GM London is bringing forward plans to redevelop 45-51 High Street and 30 South Lane, Kingston to deliver 34 new homes and high-quality, flexible office space. (Link here)

Feedback to GM proposals for Swan House

The Kingston Society, along with the Riverside Residents Association visited Swan House on 6th April for a second consultation on the progress for this mixed use development. We were pleased to note that changes had been incorporated into the revised plans, some of which we support.

We find broad support for the concept as a whole but not in some of the detail. To be clear this means we acknowledge the evidence of considerable and considered analysis in the layout, amenity, access and sustainability aspects of your proposals.

This is a difficult site, both in shape and size and we are impressed that a surprising amount of amenity space has been included as well as efforts to maximise light within the properties which all have dual aspect. The interior courtyard, although small will do much to mitigate the lack of private outside amenity space for residents. We do raise a concern about the potential loss of light to the residents in South Lane, but accept there is an improvement to light for the residents for the properties to the north of the site. We await the sunlight report to firm our response. Cycle storage, vehicle access and resident and commercial access all work well.

Scale and mass
Whilst fundamentally questioning the need to be any higher at all than its neighbours, the step down at the left and the set back of the top storey does go some way to prevent harms to this important river front vista and to permit a rational connectivity with its neighbours. The proposed building is still 1.5 storeys too high on the High Street side, and the mass at South Lane is too high by 2/3 storeys, and will likely block light to these properties and create an oppressive corridor. We cannot see that a conservation perspective approach has been considered in these two abutting conservation areas. A terrace of well-designed houses to mirror in spirit those on South Lane would be infinitely better design and more in keeping.

The change river side from a partially submerged ground floor and the subsequent loss of a sixth storey has strengthened the design particularly at ground level, and the increase of commercial space provides a better mixed-use balance. As does the inclusion of 3 bedroom apartments. The staggered relationship between the front and rear properties has the benefit of improving privacy across the interior amenity space.

Affordable homes
We were disappointed that the balance of affordable homes has not been finalised as you await the viability assessment, but we are glad to note that any such units will be integrated within the overall scheme and not ‘poor doored’.

Design and materiality
We struggle with the overall architectural design, which by its position and proposed scale has both aspired to, and de facto become the centre piece of a mixed design terrace.

Although not resolved we value the ongoing consideration of the materials palette but note you have chosen to illustrate both your consultations with a New York building by David Chipperfield Architects utilising ruddy-hued bricks and coloured concrete and strong fenestration detailing and then stepped away from this entirely after apparently offering this as precedent and aspiration.

Further and more significantly the design has resolved into an altogether blander design, and is not delivering either beauty (link) or exemplar design. The strength and clarity of the fenestration so apparent in the first scheme has been lost in the revised approach, as evidenced by this montage of the two schemes:

The move from a lightweight, light coloured top storey to a more substantial brick elevation is however disagreeable and we think that the contrast in colour and brick pattern on the top does not succeed as an element designed to match the red roof of the building at right. It draws attention to, not away from the upper storey, whose set back continues to be, we are pleased to note, a useful mitigator of the increased building height. You say your colour choice reflects the mansard roof of the neighbouring building, why not a mansard roof that matches it?

Buildings of this nature, identified some ten years ago by Urban Design London as ‘New London Vernacular’ succeed or fail by their brick work and detailing. Brick is the most enduring and infinitely variable component of English city design, and we would urge you not to resist the opportunity to explore the limitless creative solutions to this façade. Whilst the terrace as a whole has some cohesion of design there is no reason to believe a more assertively styled building could not reside comfortably with its neighbours. At the very least this façade needs to be as good as it can be, at the moment it is very much not.

Finally, on the riverside elevation, we are puzzled by the sudden change in the ground floor materials firstly next to the first commercial entrance at left, then between the commercial and main residential entrance and again at right by the substation and service mews entrance and feel strongly this adds further harms to the façade. The break frontage may create design dilemmas but we would urge you to revisit this , which is an entirely avoidable design misstep in our view.

In South Lane we particularly like the provision of street level access to the duplex apartments which will as noted provide passive surveillance but more importantly will contribute to what Jane Jacobs, the American urban design activist, called the “natural proprietors of the street”.

By increasing the office space and losing the car-parking the former becomes a potentially more viable and desirable commercial offering and the greener development is a quiet win, especially with dedicated cycle storage for both commercial and residential users. We commend the thoughtful way the architects dealt with the change in level from the front to the rear of the site.

The introduction of a pavement in South Lane is welcomed, as are the proposed bicycle hoops in the High Street. The service and Blue Badge parking seem well considered.

The use of almost all the roof for green space is good news but we know from experience that poorly designed planting and lack of maintenance by ‘Greenwashing’ developers results all too soon in no green benefits and are encouraged by your claim this will not happen here. Additionally, we commend the attempts at sustainability and the provision of PV panels to the South Lane roof.

It is a welcome change to meet a developer and architect who seem at pains to make a positive contribution. We support the principle of improvements to the High Street and South Lane but we expect the plans to improve considerably before submission to reflect the concerns expressed here.

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Last Updated on April 20, 2022 by Kingston Society