New-build housing in London:contemporary design brings 'podium' gardens for upper-floor flats, communal courtyards and event spaces

Londoners demand thoughtful design in their new homes, from 'podium' gardens for buyers of upper-floor flats, to social spaces for community events.

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Too many tall buildings. Too little affordable housing. Too few planners and too slow a planning process: we are bombarded by stories about London’s property market, many of which could leave you feeling the future is pretty bleak.

The good news is that we are building some excellent contemporary housing schemes. The real gems aren’t the glitzy buildings behind flash hoardings but those that embody new standards in their approach. 

Green space in Deptford
The Timberyard
, just launching in Deptford, is a modern development which will bring more than 1,100 much-needed new homes to SE8. Understanding the importance of green open space, the scheme is surrounded by 28 acres of parkland and comprises six connecting neighbourhoods with one- to four-bedroom apartments and four-bedroom townhouses. Prices start from £442,500. For more information and prices, visit Colliers International or contact the sales suite on 0203 815 5166.

The separate neighbourhoods have a selection of on-site amenities, shops and play areas and all homes have all-important private outdoor space and access to communal courtyards.

From £442,500: homes at The Timberyard in Deptford, six neighbourhoods of flats and townhouses with open space and communal facilities

All of the homes come with highly contemporary fixtures and fittings and the latest in heating and ventilation systems, plus a choice of interior finishes. The development is just 350 yards from the Thames and within a short walking distance of excellent local transport including from Surrey Quays, Canada Water, New Cross, New Cross Gate, South Bermondsey, Deptford and Greenwich. 

The Thames Clipper could be your summer choice for commuting, reaching Canary Wharf in five minutes and London Bridge in 17 minutes.

It's all change in Elephant and Castle
For a look at what the future could hold for housing, head to rapidly changing Elephant and Castle. There, you’ll find the first phase of Lendlease’s occasionally controversial plans to renew the old Heygate Estate in Walworth, demolished between 2011 and 2014 and now replaced with one designed by dRMM.

In Walworth, upper flats are oriented around a raised shared garden at Trafalgar Place, in a "podium" style that's increasingly popular

Trafalgar Place knits 235 new homes into the surrounding area with a new pedestrian street that’s lined with front doors, but with upper flats oriented around a raised community garden. This approach, known as a “podium”, is becoming increasingly popular in London. The main aim of dRMM was to steer away from the alienating size of the vast Heygate Estate and discover what people wanted through local consultation.

Barratt London has adopted similar principles for its award-winning 401-homes new development at Fulham Riverside, with shared amenities set around tiered landscaped gardens above ground level, overlooking the Thames. Prices start from £2,677,500 for a five-bedroom triplex and £3.5 million for a five-bedroom, five-storey townhouse. For more information and prices, visit or contact the sales suite on 020 7751 3999.

Olly Wood, associate director at Ayre Chamberlain Gaunt, who was recently awarded Building Design’s prestigious Young Architect of the Year Award, agrees. “Podium schemes are a brilliant way to build modern densities to high standards. They’re popping up everywhere because they help to create safe, managed spaces which offer privacy while providing a communal focus for neighbours to meet and socialise.”

Londoners are a famously diverse bunch and we’re all living longer. Levitt Bernstein’s Buccleuch House, in Hackney, shows how we can meet the diverse needs of buyers in different parts of the city. 

This development of 107 new homes includes a mix of private, affordable and elderly care flats, within a single scheme. Not only do all residents live in ostensibly similar homes but the design responds directly to the needs of the local Jewish Orthodox community. The location of storage responds to religious requirements while balconies have the flexibility to be adapted for Jewish festivals such as Sukkot.

Ideas from the people: in Dollis Hill, property developer R55 Group says it consulted local people about requirements for it's current mixed-use scheme

Design begins with the people
Nick Francis, architectural director at regeneration specialists R55 Group, is an advocate of designing for both existing and future communities. “We’re currently working on a scheme in Dollis Hill where the design really began with the community,” he says. “They put the ideas forward and these were then tested, discussed and re-examined. We selected the proposed uses in partnership to ensure they will be both desirable and economically successful. The design approach responds to this and the quality derives from it.”

As with residential property, the best examples of commercial architecture are often not the grandiose set pieces. Sixty London, designed by KPF for AXA Real Estate with Favermead, stands at Holborn Viaduct as a proud reflection of the modern metropolis at the entrance to the City. Built to be flexible and sustainable, the contemporary glass office absorbs and nestles a faithfully rebuilt historic gatehouse in a way that’s at once striking and sympathetic. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Urban Space Management’s scheme for a new administration block for Camden’s Roundhouse demonstrates what can be achieved with an open mind. Entirely formed of recycled shipping containers, the new office block was designed and built by Container City, keeping construction costs at half the price of a conventional scheme and taking a third of the time to construct.

Analysis by Dr Nicola Livingstone and Dr Tommaso Gabrieli at UCL confirms the importance of the economic climate to London’s successes.

“While we are increasingly aware of what is possible, not least in design terms, so much depends upon there being a buoyant market and good investor appetite,” says Gabrieli. Whatever the future holds, London  developers are learning lessons, architects are at the centre, and there are some great new developments that, hopefully, will provide lasting inspiration.

Jonathan Manns is director of planning at commercial property company Colliers International.

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