Olly outlines his thoughts on Gentle Density in South London using some of OB Architecture’s current projects as examples of how thoughtful, considered contemporary design can generate successful intensification of our suburbs.
South London, a vibrant and diverse region known for its rich cultural heritage, is undergoing a transformation. As the population continues to grow, architects are exploring innovative ways to accommodate the increasing demand for housing and infrastructure while preserving the area’s unique character. One approach gaining momentum is the concept of “gentle density.” In this blog post, we will delve into the idea of gentle density and explore how it can contribute to the sustainable development and revitalisation of South London’s urban landscape.
Understanding Gentle Density
Gentle density refers to a planning philosophy that encourages the thoughtful integration of medium-scale developments within existing urban fabric. Unlike high-rise towers that dominate the skyline, gentle density emphasises the creation of human-scale, mixed-use communities that seamlessly blend with the surrounding environment. By utilising underutilised spaces and reimagining existing structures, gentle density offers an alternative to urban sprawl and promotes sustainable growth.
St Peters Road – The design carefully reimagined the familiar gabled form of the neighbouring properties to generate a gentle intensification of the site, reaching up to 4 storeys where there had previously only been a single storey.
Enhancing Neighbourhood Connectivity
One of the key benefits of gentle density is its ability to enhance neighbourhood connectivity. By introducing medium-density developments, such as townhouses, low-rise apartment buildings, or courtyard-style housing, South London can create a sense of community and improve walkability.
Well-designed streetscapes, pedestrian-friendly pathways, and public spaces can foster social interactions, create safer environments, and encourage active transportation options like walking and cycling.
Strawberry Close – Set on a steeply sloping site in a sensitive suburban location amongst large Victorian and Georgian villas, this scheme created 7 flats on what was thought to be undevelopable plot of land. The steep topography made any conventional architectural approach unviable, so through a curved and tiered building form, this sustainably located site was unlocked, providing an architectural unique building within walking distance from major transport hubs.
Preserving Architectural Heritage
South London is renowned for its architectural heritage, characterised by beautiful period homes and historical landmarks. Gentle density offers an opportunity to preserve and enhance this unique character by incorporating new developments that respect and complement the existing built environment.
Greyfort House – It sits on a prominent corner plot between elegant Victorian villas either side and replaces a single house with a development of 8 flats. The sculpted building form allows an intensification of the footprint by acknowledging and respecting the position and outlook of the neighbouring properties. The light yellow brick and the proportions of the building and the façades creates a reference to the Victorian villas and allows the intensification of this site to feel comfortable and unobstrusive.
Thoughtful design and attention to detail can ensure that new buildings reflect the local architectural styles, materials, and scale, creating a harmonious blend of old and new.
Promoting Diversity and Affordability
As South London continues to evolve, maintaining diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods becomes crucial. Gentle density provides an avenue for creating a mix of housing types, including affordable options, ensuring that individuals from various socio-economic backgrounds can call the area home.
126 Foxley Lane – 100% affordable/social rented scheme of 41 flats in Purley, South London. The development replaces 2 detached houses within a leafy suburban area of Croydon. The thoughtful design solution of undulating roofs enabled a soft transition from the neighbouring 2 storey properties, reaching up to 5 storeys on the corner of the site. The simple efficient floor plan enabled the concept to be successfully realised for a Registered Housing Provider without compromising the generous window openings and large private terraces. By incorporating social housing, co-housing models, and affordable rental units within new developments, gentle density promotes a more equitable distribution of resources and fosters social cohesion.
Enhancing Green Spaces and Sustainability
Preserving and enhancing green spaces is another vital aspect of gentle density. South London boasts numerous parks, gardens, and natural areas that contribute to the overall well-being of residents. With gentle density, urban planners can strategically integrate green spaces within new developments, ensuring access to nature and enhancing the overall live-ability of the area. Moreover, sustainable design principles, such as energy-efficient buildings, green roofs, and rainwater harvesting systems, can be incorporated to minimise environmental impact and promote sustainable living.
At 126 Foxley Lane the landscaping proposals provide a route through the development, linking the 2 adjacent roads with a woodland glade of ferns, grasses and groundcover plants creating a blanket of planting under the surrounding mature trees. The integration of the landscaping with the surrounding area helps to draw people through the site, improving their access to nature.
Community Engagement and Participation
The success of gentle density relies on active community engagement and participation. Engaging local residents, businesses, and community organisations throughout the planning and design process can ensure that new developments meet the unique needs and aspirations of the South London community. Emphasising inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration enables residents to have a voice in shaping their neighbourhoods and fosters a sense of ownership and pride in their surroundings.
Smitham Bottom Lane – Through consultation with the community, the scheme in South London evolved from a flat roofed form into a sloping angular form which was more reflective of the pitched roof houses in the area. The feedback from the consultation also informed the landscaping to the site, creating a more soft impression of the building from the corner junction.
Gentle density presents an exciting opportunity to shape the future of South London in a sustainable and inclusive manner. By embracing this concept, the region can accommodate population growth, preserve architectural heritage, enhance neighbourhood connectivity, and promote affordability while maintaining its distinct character. Through thoughtful planning, community engagement, and a commitment to sustainability, South London can evolve into a vibrant, live-able, and thriving urban landscape that cherishes its past while embracing the future.