Compendium: Architecture in Residential Property Development

Since forming in 2000, MSMR has developed a reputation for producing exciting, contemporary architecture and interiors for some of the most high profile names in property.

Specialising in prime central London, the firm's resi portfolio includes everything from apartment buildings to detached mansions; mews houses to penthouses.

Start planning your next scheme with this unique, exclusive collection of effective tips and thought-provoking musings from one of the country's top practices.

The TeamAn article in a recent RIBA Journal entitled “Working Together” briefly explores the expertise and contributions a wide range of building consultants bring, together with architects, to the design and construction process. The article comprises no less than eleven separate disciplines and includes insight from amongst others, a Passivhaus consultant, a security consultant, an approved inspector and a quantity surveyor. Surprisingly, an interior designer was not included in the list of interviewees.

Definitions of interior design will vary and the point at which the architect’s role ends and the interior designer’s begins is often blurred. Has the advent of the “interior architect” provided an alternative hybrid role which successfully fills potential gaps, or has it generated more confusion around the dividing lines between disciplines? Full Briefing
The CGIFlicking through the pages of any architectural magazine (mostly online these days) it is difficult not to be impressed by the quality of design imagery on display. In fact it is often difficult to tell the difference between an utterly convincing computer-generated image (CGI) and a photograph of an actual building. Used by architects, developers and agents alike, 3D visualisations or CGIs can be a highly persuasive way to depict the finished product before construction works have even begun.

There are numerous reasons why digital imagery plays an increasingly important role in the design and development process. As well as assisting architects, interior designers and clients to make more informed decisions at an earlier stage in the design process, they can be critical to the planning process for their power to communicate ideas and demonstrate the veracity of a design concept or the validity of a development. Full Briefing
The Space PlanningThe successful external design of a prime or super-prime residential development is important, not only in terms of achieving planning consent, but also in creating that favourable first impression and enhanced kerb-appeal.

But, the internal design and arrangement of space is equally, if not more, important. It’s inside, where occupants spend the majority of their time, that architects and designers have the greatest opportunity to impress potential buyers and residents.

The growing prominence of space planning in residential developments underlines the evolving interplay between architecture and interior design. Full Briefing
The Air RightsWith much of central London’s property stock protected, whether by means of conservation area or listed building status, opportunities for new build developments are few and far between.

Getting the most out of an existing building is a constant focus for developers and finding new ways to unlock embodied property value is the ultimate aim. Extending below ground, as discussed before, is an increasingly popular means of adding value. Equally, the development of existing buildings beyond their rooftops to add one or more levels will substantially boost floor space – but it isn’t an easy process. It can be more complex in many ways than basement development and poses greater financial risks. Yet evidence suggests the rewards can be enormous: a good view over London’s rooftops is priceless. Full Briefing
The AtriaThe origin of the atrium dates back to Ancient Roman times when the term described the main or central room of a house, open to the sky at the centre and usually having a pool for the collection of rain water. In the intervening millennia the nature of the atrium has evolved, sometimes reduced in status to a purely functional building component, but sometimes elevated to take on a pivotal architectural role at the heart of a building, affecting and directing the users’ experience on many different levels.

Central London is peppered with examples of atria at the functional end of this spectrum. Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks often contain small, internalized and uncovered light-wells. Their simple purpose is to increase the amount of daylight and natural ventilation available to those, less fortunate, rooms located towards the center of a deep (usually dark) plan-form. Full Briefing
The SpaIn the prime and super-prime residential sector, there is undoubted convenience in having these spa facilities onsite. It’s increasingly common to find super-prime homes – be these apartments or houses – equipped with private spa facilities, while communal amenity space within many prime residential developments will often include a variety of leisure facilities. This isn’t to say the spa concept is anything new.

Communal spas date back to Greek and Roman times. The Greeks began bathing regimens around 1500 BC, providing the foundations for our spa procedures today. Fast forward to 20th century London when the English have finally grasped apartment living and both Highpoint in Highgate, designed by Lubetkin in the 1930s, and Dolphin Square in Pimlico, completed in 1937, contain purpose-built leisure facilities including swimming pools. Full Briefing
The Basement (Part I)As the desire to extend single dwellings below ground continues to be popular amongst niche developers and private clients, in this article we focus on the particular challenges this type of prime residential development faces.

Challenges can include dealing with evolving planning policy, conservation area or listed building constraints, historical covenants, party wall awards, tree preservation orders and copious, often onerous, planning conditions – not to mention the numerous technical challenges which arise during the detail design and construction process. Of course the reward is a larger property allowing space for luxuries such as gymnasiums, indoor swimming pools, and spa facilities. Full Briefing
The Basement (Part II)Burrowing down is something man and beast have been doing for thousands of years.

The basement concept is as old as architecture itself, with this hollowed-out, subterranean space being used for any number of purposes.

In recent years, and as development becomes increasingly difficult in its built-up centre, super-prime London has seen a hike in the construction of basement space to house conveniences such as private gymnasiums, treatment rooms, swimming pools and home cinemas. Full Briefing
The StaircaseWhatever its character – whether bold, sculptural or the ultimate statement of refinement – a staircase can make for a striking three dimensional feature. It offers the potential for drawing light into a room, exploring and utilizing different materials and connecting spaces and levels. Given the opportunity, a staircase can be much more than merely a link between floors.

Not unlike atria the simple staircase allows developers and homeowners the chance to take a building component beyond the purely functional and elevate it to something surprising, inspired and beautiful. Affording careful consideration to staircase design and installation can reap substantial rewards, in terms of the unique spatial quality it can bring to a room and of course, in terms of increased overall property value. Full Briefing
The ParkingLondon continues to thrive and, with a growing population, space of any description is an increasingly precious commodity.

Previously we have discussed the lengths (and depths) to which developers go to keep up with demand for prime residential accommodation, and our next instalment will discuss the heights developers go to, tackling rooftop builds, air rights and so on. Alongside this is an increase in the demand for car parking.

When parking or garaging facilities in coveted locations come up for sale, prices invariably reflect the shortfall in supply. In April another underground space near the Royal Albert Hall entered the market at £275,000 and similar central London parking spaces regularly change hands for anything between £150,000 and £250,000. Full Briefing
The Affordable HousingOver the past decade there has been a raft of planning policies created to address the country’s housing shortage problem. These policies prescribe a series of variable affordable obligations that are determined by the scale and context of a residential development.

Potential prime residential development sites in Central London tend not to fall into a particular mould and applying a blanket affordable housing policy is impractical; they are often physically constrained, sometimes unique and almost always complicated by a high level of third-party vested interests. Full Briefing
The Case StudyThe redevelopment of 19 Buckingham Street, WC2 by Angle Property represents a successful return to residential use of a building that was for many decades largely given over to office space.

MSMR Architects worked alongside interior designer LINLEY to create an exclusive scheme of 11 apartments across four floors. The Grade II*-listed building’s original Georgian features have been retained, while internally it has been completely remodeled for contemporary city living.

Buckingham Street lies within London’s Adelphi Conservation Area between the Strand and Victoria Embankment. Now a quiet cul-de-sac, Buckingham Street was originally laid out as part of York House Estate during the 17th century. Full Briefing

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