Studio Partington’s 100% affordable ‘airspace’ council housing approved

The Haggerston-based studio won approval for the two council-commissioned projects – which will be built above existing local authority-owned blocks – following a unanimous vote by Newham’s planning committee on Tuesday night (30 January).

Between them, St Matthews Court and Folkestone Road will provide 26 new homes at London affordable rent prices for Newham Council, via its developer Populo Living. They will be the first examples of airspace development in the borough.

As well as providing new homes, the schemes will retrofit and modernise the existing blocks, which Studio Partington says currently perform very poorly, with cold and draught issues and water ingress problems. Existing tenants will be offered first choice of the new homes.

At St Matthews Court 18 new homes will be created via an upward and side extension of a 1950s council-owned housing block in Vicarage Lane, near West Ham park.

The existing post-war housing consists of a concrete slab-and-column structure with a red brick façade supporting the slabs and a flat roof.

Eight of the new homes will be in the ‘airspace’ above the building, while 10 will be housed in the extension.

Source:Studio Partington

St Matthew’s Court: Proposed

Meanwhile, the Folkestone Road project will create eight new homes via an upward extension of an existing 1960s three-storey residential building in Folkestone Road, East Ham.

The building is ‘likely to be loadbearing cavity wall masonry with precast concrete floors’, according to the design and access statement.

Source:Studio Partington (taken from panning documents)

Folkestone Road: Proposed

Studio Partington founder Richard Partington said the firm was commissioned by Newham council to identify potential sites for airspace development in the borough, and found ‘a lot of lower-density 1950s development that would make good host buildings’, as many were capable of supporting extra floors.

Partington said there was ‘always a discussion about whether the existing building structure can support the new floors and whether you need to have an exoskeleton structure’, adding that using a pre-existing structure and foundations of a host building meant airspace development amounted around ‘50 to 60 per cent of the embodied energy of a new building’.

Studio director Adam Cornish said St Matthews Court had the benefits of being able to create a new-build infill block associated with the airspace with ‘new build, air space, insulated new brick elevation, site security and everything else […] all while keeping people in their buildings during the [construction] process’.

Source:Studio Partington

Folkestone Road: Proposed axo

Councillor Shaban Mohammed, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation, said Newham council was doing everything it could to meet the ‘huge demand for affordable housing’ in the borough, including purchasing properties and building new housing.

Mohammed added: ‘We are also thinking outside of the box to provide as many homes as possible for local people.’

The concept of airspace development has previously been promoted by both the Greater London Authority and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities as an innovative solution to the housing crisis.

But the idea has been slow to take off, with only a handful of projects cropping up across London due to a lack of understanding over how to approach, execute and cost the schemes, according to Studio Partington. The practice has developed a design guide for Newham council and Populo on good practice using the airspace model.

The architects insists there is ‘amazing potential’ for airspace development in untapped sites across London, ‘especially if you take the view that densification doesn’t necessarily need to involve knocking things down’.

The firm added: ‘Newham has progressive views on to how to meet their housing needs and so it good to see these coming to fruition.’