Review: Infill development to create an artists' quarter

Homes and studios for artists have been neatly shoehorned behind terraced houses in Folkestone, creating a charming courtyard development, finds Robin Spencer.

Behind two terraces at 23-25 Tontine Street in the centre of Folkestone, at the point at which they converge, is an awkward, overlooked, overshadowed triangular site. One edge looks directly to a public thoroughfare and park. From this park you get both the first and primary view of the cluster of new buildings that have been shoe-horned in. This cluster is the latest in a series of developments by the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust that supports the arts community in the Kent seaside town through the charity Creative Folkestone. 

The architect Neat Studio has built on its prior success in Folkestone to create this complex infill development (pictured above. Photo: Ashley Gendek). The new development comprises five houses and four commercial studio units. Three apartments and a single commercial unit have been created in the existing terraced houses. The new houses and studios are in buildings that look like a series of timber-clad sheds with a range of heights. Its use mirrors the adjacent buildings and creates close-knit living space and employment. 

It’s a familiar architectural arrangement with vertical timber cladding and a large format frameless glazed gable. The only departure is a touch of seaside glamour with iridescent, indigo kinetic discs, which may sound tacky but are charming. So far, so ordinary; however, if you venture closer, the site opens up. 

On a damp tuesday this winter it’s hard to envisage long term durability of a timber roof and gables. However, concealed gutters and discreet soil vent pipes all sit comfortably with rhythmic textures that provide interest and break the form down, further embedding it in the site. Look closer and the products and systems have not been crowbarred in at the expense of the overall scheme but there is a consistency of quality and an appropriate material selection. 

That appropriateness of material selection is particularly evident in the tunnel connecting to the main road, where orange perforated steel panels give a touch of colour and lightness to an otherwise pretty uninviting connection. 

The designer has had to bring coherence to a complex series of interfaces, levels, junctions and neighbouring uses. Next to the site is a car park/park, a main road, and a historic pedestrianized shopping street. By creating a communal courtyard, the designers have managed the transition, creating a heart where the routes through the cluster of buildings converge. This very small courtyard is on a European medieval scale and the addition of a large tree makes it even cosier. Its success in knitting together the urban fabric has firmly rooted the building in the site and if sustainability starts with longevity it has hit the nail on the head.  

The scheme is low key, vernacular and not spectacular but its success is rooted in its ability to respond to and not dominate its surroundings. Some elements are not to my liking, but the development has charm, which complements its not insignificant technical achievement.  

Robin Spencer is associate at architect Corstorphine & Wright.

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