Building Revisit: Cartwright Pickard’s Pioneering Prefabricated Building

Murray Grove is half a mile north of London’s Old Street roundabout, running east to west for 500 metres, and in it are two buildings that have introduced two very different approaches to prefabricated construction to the capital.

In 2009 Waugh Thistleton delivered a nine-storey apartment building made of large CLT elements – an impressively avant-garde scheme in the British context of the time. Ten years ago, Cartwright Pickard Architects produced 30 affordable rental apartments in two five-story wings connected by a roller elevator and stair tower at the corner of Murray Grove and Shepherdess Walk.

This was the first project by Peter Cartwright and James Pickard, and they had won a design competition organized by Peabody against architects that included Ian Ritchie and Future Systems. Picard, a former protégé of Peter Fogo, had approached Peabody director Deacon Robinson at the Rowntree Trust housing innovation conference. He stated that he had worked in Sweden, had first-hand experience with Swedish prefabricated timber frame housing, and wanted to explore modular construction on larger scales.

Murray Grove buildings consist of steel frame units that are completely factory-installed internally, with doors and windows installed. Units were delivered to the site by a timely and precisely timed convoy of trucks and moved to their locations within 10 days; The five-story staircase and lifting cylinder were delivered in a single crane drop.

The scheme was photographed at its completion in 1999

Source: Martin Charles

These building elements accounted for half of the project’s construction cost. Post-sole unit work included connecting the balconies to the facades, clip-on terracotta tiles, tongue-and-groove wood paneling, and installing prefabricated roofing with joists.

Piling and foundation works were the only part of the six-month construction that was significantly time consuming, and a subsequent BRE assessment noted that although the modular approach at Murray Grove cost 5 percent more than a similar project built with standard methods, it was a period Construction aggregate half of the base.

Externally (we were unable to enter any of the apartments) the buildings appear to have barely progressed. The German tiles on the facades facing the street are not noticeably unaffected and retain even colours.

The same is true of the visible structural steel elements and bright steel cross-ties that connect the columns of the exo-frames that hold the bases of the precast concrete balconies. Its subtly capped lids, the design of which was resolved cost-effectively in discussions with the manufacturer, are also uniform in colour, without oxidizing or discoloring where their edges meet the steel.

The south and east facing elevations overlook a courtyard garden well sheltered from long bouts of sunlight and from the sight and sound of traffic on Murray Grove and Shepherdess Walk – which explains why the horizontal panels of western red cedar cladding show so little unevenness. bleaching to which this species is susceptible; Because of the 1.5m deep roof overhang, there are no signs of water runoff.

Recently, for the first time, the nailless cladding was coated with a grade 0 fire retardant, and after more than two decades of factory-installing the panels for the modules, there is no sign of cracking or warping; There is no age related movement. The choice of Danish-made double-glazed Velfac windows—aluminium-framed externally, timber-framed internally—was much more expensive than most British glass of the time, but, like other major features, had no visible signs of wear and tear on the powder-coated surfaces. The project was delivered and signed without defects. One post-occupancy evaluation five years after completion found a significant reduction in maintenance costs compared to comparable housing in standard structures.

These observations are uncomfortably frequent, but they confirm the long-term durability and quality of the architecture, which is particularly evident in the building’s details. Picard was intent on designing elevations that were graceful and accessible in a Messianic sense, and this resulted in the production of graphic and three-dimensional effects characterized by precise lines, rather than an expression of pressure.

Interior photos were taken upon completion in 1999

Source: Martin Charles

We see this in the relatively thin sections of exposed vertical and horizontal steel elements, in the degree of opacity of the metal balustrade panels, and in the simple and minimal connections between panels and handrail. We see it in the elegant asymmetry and radiating “foretop” of the obtuse triangular plan balconies that emerge from the east and north facades.

Perhaps most satisfying is that we encounter it in the subtle, controlled expression of the architecture in the still gleaming radiating lower ribs of the staircase/elevator tower’s steel surfaces. Viewed as a whole, or by its individual details, it is difficult to assign a specific date, or even a decade, to this structure; His design is a salutary response to the hundreds of flat-fronted, unsightly, or muted apartment buildings that have popped up in London since 1999.

There is one superficial but very noticeable worm in its infancy. Bearing in mind the almost unremarkable tolerances of the building’s surfaces and exposed structural elements, the tower silo’s exterior aluminum lattice panels – distinguished by their fine detailing – are a depressing code: the metal is clearly not de-emphasized, and compared with the rest of the structure, it appears Literally lead color. Peabody was remiss: Screens can be revived with a soapy-water scrub.

David Stronge, Director of Design at Peabody, emphasized that Murray Grove was the organization’s first buildings that were the product of 3D modular design and construction, predating 2002’s BedZed carbon-neutral housing.

