Mario’s brothers offer modern or classic

Last week’s exhibition on the proposals for 153-163 Broadhurst Gardens, a.k.a. “The Mario’s block”, attracted an exceptionally high turnout. Locals are being offered a say in the type of development they prefer – though concerns about housing density and size of commercial units may be of more concern than the “modern or traditional” design question that was the focal point of the exhibition.

Why is redevelopment needed at all? The building is falling down. It was built at the end of the 19th century and has been in the same family for two generations. Despite a major internal refurbishment in the mid 1980s, shallow foundations and vibration from tube trains have caused the settling that has created the significant distortion of the building so visible today. A structural report carried out last summer concluded that fixing the structure would be prohibitively expensive.

The owners – brothers, Duncan and Nick Gilbert, both of whom have lived there themselves – run a property company that manages some 50 flats across north-west London and accept that a rebuild is the only option.

It’s easy to see how wonky the building has become

The structural problems have also meant that it’s proved impossible to let the commercial space on the ground floor. The endgame has been inevitable for some time – the bulding will have to be knocked down and rebuilt. But rebuilt as what?

Squeezing in the people
Today, there are 19 flats in the block and as well as the sad-looking empty Mario’s restaurant, and a few other unused or underused commercial spaces. The plan, whichever frontage is chosen, is to turn those 19 flats into 39 flats. This, one feels, may be a sticking point for Camden – these are going to be small flats. On the basis of the current plans, the smallest 1-bedroom flat is 45 sq m, the largest go up to 55.6 sq m. The 2-beds range from 70-72 sq m. To give you a comparison, if you’ve looked at Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square, the one-beds are very similar, but Ballymore’s two-beds are slightly larger. The Broadhurst development also offers one three-bed flat.

Click for larger floor plans

Some share of this would be affordable housing, though how many flats would qualify for this remains to be decided.

Increased density isn’t deemed to be an intrinsically bad thing by Camden. The borough’s core strategy says,

The Council wants to encourage developments with high densities in the most accessible parts of the borough (… and the town centres of… West Hampstead)… Such schemes should be of excellent design quality and sensitively consider the amenity of occupiers and neighbours and the character and built form of their surroundings, particularly in conservation areas. Good design can increase density while protecting and enhancing the character of an area.

All the flats would be rented out and managed by the developers’ property company, so none would be on the open sales market.

The plans at the moment show two commercial units – the corner unit where Mario’s is looks like it would be extended slightly, with the other units would be merged into one.

It will be interesting to see whether Camden takes this opportunity to reflect both its own Core Strategy document. This points out that “there is a lack of high quality premises suitable for small business, particularly those less than 100 sq m”, as well as the NDF’s latest draft policy recommendation, which encourages “The provision of a range of different sized units, particularly smaller spaces for micro-businesses and studio space.”

In this context, it’s possible to imagine Camden accepting one larger premises – the expanded Mario’s site – but then suggesting that the other commercial site is broken into two (at the moment the smaller site has 164 sq m of space spread over the lower ground and ground floors).

Grand design
Enough about the inside, what about the outside? The building falls within the South Hampstead conservation area, though this doesn’t actively prohibit any particular design. The architects’ options are for a “traditional” look and feel, which would not be so different from what is there today, or for a more contemporary look. The latter also offers balcony space to the top floor and corner flats. In both versions, the red brick of today would be replaced with London Stock, which is a yellowish brick also common in the area. The opposite side of Broadhurst Gardens is built of London Stock, as is The Railway pub so it’s hardly out-of-keeping with the area, although it would clash with the ENO building next door and the red brick of West Hampstead mews.

There’s no particular height issue – the proposals add one extra storey [Ed: fair point made in comments, that it’s two extra floors, though total height change is equivalent to one extra floor], set back slightly, which would be in keeping with the building across the road. This would slightly affect the view from some of the flats in West Hampstead Mews, but it’s hard to see that being a major hurdle. This certainly isn’t going to be yet another high-rise.

Camden planners are favouring the more contemporary design (the architects seemed pleasantly surprised, telling me that most councils default to traditional design). My initial reaction was to favour the traditional because the street has no modern elements in it at all. There are a couple of low-level modern conversions in the mews, but otherwise it’s a traditional brick street. Without context, I prefer the more open-feel of the contemporary design, but I wonder whether it would be jarring, especially as the building abuts the former Decca Studios/ENO building so closely.

No plans have been submitted to Camden yet and, assuming all went smoothly, work wouldn’t start until 2015. This should give existing tenants time to see out their leases and find somewhere else to live. At least one tenant, who has lived in the building for nine years, only found out on the day of the exhibition that demolition was planned. Duncan Gilbert told me that they’d put up posters on the windows of the commercial units and put leaflets throught the communal letterboxes of the flats; one fears those might have gone the way of most leaflets through letterboxes.

View a PDF of the full set of exhibition boards.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for keeping your followers informed about such developments in West Hampstead.

    On the filming on Kingsgate Road I think if you google BBC Films Pride you will get the answer – seems to fit.
    Sorry, inappropriate place to post this but don't have twitter account, so feel free to delete after you've checked.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure if I’m the only one, but I feel the so-called “contemporary” style is completely out of keeping with the surroundings and would date quickly. The “traditional” version despite looking a little odd wearing its strange crown would at least look as if an effort had been made to match the surroundings once this current architectural style has moved on. I’m surprised the council allegedly favour the contemporary versions given WHamp is indeed within a conservation area.

