… Long live the age of the brick. At least, that’s what they’re all saying at Stonebridge Estate in north London, where ‘futuristic’ concrete slabs have been demolished in favour of liveable brick-built homes

Brick is the predominant external walling material throughout the estate for both terraces and apartment blocks
Brick is the predominant external walling material throughout the estate for both terraces and apartment blocks

Hailed as “space age” housing by the local paper in 1974, the Stonebridge estate in Harlesden, London, is being demolished. The former concrete panel slab blocks – some as high as 22 storeys – are gradually being replaced by a stylish, brick housing estate comprising terraces and four-storey landmark apartment blocks.

Urban regenerator Stonebridge Housing Action Trust (HAT) aims to rehouse every householder from the former estate and, in the process, help alleviate some of the old problems. These include 80% of households earning less than £200 a week and unemployment running at 15% on an estate with a rich ethnic and cultural diversity – but also with a history of street crime.

Stonebridge HAT’s initial workshops allowed residents to influence the design of their future residences, such as choosing the internal arrangement or the finishes. According to Alain Head, director of architect Shepheard Epstein & Hunter (SEH), the residents aspired to traditional low-rise solutions on a human scale. To satisfy the residents’ wish for variety, Stonebridge HAT commissioned nine architects for different parts of the estate. On completion of phase one however, this was found to be impractical, so SEH was retained for the final two phases. So far, 750 units have materialised with another 300 currently on site. By the time the third and final phase is completed in 2007, a total of 1450 units will have been built at a minimum density of 100 habitable rooms per acre.

Individuality is a key element throughout the design with every street displaying a distinct architectural vocabulary so as to foster a sense of belonging. Two sides of the same street are frequently different as brick, render, dark stained timber and galvanised steel railings are deftly combined to produce an effect that is as harmonious and uplifting as it is contemporary. Yet throughout this diversity, there is a common thread. Brick is used not only to unify the whole development, but also to group together buildings on the smaller scale. When complete, 10 different brick types will have been used over the entire development and each is designed to impart a separate identity to the area it has been used.

Head says: “A typical Georgian or Victorian street in London invariably comprises significant areas of brickwork, timber and painted render. We have reproduced a contemporary version of this idiom, which was not popular initially as the residents had their own ideas about style. A group outing to Coin Street, however, soon dispelled any reservations they may have had.”

Construction on this design-and-build project has involved both brick-and-block cavity walls and timber frame. On parts of phase two, the contractor has used brick and block for the apartment blocks and timber frame (with concrete ground floors) for the terraced houses. Phase three will be entirely brick and block constructed.

Alain Head adds: “Brick is a friendly material: it has the warmth that was missing from the previous buildings and has an honest appearance. Our use of brick reflects this: there are no stripes, soldier courses or other attempts to relieve elevations by changing the brick – we have used it as simple panels alongside other materials. At Stonebridge, brick shows its continuing worth as a robust, user-friendly and sustainable material.”

For further details call the BDA on 01344-885651

Project team

client Stonebridge Housing Action Trust
architect Shepheard Epstein & Hunter
QS Dearle & Henderson
engineering masterplan TPS Consult
planning consultants Terence O’Rourke
main contractor Countryside Properties CIP
brickwork contractor Lee Marley Brickwork