It took a great deal of courage [Murray Grove] happen,” he says. Since then, Stronge adds, innovations in Peabody’s housing projects have been considered on a case-by-case basis. Some of the innovative systems wouldn’t be used in tall buildings if there were logistical problems related to the site: “The designs need to Saying it’s better than the alternatives.

They need to stack a number of levels, including the rapid achievement of waterproofing and the need to provide as many housing units as possible on the site. Peabody remains a role model in exploring new building systems – Níall McLaughlin’s dichroic glass façade sections at Silvertown (2004) are an example, and looking to the future, Henley Halebrown’s Edith Summerskill House tower in Fulham will have complete prefabricated exterior walls divided into sections of two floors.

These are ambitious explorations. But even if schemes such as Murray Grove are architecturally virtuous and functionally and socially successful (there is a very low turnover of occupants), there is still general resistance to innovation in large housing developments.

The initial reasons are that the building industry is working for profit margins of around 2 per cent and an increasing number of architects’ fee offers for schemes are less than 2 per cent of the cost of construction and this has been detrimental to innovative design.

Regardless, how many architects have initial concerns that modularity and prefab will dilute their personal, and therefore unique, architectural creativity? This was clearly not the case at Murray Grove.

Micawber Street is located just off the west-facing ward in Murray Grove. He was Wilkins McCawber in the Charles Dickens movie David Copperfield Who said: “Do not do tomorrow what you can do today.” This logical and impressive adage is rarely applied to innovative or modular housing.
Jay Merrick is an architecture critic and author

Architect’s opinion

Murray Grove was the first project of its kind in the UK to use fully modular volumetric fabrication with a steel frame to improve build quality and radically reduce time on site. Using principles more associated with automobile production, the building was manufactured almost entirely off-site, using modular units that were completely installed in a factory and then assembled on site in just 10 days.

At the time, it was technically challenging to work in an entirely new way with the manufacturer, but the project was recognized globally for its pioneering approach to design and use of off-site methods, later dubbed “modern methods of construction” by the Minister of Housing.

More than 20 years later, MMC (as it is now commonly known) is coming of age and becoming a viable, cost-effective, and faster alternative to traditional methods that is being widely adopted.

This project helped launch the fortunes of Cartwright Picard soon after our construction and was the only building in the UK to be awarded Millennium Product status by the Design Council in 2000.

As the practice celebrates its 25th birthday, the approach at Murray Grove still captures much of our design ethos: our constant quest to challenge the status quo and develop better solutions by bringing together architecture, manufacturing, and environmental design.
James Pickard, Founding Director, Cartwright Pickard

Customer point of view

Peabody was an early adopter of volumetric modular construction for affordable housing. Built in 1999, Murray Grove, now known as Shepherdess Walk, is an example of one of the first steel multi-storey residential developments in the UK. The project was led by Cartwright Pickard with Whitby Bird engineers, fabricated off site by Yorkon and managed on site by contractor Kajima. Over the past 23 years we have found that the repairs and maintenance required have been broadly in line with other traditionally built buildings.

We’ve used the lessons learned to inform our subsequent charts. We ensure that innovations in design and construction contribute creatively to solving any project constraints – financial, temporal or spatial.

For example, we used precast façade panels on our project in Bow Creek to allow factory precision in assembly and to ensure no scaffolding beyond the busy A12. We design and detail small projects in a very traditional way so as to appeal to the contractors and tradesmen operating in that part of the market or location, contributing to the local economy and supporting small and medium businesses.

We intend to continue our work on innovative designs and constructions as new opportunities arise. One such future plan is the construction of an apartment building in Hammersmith and Fulham by Henley Halebrown, which will be fabricated off site into large front and frame panels and then hoisted into place.

Carrying out most of our assembly off-site will help us reduce the number of deliveries, build more efficiently and reduce how long this project will take, and reduce its impact on the local community on nearby streets.
David Strong, Design Director, Peabody

original details

the raison d’être Behind Murray Grove is the use of ingredients manufactured off-site and cutting out the wet trade. These diagrams show the precast concrete driveway panels which are bolted back into the steel framed units. A steel channel is cast on the front face of the precast concrete panels to allow them to be attached to the steel columns supporting the outer edge. This also allows balusters to be fixed to. The entire walkway structure is designed as a set of highly repeatable and standardized parts, which is cost-effective, quick and easy to install.
James Pickard, Founding Director, Cartwright Pickard

project’s data

Start on siteMarch 1999
completionNovember 1999
Total interior floor area 2,150 m2
Building cost2.3 million pounds sterling
construction cost per m2 £1,070
architecture Cartwright Pickard
Structural EngineerWhitby Bird and Company
Monitoring and evaluation consultant Engineering Design Partnership
Quantity surveyor MDA
Certified building inspectorLondon Borough of Hackney
The main contractorKajima UK Engineering

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