    • Anonymous

      I couldn’t agree more. I would much rather the traditional design was built than the contemporary design, which I doubt would age well. I too am surprised that Camden favoured the contemporary design (if it’s true) and question why they would do this.

      I’m rather worried about the creation of two big shop units as they would most likely end up in the hands of big corporations (and Broadhurst Gardens is mainly a residential street). I think more smaller shop units should be a priority.

      I would like to know if there would be any restrictions on the residents of the 39 flats applying for parking permits (will this be a “Car Free” development?) as there’s already a real problem with parking in the area and I note that no off street parking has been included in this development.

    • I think it’s less a question of number of floors and more of total height. The exhibition boards show clearly what the line of the existing builing is against the proposals. The existing flats no doubt have lovely high ceilings, while the new ones will presumably be much lower, so point taken that it’s moving from three to five storeys, but the additional height is only one (recessed) floor.

      On the bulk, it’s certainly going to be a bulkier building, but that will be apparent more at the side and back than at the front, so the scale of Broadhurst itself won’t be affected too much. The buildings the other side of the road are also higher than the existing block, so I’m not sure that there’s a strong argument on height here.

      These things always come down to money of course, with none of the units planned for sale, the return on the development costs is going to come from commercial leases and rents, so no doubt that’s pushing the high number of flats – I agree that these are going to be very small with limited amenities (a nod for the more contemporary design, which at least offers some outdoor space for some flats), and this is something no doubt the council will consider.

  • Michael Z

    I do not agree that a traditional design will “date” less quickly than a modern design. If one looks at most traditional copies of older buildings it is usually fairly obvious which decade they were constructed in as they are never exact copies of the original. I think it is far preferable to have a good example of well designed modern architecture than a poorly designed pastiche. We should be encouraging good modern buildings not persuading planners to just allow bland copies which are supposed to blend in with their neighbours but in reality will stand out anyway. “To every age its art and to every art its freedom” should still apply. New buildings in West Hampstead should be of the highest standard possible whether they are in a Conservation Area of not. This end of Broadhurst Gardens happens to be in a Conservation Area but the quality of existing buildings is certainly no better than many areas in the immediate vicinity which are not in a Conservation Area. If the planners do not allow A2 use there will be no estate agents in the new units. In view of the vast amount of A3 use I would prefer the new retail units to be limited to A1 use.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but it is misleading to say that the developers propose to add one storey. At present the building has a ground floor commercial unit and two floors of residential above. The proposal is to have four floors of residential above a commercial unit, albeit with the top floor set back. There will be more than twice the number of flats and the bulk of block will be much greater than the existing building. The rhythm and scale of buildings in Broadhurst Gardens will be changed. The Railway pub is a tall building and is a suitable corner anchor at the junction of West End Lane but other buildings in Broadhurst Gardens are lower. Building a new 5 storey building on the site of Mario’s will mean that the recording studios will be dwarfed. It is an effort to squeeze as many small flats onto the site as possible without any amenity space or effort at good design. It looks as if entrance to some of the flats will be down a side passage but those are probably the ones designated for social housing! If Camden allows this scheme to be passed it will encourage any other owners of shops and upper parts to demolish them and double the amount of residential accommodation above. The building may be structurally unsound and in need of replacement but please replace it with a building of similar bulk, 3 upper floors with the top floor a recessed mansard or set back from a parapet at the very most.

    • I think it’s less a question of number of floors and more of total height. The exhibition boards show clearly what the line of the existing builing is against the proposals. The existing flats no doubt have lovely high ceilings, while the new ones will presumably be much lower, so point taken that it’s moving from three to five storeys, but the additional height is only one (recessed) floor.

      On the bulk, it’s certainly going to be a bulkier building, but that will be apparent more at the side and back than at the front, so the scale of Broadhurst itself won’t be affected too much. The buildings the other side of the road are also higher than the existing block, so I’m not sure that there’s a strong argument on height here.

      These things always come down to money of course, with none of the units planned for sale, the return on the development costs is going to come from commercial leases and rents, so no doubt that’s pushing the high number of flats – I agree that these are going to be very small with limited amenities (a nod for the more contemporary design, which at least offers some outdoor space for some flats), and this is something no doubt the council will consider.

  • Having looked at the two designs, it seems a bit odd that the Camden planners are so keen on the contemporary design. If you are going to replace a red-brick building in a conservation area, surely you should seek to replace it with something similar rather than starkly different? On the information provided, it looks like the contemporary scheme will be in breach of policies in the draft Neighbourhood Plan. I imagine most people would also want a red-brick building, particularly to fit in with the ENO building next door.

  • Anonymous

    On a separate topic, its a shame that ENO – or whoever owns the building that ENO occupy – cannot spend a bit of money tidying up what could be a very nice exterior, or indeed a few hours just cleaning up the rubbish outside!

  • Anonymous

    The existing building on the site has no particular architectural merit. Why can’t we replace a mediocre building with a much better new building rather than something of similar poor design?Every new building does not need to be a copy of what it is replacing. The best examples of modern architecture are not copies. The queues during Open London Weekend were outside starkly modern innovative buildings which exhibited the highest quality of design not outside mock Victorian facades.