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Copper in Harmony

Chris Hodson (for Copper Forum 28/2010)

In this new housing development, copper is used in harmony with other quality materials to develop an urban language appropriate to its sensitive historic setting.

Appropriately named, Harmony is a new development of contemporary apartments in Isleworth, West London. It is being developed as a joint venture between Willmott Dixon Homes, Notting Hill Housing Group and the Homes and Communities Agency. When complete, Harmony will consist of 280 one, two and three-bedroom apartments in low-rise buildings separate by areas of attractive landscaping. 106 of the homes are for private sale, with the remainder available for key workers, for shared ownership under the government’s New Build HomeBuy scheme or for social rent.

The design – by architects Hunter & Partners – aims to create good modern buildings that relate to the context of this sensitive site. The use of 3 and 4 storey buildings with pitched roofs and gables results in an appropriate domestic scale but with contemporary detailing that eschews pastiche.

The layout creates blocks with strong street frontages that clearly define public and private areas and allow informal surveillance to contribute to a sense of personal safety. A feeling of enclosure is generated within the internal street, whilst gaps between the blocks afford views across and out beyond the immediate site.

Visible from a World Heritage Site

The site is close to Syon House, the London home of the Duke of Northumberland, and its impressive parkland, as well as other protected historic buildings and a cemetery. It is also visible from the famous Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew on the River Thames, designated a World Heritage Site. This was a particular challenge for the designers, as Paul Wellings-Longmore of Hunter & Partners explains: ‘The limited palette of external materials is drawn from those with ‘natural’ hue and colour. The use of high quality, subtle materials – brickwork, grey roofing and pre-patinated copper - softens the visual impact of the buildings when seen from Syon Park and Isleworth Cemetery and avoids jarring with the surroundings.

The lift and stair cores are expressed as vertical stacks equivalent to transitional features such as chimneys, emphasised through the green copper cladding. They provide a rhythmic punctuation breaking up the street elevations. Where the cores support roof-mounted plant, the enclosure is integrated into the design so that they read as single unified elements. Although there were financial constraints, copper provided to be the most appropriate material given the site’s historic context and we were certainly steered in that direction by the local planning authority. Pre-patinated copper was used to give the finished impression and to blend immediately with the surrounding older buildings. We selected a specific intensity of patination to suit this context. Copper provides a ‘living’ surface – not just a single colour – with a changing character, almost like abstract art.”

Sustainable Materials

Sustainability is important to all those involved with the project and Harmony meets the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3 standard. External materials have been selected that are durable and have integral rather than applied finishes: copper’s extremely long-life, heritage of recycling and relatively low embodied energy were all recognised at the design stage.

Client: Willmott Dixon Homes, Notting Hill Housing Group and the Homes and Communities Agency
Architects: Hunter and Partners
Copper Installer: Full Metal Jacket
Copper Supplier: Luvata Sales OY (UK)

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