Terrace of 10 houses and 2 flats, 1986-88, built as part of a wider development by J Sainsbury’s to designs by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, architect in charge, Neven Sidor; structural engineers, Kenchington, Little and Partners.
Reasons for Designation
1-12 Grand Union Walk, London, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* in its bold styling, resourceful planning and creative use of materials and detail, it is a scheme which exploits the canal-side setting with humour and panache;
* as one of few examples of High-Tech style applied to housing;
* as part of an ambitious and successful mixed-use scheme which marked a turning point in the career of Nicholas Grimshaw, one of the country’s leading proponents of High-Tech architecture.
In the early 1980s J Sainsbury took ownership of a former industrial site in the heart of Camden with a view to developing an urban superstore. The scope of the project reached beyond just the store and between 1986 and 1988 a mixed-use scheme comprising a supermarket (listed Grade II), a terrace of houses (1-12 Grand Union Walk), a commercial building (known as Grand Union House) and a small crèche building were constructed to designs by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners.
Situated to the south of the Grand Union Canal (originally Regent’s Canal), the site was in mixed industrial and residential use in the C19. During the C20 an increasingly large part was occupied by the Aerated Bread Company (ABC), which ceased production in 1982 leaving a roughly triangular site bounded on two sides by busy roads and on the third by the Grand Union Canal. In April 1985 Sainsbury’s obtained outline planning permission for a scheme by Scott Brownrigg and Turner. This, however, was rejected by Sainsbury’s newly-established vetting committee, chaired by the architecture critic Colin Amery. Amery was formerly assistant editor to the Architectural Review and architectural critic for the Financial Times; in his new role he reported directly to supermarket chairman, Sir John Sainsbury. Amery described the approved scheme as ‘not quite good enough’ for the site and in November 1985 the architects were replaced by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners on his recommendation. Sainsbury’s also owned a plot north of the canal which was designated for a housing association development under a section 52 agreement in the outline planning permission of 1985. Although it formed part of the planning permission, it was not included in Grimshaw’s site.
Though opposed by the Regent’s Canal Conservation Advisory Group, the scheme Grimshaw devised for Sainsbury’s enthused Camden’s planners, who, as he recalled it, wanted a sophisticated modern building rather than a pastiche. Detailed planning permission was granted in May 1986, having been commended by the Royal Fine Art Commission as an ‘example of bold and enlightened patronage’. Construction commenced in August 1986, with Wimpey as main contractor.
Each of the elements had very different planning and servicing requirements, lifespans and tenure and all needed to be fitted together on the compact, inner-city site. Grimshaw’s scheme permitted each element to take its own form with the architectural design establishing continuity through a common palette of colours and materials. The location of the principal elements were dictated by the constraints and opportunities of the site: the supermarket occupies the main street frontage, the amenity of the canal is given over to the housing, and the vehicular entrances and first-floor commercial units assigned to the non-retail Kentish Town Road. A subterranean car park runs under most of the site.
It was Camden which stipulated the provision of housing, workshops and a crèche on the site. The original outline permission for the housing was for flats but at Grimshaw’s suggestion this became a terrace of freehold houses (actually 10 houses and two flats), which are listed at Grade II. The housing offered Grimshaw his first opportunity to fit out a complete and relatively fixed interior; most of his previous commissions being single volume, open-plan spaces capable of flexible subdivision by occupants. When each house was sold the new owner received an ‘owners manual’, complete with specifications, details of services and suppliers. The commercial units, more familiar ground for Grimshaw, were housed in a single building. These were originally intended as workshops, at Camden’s request, but by the time the building was completed the use had changed to B1 (general business use).
Nicholas Grimshaw was born in 1939 in Hove. He studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art between 1959 and 62, and in 1962-65 at the Architectural Association. After graduating he established a practice with Terry Farrell, forming his own practice in 1980. Prior to the Camden scheme his portfolio was made up of light-weight, small or medium-scale projects on dispersed sites for industrial or leisure clients. Along with the Financial Times Printing Works (1987-8, Grade II*) and the Waterloo Eurostar terminus (commissioned 1988, built 1990-3), the Camden project therefore occupies a pivotal position in Grimshaw’s oeuvre. From the early 1990s Grimshaw came to popular attention with flagship projects such as the British Pavilion for the Seville Expo of 1992 for which he was awarded a CBE and the Grandstand to Lord’s Cricket Ground (1998). Grimshaw’s inclusion in the ‘British Architecture Today: Six Protagonists’ exhibition at the 1991 Venice Biennale heralded an international dimension to the practice which included the Berlin Stock Exchange (1997) and Bilbao Bus Station (1999). Grimshaw received a knighthood for services to architecture in 2002 and is the 2019 recipient of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal. He is considered one of the pioneers of High-Tech architecture, a movement strongly identified with Britain in the late C20.
