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  • O'Connell East Architects

Project Focus: Magdalen Street, Colchester

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Client: Host.

Contractor: Winvic Construction Ltd

Completed: August 2020

Host’s recently completed student housing development in Colchester occupies the site of a former Tram and Bus Depot and provides 252 student bed-spaces in a range of cluster flats and studios with a dedicated Management Suite and shared amenity spaces. The site sits adjacent to the Colchester New Town Conservation Area with Grade II listed Almshouses backing onto the site along the southern boundary.

The client brief was to provide a distinctive and contemporary development whilst remaining complementary to the local context and history. O’Connell East Architects (OEA) worked with both the client and local authority to develop a characterful design proposal which made efficient use of the site to maximise the potential of the development.

Massing was an important factor due to the scale of the surrounding buildings and has been carefully controlled across the site. The development has been rationalised into three distinct blocks with a staggered arrangement of three and four storey elements providing an animated street frontage, while at the same time giving a sense of openness and permeability from Magdalen Street via breaks between the buildings. A set back building line has been applied to the Magdalen Street frontage to provide defensible, landscaped areas for the ground floor flats and provide space for street trees.

A new shared surface ‘street’ which incorporates salvaged tram tracks from the site’s previous use was created allowing public pedestrian access through the site and this surface treatment adds to the sense of identity and history of the development. Brick pavers laid in herringbone format have been used in the shared courtyards to echo the brickwork of the facades and give the external amenity spaces a striking and unique character.

The facades have been arranged as a series of projecting and receding planes to create a staggered building line. Different brick treatments have been used on the elevations which, when combined with the irregular rhythm of the facades, is intended to break down the scale and give the impression of a series of individual buildings to reflect the rhythm of smaller plots on the north side of Magdalen Street.

Materiality was a key consideration and OEA engaged with Wienerberger early in the design process to source bricks that would achieve the right aesthetic. Bronsgroen and Megaline (Light Red Multi) were selected for the main elevations with Forum Smoked Branco used to highlight aspects of the masonry detailing such as the perforated brick panels and Flemish brick bond.

Bronsgroen brick was chosen to provide texture and variation in tone and this was balanced with the linear format and sharp arrises of the Megaline (Light Red Multi) which provides a contrasting but complementary combination. The top penthouse storeys are set back from the street elevations and are clad in light-weight fibre cement boards in a soft grey colour.

Punched openings in the brick facades with deep reveals provide articulation to the elevations and create shadow and depth to reinforce the interplay of different planes. Recessed courses in the brickwork to the ground floor and perforated brickwork set within decorative panels provide texture and articulation to the Magdalen Street elevations. The careful use of form, and the distinctive brick types have created a strong identity for the development.

High levels of insulation to the building envelope, ventilation with heat recovery, photovoltaics and green roofs all contribute to reducing the carbon footprint and enhancing the biodiversity of the development. Courtyard cycle stores are provided to all three blocks with e-bike charging points for visitors to encourage sustainable modes of transport.

Photo Credits - Stephen Hall Photography on behalf of Weinerberger

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