Housing for the Peabody Trust, Silvertown

In 2001 Niall McLaughlin Architects won a competition held by the Peabody Trust to consider innovative ways of designing apartments on a low budget. The site was in the old industrial zone of Silvertown, East London. The design was developed with the Peabody Trust and Sandwood Construction Ltd.

Low-cost housing often often uses modular timber frame construction involving considerable prefabrication, which is then wrapped in a conventional material such as brick or stone, to give a traditional appearance. In fact, the wrapping could be anything. It is a primarily decorative layer. Working with the artist Martin Richman, we investigated all kinds of wrapping to find something truly decorative.

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Martin found a strange ‘dichroic’ film made by 3M, a manufacturer famous for everything from dentistry to post-it notes. We designed a layered construction in which the film selectively reflects and transmits light to generate shifting colourful patterns. Its irridescent properties reflects the extraordinary chemical flare of industry in the area following the Great Exhibition, which included the making of sugar, coloured dyes, TNT and matches. The wrapping speaks of chemical sweetness, colour and light.

The living spaces of all the twelve two-bedroom apartments face south. The rooms open up at the corners to give great views of the Millenium Dome and London City Airport. The project connects with the eerie beauty of these industrial edge zones.