Almost one million bricks feature in the two residential towers of Hoxton Press in east London, designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects and David Chipperfield Architects. The project represents the third phase of the Colville Estate redevelopment masterplan, commissioned by the Borough of Hackney from Karakusevic Carson, in tune with its progressive approach to estate renewal and housing delivery. “The hand-crafted bricks and the traditional but stack-bond brickwork form an important part of the overall appearance, providing a human scale to the strong form of the building”, say the architects.
In 2012 Hackney Council earmarked the prominent site, next to Shoreditch Park, for a competition, on which the architects collaborated. The design team worked with estate residents through workshops and community events, and Hackney Council set up a joint venture to realise the project, with sale of the apartments cross-subsidising construction of new council homes across the rest of the estate. The two hexagonal, brick-faced buildings – 16 and 20 storeys in height and containing 198 apartments – are planned to create a landscaped space that acts as a gateway between the wider estate and the park. The two buildings are rotated in relation to one another to maximise daylight, views, and to minimise overlooking and loss of light to neighbouring new buildings. The result is a dynamic composition that addresses its urban context in all directions.
Hand-made bricks of two colours, set in a stack bond,clad all the exterior surfaces, and at the base of each building these extend to the interiors in the form of vaulted, outward-looking spaces. The bricks were fired once to create the red on the eastern tower, and fired twice for the blue/grey bricks on the western tower.
The angled tower facades were first conceived as a series of large precast concrete cladding panels, faced with embedded bricks, that could be systematically lifted into place. However, after working with contractor Wates and specialist brickwork contractor, Swift Brickwork, who had been involved at an early stage, the construction ideas evolved towards a system of smaller components with a more seamless appearance integrated into a traditional, hand-laid solution.
All the apartments have a sheltered private balcony where the handmade character of the bricks is especially apparent. The overhead brick soffits had to be fully secured, so the contractors developed a system of prefabricated, mechanically-fixed, brick-slip panels and rails locked into cast-in channels in the concrete above. Slim, discreet slots at the front and rear of the soffits provide ventilation. This system was also adapted for the vaulted entrance areas at ground level, where bespoke-designed curved steel profiles provide the substructure for the prefabricated brick-slip panels to be fixed in small sections.
Creating balconies that felt solid underfoot, rather than a raised deck, was achieved using a continuous perimeter slot drain and a drainage mat that carries away any rainwater that permeates through the bedding. The pavers are identical in appearance to the facing bricks but have an upgraded specification to resist water absorption. The welded steel handrails, with a sleeved connection at the corner, are fixed directly to the concrete upstand behind the hand-laid brickwork on the inside of the balcony.
The floor plans have a concentric arrangement with habitable rooms at the perimeter, for daylight and ventilation. Bedrooms and living rooms are grouped on alternate facades and a typical floor accommodates six 1- and 2-bedroom apartments, each with dual-aspect views. Recessed brick-lined balconies occupy the corners, providing sheltered outdoor space and, on the upper floors, three-bedroom apartments feature generous roof terraces. The street-level brick vaults contain the lobby, a cafe and access to the underground car parking.