Has Hawkins\Brown's St John's Hill Created a New London Vernacular?\

If this new housing development for Peabody is what its meant by ‘biscuit architecture’ then its popularist Britishness makes it a Jammy Dodger, says Tamsie Thomson

At the AJ100 Awards dinner last month Peter Cook, doyen of 1960s neofuturistic architecture, made a speech in which he referred to ‘biscuit buildings’ designed by ‘biscuit boys’. His speech was a rebuke to what he sees as the mundanity of current British architecture, its uninspiring ordinariness.

Designed by Hawkins\Brown for Peabody, the two new buildings completed and now occupied are the first phase of a total demolition and rebuild of an existing Peabody housing estate. According to the housing association, the 1930s estate was no longer fit for use, due to its small rooms, inconvenient layouts and problems with damp and condensation. The new development, when it is complete, will provide 528 mixed-tenure new homes for both
rent and sale.

Peabody and Hawkins\Brown have worked hard to maintain the existing community within the estate. All the existing tenants will be offered a home at the same tenure within the new development. Phase 2 of the development has been subject to a revised planning application to ensure the right accommodation mix across the site for the returning tenants and, with the exception of those who lived within Phase 1, there is a commitment only to move residents once. Alongside the provision of the new homes there will be a new community centre, café and learning space within the later phases to provide social space as well as opportunities for the residents to meet.

The development as a whole, and these blocks in particular, seem to be an attempt to create a new type of London vernacular reminiscent of the Victorian and Edwardian streets that are so popular with the public. Enhanced by brick detailing, front gardens and street layouts, these feel very much like homes, rather than housing. While some might deride this as boring, what we are creating with developments such as this is townscape and homes. If this is what is meant by biscuit architecture, then this development is definitely a Jammy Dodger. Biscuit-coloured and crumbly, but with a smooth custard interior and a shiny, jammy core. Unrepentantly popularist and quintessentially British like the Jammy Dodger, this development will be the stuff of many childhoods to come.

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