The Signal Townhouses in Greenwich, south-east London, represent an inventive approach to the development of urban residential types that provide high quality homes at relatively high density. Designed by architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the project comprises two brick-built, back-to-back terraces – an arrangement whereby traditional rear gardens are sacrificed – each house instead has an inset front entrance courtyard and first-floor terrace that bring daylight into the deep but generous, six-metre-wide plan and allow some dual-aspect rooms. The architect has worked hard to ensure most of the disadvantages of traditional back-to-back housing, which gave the type such a notorious reputation, have been designed out. But it exploits the key advantage of density: a conventional terrace with front and back gardens would have achieved only half the density on the site.
The project, for developer U+I, occupies a brownfield site within the Greenwich Peninsula West Strategic Development Location, where the scale of the immediate surroundings is undergoing dramatic change. Large developments are being built on the Peninsula immediately to the north, with heights varying between seven and 16 storeys. The context to the south of the site, however, is of two- and three-storey residential terraces dating from the nineteenth century.
AHMM’s brief was to create an attractive residential scheme that responds to the transition in height, with new terraced houses and a second phase of apartment buildings. “The aspiration was to enhance the existing townscape, provide an arrangement of spaces designed to maximise benefits of daylight and sunlight, and incorporate an enjoyable public realm that encourages community interaction”, says AHMM.
The first phase includes 16 three-storey family units, with eight facing north and eight facing south. Each house is arranged around an inset courtyard, which provides privacy and ensures that there are no north-facing or single-aspect units. The open kitchen and living areas are on the ground floor, with two bedrooms and shared bathroom on the first floor, and an ensuite bedroom with terrace on the second floor. The staircases are placed right at the rear of the plan, where some are toplit from rooflights, ensuring circulation space doesn’t block natural light from reaching habitable space.
The perimeter walls are in loadbearing masonry, with high-quality brick facades that relate to the historic and local material palette. The flecked buff brick was chosen for its textured finish and tonal variation, and to contrast with the darker window frames and metalwork. Courtyards are paved in granite and the private roof terraces are decked. The brick elevations are restrained, with flush soldier courses marking cills and lintels, and simple metal flashing forming the parapet, so the robust geometry of the articulated terrace predominates. The monolithic qualities of the brick forms are further accentuated by recessing the windows and Juliet balconies. Garden walls, set perpendicular, are built in matching brick, tempering the severity of the massing.
The development was enabled when the 100-year-old Alcatel Submarine Networks business sold a redundant part of its site, using the proceeds to invest in redeveloping its manufacturing facilities.