Built on a tight site in east London, these four low-cost apartment dwellings for the Peabody Trust are organised as two pods that sit closely around a courtyard, enclosed by a timber palisade of vertical logs. Ground-floor flats open onto their own gardens and patio decks, while the first-floor flats are connected by a prefabricated steel-and-timber structure which incorporates stair access and private outdoor deck-space for the upper flats, where occupants can encounter each other in space that is both privatise and shared.
Being briefed to produce two-bedroom apartments, each measuring just 69 m², precipitated a thoughtful re-appraisal of the spatial priorities of the traditional small flat, which resulted in an unconventional but extremely workable configuration. The dwellings are identically arranged around an enlarged hallway, which is conceived as a ‘sorting zone’. The space is both light and complex - anything but a corridor. It is large enough to hold a desk or daybed, a space for children to play or to sort laundry. Bedrooms are kept as small as possible. Clothes, for example, are stored elsewhere. While the kitchen is the main social space of the flat, the living room is a cosy (with)-drawing room that can also be a home office or guest room.
The timber-framed buildings are enveloped in a gleaming silver foil, overlaid with translucent gold fibreglass - a material developed by Ash Sakula in collaboration with the artist Vinita Khanna. In The Guardian, Jonathan Glancey likened the buildings to “a handful of those Quality Street toffees wrapped in yellow foil”. Decks, stairs and gardens are consistently enclosed in a wire mesh fencing mounted on timber posts, a consistent approach to detailing which these elements feel unified with the buildings.
With this ground-breaking solution, Ash Sakula created a pattern for low-cost housing solution that is readily replicable on other sites. The tapered shape of each pod can be configured in any number of ways, making it ideally suited to small and irregular sites. In this case, the site is a small, acutely angled triangle. Pods could be stacked from one to eight storeys high. Units are assembled on site using a maximum of prefabricated elements to achieve speed and quality in construction. The use of a single flat type maximises the advantages to be gained from repetition and bulk-ordering of materials and components.