3rd Mar 2017 — Metroland Revisited

Metroland Revisited

Toby Carr

The London Borough of Harrow is undergoing huge change as it re-imagines itself in a second round of ‘Metroland’ developments. As with the first tranche of development, this project is fuelled by improved transport connections with a twelve minute journey time to Central London. With London Midland and the future arrival of Crossrail and HS2, rail transport is opening up development sites across the borough. This change involves the redevelopment of the massive Civic Centre site into a large scale residential neighbourhood, community facilities, workspace and new public realm. Linked with the wider ‘donut’ debate on how to develop residential density in outer London Boroughs without creating silos, this project could provide a blueprint for others to follow.  Click here for more info on the redevelopment of Harrow

Our work in Harrow over the past five years has given us an insight into the place and has given us the chance to rethink the standard suburban typology.

Most of the homes in the area can be traced back to the development of farmland between 1920-1940 which became desirable residential areas following the building of the Metropolitan and District Railway and its subsequent electrification in 1917, making Central London a commutable distance away, and coining the term ‘Metroland’.

There are several repeating typologies evident in the surrounding streets, with the same house plans ‘dressed’ differently in order to create variety and difference in the streetscape. Many homes have now been extended beyond their original massing with garages, kitchens and loft conversions creating new appendages. Tudorbethan semi-detached houses are the dominant typology with some larger and grander detached Victorian properties. The surrounding houses borrow from earlier Arts and Crafts detailing, such as tile hanging, large, low slung roofs, arched porches and projecting bays evident in the work of CF Voysey and Lutyens.

Our initial research into the semi detached home was informed by the work of Parker and Unwin in Hampstead and Letchworth. Here, simple devices from the Arts and Craft movement (oversailing roofs, expressed gables, porches and entrances) were used to express individual homes as well as adding character to the streetscape. We were also inspired by the ‘radical but ordinary’ house designed by Alison and Peter Smithson for Derek and Jean Sugden. This reinterpretation of the arts and crafts villa with its simple detailing, large window openings and flexible internal layout provides a touchstone for rethinking the ‘ordinary’ home. This research was paired with site analysis into streetscape, materials and existing typologies as well as an understanding of the components of a typical suburban home.

The semi detached home was developed as solution to meet the aspirations of a growing middle class who were moving out of terraced homes, looking to establish their status as home owners. The semi detached home gives the impression and grandeur of a larger building as both homes are mirrored around the party wall line. Subsequent homeowners have adapted this model to suit their own taste resulting in the expression of the ‘half house’ Conceptual references for this idea of half a house include Michal Landy’s Semi-detached installation in the Tate Britain, a full size replica of his parent’s house and ‘Splitting’, the famous house cut in half by Gordon Matta Clark. Contemporary architectural examples include Sergison Bates’ semi-detached project in Stevenage.

Our proposal seeks to respond to this context by a simple interpretation of the predominant red brick and lighter harling/render to create distinctive entrances to the buildings. The idea of the ‘half house’ has been explored through the pairing of entrances at the corners, bisected by pathways leading to rear gardens. Different coloured doorways take colour cues from birds and wildlife evident on the site and create distinctive differences between individual homes. Simple brickwork detailing around window openings lift the elevations beyond the ordinary and add a unifying character to the development.  The project will be completed in spring 2017.