February 9, 2023

David Grandorge: A home for anyone

 David Grandorge: A home for anyone

Apparata’s stripped-back but ‘empathetic and generous’ House for Artists collective housing settlement in Barking, east London, would make a pleasant home for anyone, writes David Grandorge

The space depicted in this photograph is situated in one of 12 dwellings in House for Artists, a collective housing settlement in Barking, east London. The view was taken looking directly towards the entrance of a dwelling on the uppermost floor.

Designed by Apparata for ‘unknown futures’, the spatial and material strategy employed for this project might have resulted in an architecture characterised by detachment and austerity, yet it contains many different types of space whose intelligent arrangement and placement feel empathetic and generous.

In the picture, a number of different-sized plants in different-sized pots can be seen. They sit on timber stools, shelves and window sills. A further five hang from the exposed concrete soffit. On the wall to the left, there is a framed poster stating, ‘I’m in the bush outside and I really love you’.

The carefully installed birch plywood floor is finished with a varnish that gives it a pleasing sheen, not too reflective, not too dull. Outside, beyond the elegantly proportioned triple-glazed entrance screen, there is a broad access deck occupied by three humans, sitting on chairs, engaged in conversation. The generous proportions of the deck, and other external circulation areas, encourage and enable chance encounters and spontaneous exchanges.

There are no curtains installed. This might suggest that the occupants are not that concerned about privacy and are happy for some of their life to be seen by others. Conversely, they would like to install curtains, so as to be able to have some agency over their privacy, but have not done so yet as they could not afford to do so at the time that this photo was taken.

Slender, ceiling-mounted aluminium fins can be seen at the left and right edge of the frame. The only elements on the otherwise clear soffit of the deck, they were installed to prevent the spread of smoke between apartments, but also act as subtle demarcations of individual ownership within this shared space.

You will not be told who lives here, but the photograph is pictorial evidence of how the occupants of housing use spaces in a way we can never predict. The way of life shown here is rarely represented in inhabited plans drawn by architects or the stylised rendered views that are often seen on the hoardings of development sites.

There is a refreshing straightforwardness to this project that is rarely pursued in the private, social or subsidised housing sectors. Its stripped-back aesthetic is underpinned by rigorous thinking about how to use concrete in a legible and lean manner. It was cast in situ, the external structure supporting the internal slabs with thermally broken connections on all sides. Internal columns, shear walls and risers are situated precisely. Services are designed to travel the shortest distance possible and are easily accessed.

Though these strategies will help the building be adaptable in use, we must keep in mind that not all tenants will have the economic or practical wherewithal to adapt the spaces to their needs.

Still, Apparata’s House for Artists could be a home for anyone.

David Grandorge is a photographer and senior lecturer in architecture at London Met. His fee for this column has been donated to support the publication of new and diverse voices in the AJ

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