Emerging practice wins approval for rammed earth Dartford flats

The scheme in the centre of the town will feature a low-carbon steel frame with CLT slabs, according to studio founder Antonio Moll, who set up the firm in 2019 after stints at Foster + Partners and PLP Architecture.

The 1,150m² build-to-rent development for Old Manor Estates is being aimed at ‘young professionals’ and will house four two-bedroom apartments and ten one-bedroom flats.

Work is expected to start on site this autumn.

Architect’s view

Dartford lies within the area known as the London Basin. The low-lying marsh to the north of the town consists of London Clay and the alluvium brought down by the two rivers—the Darent and the Cray—whose confluence is in this area.

The surrounding landscape presents impressive cliffs where we can observe the different strata that constitute the soil section of the area. We would like to highlight the beautiful cliffs surrounding the Bluewater Centre.

Evoking these textured natural surfaces, our building echoes this remarkable feature of the local landscape and presents itself as a sculpted mass of soil that has been eroded to respond to its immediate surroundings through a series of recesses and deep shadows that animate the external appearance.

The predominant material of the façade is rammed earth. Prefabricated blocks of large format of up to 1m in length are assembled forming masonry planes.

These blocks are rich in natural tonal variations and contain 10 times less embedded carbon than conventional bricks. The shadows and variations on the surface obtained from the mix of different coarse aggregates confer the building a subtle texture that echoes that of a natural cliff, so commonly found in Kent and Dartford in particular.

The plinth that separates the rammed earth volume from the ground and folds to become the canopy and walls of the access is clad in GRC panels of light colour that slightly contrast with the beige warm tones of the rammed earth blocks.

The new building provides a mix of 14 homes including one-bed and two-bed apartments for rental accommodation. The particularity of the volumetric composition of the building is the different positions of the two-bed apartment on each floor forming a spiral.

This movement creates a rich variation of unit types and their positions in space, avoiding the simple repetition of a layout across all levels, and providing a complex arrangement that offers multiple choices of views and apartment sizes on each floor.

The proposed net-zero carbon and car-free scheme aims to be a pioneer project, demonstrating how good quality housing needs to be from now on to help tackle climate change. It will incorporate cutting-edge sustainability strategies like grey water recycling, PV panels or geothermal energy.

Antonio Moll, founder, Moll Architects

Project data

Location Dartford, Kent
Local authority Dartford Borough Council
Type of project Residential accommodation for young professionals
Client Old Manor Estates
Architect Moll Architects
Planning consultant TaD Planning
Structural engineer Socotec
M&E consultant Socotec
Sustainability Socotec
Tender date Estimated Q2, 2024
Start on site date Estimated Q3, 2024
Gross internal floor area m² 1,152m²
Form of contract Traditional
Annual CO2 emissions Estimated 4.46 kg/m2 (regulated) and 2.04 kg/m2 (unregulated)