Location – London
Architect – Tikari Works
Structural engineer – Webb Yates
Wood supplier – Stora Enso
CLT subcontractor – Eurban
3-layer board – Binderholz
Species – Austrian spruce
“Tikari Works have taken a gamble and done something very unusual – and it’s paid off.”
This year’s Gold Award winner is a jewel – concealed behind a facade of 10,000 handmade clay shingles, the wooden interiors of the Rye Apartments glow a straw amber. Sustainable, consummately engineered, and designed with the user’s experience and quality of life at the forefront, the Rye Apartments represent everything the judging panel were looking for in a Gold Award winner.
The work of south London-based practice Tikari Works – which served as architect, developer and contractor – the apartments are a two-block development on the edge of Peckham Rye Park. Having secured a prominent corner site, the architects set about embedding a mixture of 10 one-, two-, and three-bedroom units within two discrete blocks that could respond independently to the changing scale across the site. The clay shingles were produced by Denmark’s Petersen Tegl factory, and help to create a link to the existing red-brick Victorian neighbourhood; meanwhile, the two blocks achieve a visual unity and sense of community through shared roof lines as well as their mutual elevation atop a ground-level concrete plinth.
It is inside, however, that the project comes alive. The superstructure and internal walls and staircases were made from cross-laminate timber (CLT) to optimise construction time and minimise carbon emissions. Crucially, the CLT has been left exposed throughout and supplemented with precise timber joinery. The floors are white-washed ash; spruce strips create dropped ceilings in the hallways and bathrooms; cabinets are crafted from CNC grooved three-layer spruce ply; and even the worktops are made from recycled paper. Crack open the buildings’ dark clay crust, and inside waits an Aladdin’s cave of soft golden wood.
The use of timber is central to the building’s sustainability aims. The CLT superstructure is highly thermally efficient, reducing future energy use, while a total of 227 tonnes of carbon dioxide have been removed from the atmosphere and stored in the wood structure over the course of its lifespan. In comparison to construction materials such as concrete and steel, the CLT has a far lower level of embodied carbon, while Tikari further estimate that the length of time required to regrow the Austrian spruce used in the project is less than two minutes. The development is a stirring reminder that wood stands at the forefront of sustainable design and construction. “The design process was informed by the construction process from the onset,” said jury head Jim Greaves. “Tikari Works didn’t need to deal with the usual problems which occur when an architect’s design is being built by a contractor, and this seems a good model for the future.”
Of equal importance is the project’s attention to the needs of the buildings’ inhabitants, with Tikari having resisted the tropes and standardisations typical of much contemporary housing design. Windows punctuate the building’s facade, bathing the units’ large interiors in sunlight. Here, the CLT sings, the exposed wood catching the light to create homely, comforting interiors that are generous and inviting. It is in this focus on the residents’ experience that the sophistication and elegance of Tikari’s design is most apparent. The project’s restrained palette of natural materials reduces visual clutter, providing a restrained, nurturing backdrop against which everyday life can play out.
The Rye Apartments are a piece of highly sophisticated design, leaning into the natural properties of materials and anchoring these to real human needs. “The developer, designer and contractor were one and the same, said Greaves. “It’s a complete package and, as a consequence, the building was designed with a very clear eye as to how it was going to be built and a recognition of the market it was aimed at.” In showing off the full range of wood’s potential, the Rye Apartments are a worthy winner of the 2020 Gold Award.