Gondar Gardens: Spot the difference

[updated Oct 26th 7pm]

Many professions are so steeped in their own language that they find it almost impossible to communicate in plain English, even when asked. Thus it was that I found myself talking to architects about the revised plans for Gondar Gardens and having to endure lots of explanation about “verticality” and “rhythm”, and not much about what the key differences are between this and the previously rejected project.

It’s a bit of a game of Spot the Difference.

The most obvious difference between the original plan (top) and the new plan (bottom) is the all-glass bay windows, which are apparently “winter gardens”. Who knew.

The new plan also removes the housing of the entry to the underground car park between the two buildings, and the cladding for the projections is lighter. As to that verticality and rhythm, that refers to much more regular spacing of windows and more emphasis on the vertical structure compared with the broken-up facade of the original.

The developers clearly hope that these detailed changes will win over the planning inspector. Actually, they probably hope that Camden council believes they will win over planning inspector and passes the plans first time around, preventing the appeal and Camden’s liability for the appellants legal costs.

Here’s why the planning inspector rejected the previous proposal (crucially, not on any grounds of environmental impact).

However, my main concern with the appeal scheme is the detailed design. The proposed design seeks to repeat the proportions of houses and bay windows seen in the area, through a series of brick projections. However, the varying size of the projections, the large expanses of brickwork (seen particularly on the two large projections), the combination of geometric shapes and the four storey sections with a flat roof, only serve to distinguish all elements of its design from those in the surrounding area. There is no visible connection to the intricate shapes, decorative detailing (including red brick and white mouldings) or the strong vertical emphasis seen in the surrounding houses which combine to determine the character of West Hampstead.

There are examples of new development of contrasting design in the area. However, they are generally smaller developments, which exert little influence over the area. By contrast, the appeal scheme would stretch some 70 metres along Gondar Gardens, filling most of this section of the road along one side. It would impose a long development of a very different character, thereby significantly harming the distinct and attractive character of this part of West Hampstead and its contribution to the wider area.

Even if the new proposal addresses these concerns, and it certainly looks to a layman like me that it’s a step in that direction, it’s hard to believe it’s going to win over those who have contested the development of Gondar Gardens so vigorously over the past few years. You can look at all the detailed architectural responses here.

Local residents group GARA, which has worked so hard to fight the various development proposals, commented that the latest proposals “address some aspects [of the inspector’s comments] but appear to have done little about the lack of detailing around windows etc, and have not properly addressed the issue of being out of place in its environment.”

The original “Teletubbies plan“, rejected by Camden but overturned on appeal, could still happen. However, the developers tell me that “there are a number of complex legal arrangements delaying its development, in particular relating to the off-site provision of affordable housing.” According to GARA, this means either finding a second site where the afforable housing could be built, or making a one-off £6m contribution to Camden.

Back to the tweaked design, here’s what local councillor Flick Rea thought of it:

Just seen new design for Gondar Gardens development – precious little difference except for some sticking out chunks in light brick- ugh!
— Flick Rea (@FlickRea) October 15, 2013

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  • Gondar Gardens is lovely as it is, and we should make sure it remains that way. However, we do need more housing, and we need to not get too precious about new developments. I agree with Jonathon that this proposed design is an improvement, but a lot more can be done to make it fit in with the current buildings.