Terrace of 10 houses and 2 flats, 1986-88, built as part of a wider development by J Sainsbury’s to designs by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, architect in charge, Neven Sidor; structural engineers, Kenchington, Little and Partners
MATERIALS: concrete block cross walls with concrete floors and an asphalt-clad timber roof. The front walls are part-glazed, part-clad in smooth-skinned aluminium panels. Back walls are clad in pressed aluminium panels with horizontal ribs to match the rear of Sainsbury’s and Grand Union House.
PLAN: the houses face north, directly onto the Grand Union Canal, their front doors opening off a private walkway along the water’s edge, accessed from Kentish Town Road. The upper floors are cantilevered out over the walkway, giving a larger floor plate on the first and second floors. Each house is two bays wide and the roofs are flat; a roof garden was added to each house in about 2006 when a steel structure which spanned the terrace was placed on top of the existing roofs.
A dog-leg stair against the east party wall connects each level. The ground floor has an entrance hall, en-suite bedroom and plant room. The plant room is to the rear and has direct access to the car park. A service core against the back wall runs through the house from the plant room, passing through a utility room on the first floor and a bathroom on the second floor. At first floor the principal rooms form an ‘L’ around the stair – a living room to the front, overlooking the canal, leading through to an open-plan kitchen and dining area. The dining area also overlooks the canal and is a top-lit double-height space, the kitchen is towards the rear. The second floor comprises a bedroom to the front and a mezzanine room overlooking the dining area to the rear (in many cases this is now an enclosed room), and the bathroom at the back of the plan.
The two flats in the terrace are situated by the entrance off Kentish Town Road. One is a ground and first-floor maisonette, entered directly off the canal-side walkway and the other is a studio flat entered via a radiused stair tower which punctuates the end of the terrace.
EXTERIOR: the terrace uses an industrial imagery, chosen to reflect a canal-side setting. It is defined by the alternating in-and-out of the jettied upper-floor bays. The east bay of each house curves outward from top to bottom, and is skinned in smooth aluminium panels. It has a vertical row of three horizontally-orientated windows with radiused corners, sealed into the cladding panels with black rubber gaskets. The bay’s lobe-like section projects forward of the west bay which is fully glazed, flat, but canting inward from bottom to top. The lower part can be raised by a motorised mechanism, opening the interior to a small balcony. The balcony front cants outwards and is formed of slatted timber held on vertical steels which extend down and form part of the balustrade enclosing the walkway beneath.
At ground floor each bay is demarked by tapered concrete brackets supporting the jettied upper floors. The bays alternate between smooth white render with clerestory windows and fully glazed, the latter set back from the walkway up three steps and providing the entrance into each house. The balustrade of the walkway is made up of alternating slatted timber with bench seats and steel bars, now with an extra steel grid.
On the top of the terrace the steel mesh balustrades of the later roof gardens are visible.
INTERIOR: the most striking space within each house is the double-height dining area, lit by the full-height, openable glazed wall and from above by three radiused skylights. This space is overlooked on the second floor by the mezzanine room at the rear and by the front bedroom through a large circular window in the side wall. The stair has open string, beechwood treads and risers with tubular steel newels. The newels carry a glass partition up through the house between each flight of stairs, and a tubular steel handrail. Joinery comprises flush panel beech doors and square-section door frames without architraves, set flush with the wall face. Door furniture includes steel L-shaped lever handles from D Line.
The houses now all have a steep flight of stairs at the very top of the house to give access to the roof terrace and while these are not all identical, they have been carefully integrated into the original balustrades. Otherwise, the interiors of the houses have been altered ad hoc over time, with some fittings and finishes being altered or replaced. Only two houses were inspected internally but it is understood that all retain their distinctive double-height dining area, albeit in many the mezzanine room has been enclosed to give privacy. The flats were not inspected internally, they are understood to have been altered but their original plans were much more conventional to begin with.