The borough’s best new buildings… and worst

Local architect Duncan Holmes gives his verdict on some of the recent additions to Waltham Forest’s built environment

Higham Hill Road

New homes in Higham Hill Road, designed by PRP Architects

Higham Hill Road

This residential development in Higham Hill Road was named ‘best residential scheme’ at the Waltham Forest Design Awards in 2014, a well deserved acknowledgement for PRP Architects, who designed this for Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association.

I visited the project during the Open House weekend and the architects, who usually do much larger projects, were clearly proud of what they had achieved with a limited budget. This fits right in with the pattern of terraced houses, standing out only because it is strikingly modern.

The eight houses and 16 flats and maisonettes sit comfortably alongside the terraced houses in Higham Hill Road and Pasquier Road. The scheme as a whole projects a satisfying sense of build quality. It just shows what you can do by fitting in with the context, rather than building a four-storey block and growing grass on the rest of the site.

Hammond Court

Hammond Court in Pretoria Avenue, Walthamstow, designed by Mae Architects

Hammond Court

Hammond Court in Pretoria Avenue was the runner-up to Higham Hill Road in last year’s Waltham Forest Design Awards. Mae Architects designed this scheme for East Thames, a charity that commissions social housing.

The development has two distinct parts, a five-storey block of flats on Blackhorse Lane, and red-brick flats and maisonettes on Pretoria Avenue and Maude Road. The block of flats is unexceptional, but the brick buildings stand out. In these quiet back streets, the gable-fronted buildings successfully echo the decorative fronts of the Warner houses across the road.

The elevations are pleasingly simple, with front doors for each unit, nicely variegated bricks, and railings separating the small front yards from the pavement.

As is often the case, the architects felt the design was compromised by the procurement process, whereby the contractor has ultimate responsibility for design decisions, but the strength of the design makes up for a little budget-cutting on materials.

Papermill Place

Papermill Place in Higham Hill

Papermill Place (phase three)

Papermill Place is at the forefront of the multistorey developments that are about to take over large patches of Walthamstow. Several large sites are all set for a lot more of this kind of high density, European-type housing.

Phase three, designed by Levitt Bernstein for Telford Homes, opened in 2013 when Sutherland Road was all light industrial squalor and half-demolished factory buildings. The blocks are four and five storeys of plain brickwork, sensibly restricted to a single colour, with some bold shapes. The best is the dramatic cantilever which opens up the inner courtyard to the outside world.

Bright yellow balconies add a spark of liveliness to the buildings, although they are already cluttered with tenants’ belongings and may not age so well. There are teething problems with the estate as a whole, not least because responsibility is split between East Thames and London and Quadrant (L&Q Housing Association). Proper coordinated management will be vital for its long-term success.

Willowfield Humanities College

Willowfield Humanities College in Blackhorse Road

Willowfield Humanities College

This is a brand-new school in Blackhorse Road which opened in time for the autumn term. Willowfield Humanities College was designed by HLM Architects and provides 900 secondary school places.

Nearby Willowfield School has had a long wait for its new accommodation: Their plans were shelved when the government terminated the ambitious Schools For The Future construction programme.

The new school building is laid out as two rectangular blocks parallel to the railway, with a decent amount of outdoor space for games courts, parking and a wildlife garden. The appearance is uncompromisingly muscular, bold blocks of dark brick and dark-blue render alternated with white, but there are some nice touches.

The atrium linking the two blocks has a little natural light, but it seems a missed opportunity not to have put in a glazed roof. And sadly, from the station the view of the new building is still obscured by a massive advertising hoarding.

Banbury Park

Banbury Park, in Billet Road

Banbury Park

Banbury Park, on Billet Road, is designed jointly by Divine Ideas Architects and HTA Design LLP, for Centra Living. The elliptical block on Billet Road is a sort of gateway to the first phase of an extensive development, on a site created by demolishing warehouse and factory buildings. It is actually just the corner of a large rectangular block, but will be let as offices, unlike the rest of the development.

The estate as a whole is unremarkably tasteful, but this stands out as something different. The brash, crudely patterned facade of synthetic slate panels does absolutely nothing to enhance the area, and sits uncomfortably across the road from the faded subtleties of the Roger Ascham Primary School. It is difficult to imagine why this seemed like a good idea.

YMCA East London

YMCA East London in Forest Road

YMCA East London

The YMCA building opposite Waltham Forest Town Hall is an oddity, a yellowish tower that looks like concrete, although it is actually stone cladding. Local artist Danny Coope features the building on his 2016 calendar, perhaps not altogether ironically.

The new extension attracted an impassioned nomination for Building Design magazine’s Carbuncle of the Year.

“A monstrosity, more in common with a detention centre, sheer awfulness,” is just a sample of the anonymous critique.

The extension is built of industrial cladding panels, usually seen on B&Q warehouses and the like, with mean little windows attached to the walls with pop rivets, and apparently random stripes in three shades of grey.

It slots in underneath the tower without managing to seem anything other than a temporary structure, like a pile of Portakabins on a building site. The new gym is great, though.