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DRP Architects - Project in Portslade

DRP Architects, a Brighton-based firm known for its eco friendly and sustainable designs, has just completed the first phase of the £5.1m rebuild of George Williams House - a large hostel facility in Portlslade.

Commissioned by a provider of services to a vulnerable user group, the three-phase project - which will create tailored accommodation and a much-needed life skills facility - began in 2004 and will end in 2009. The completion of the £1.1m contract to construct phase one sees the first of three new blocks delivered to the client.

The new George Williams House has been designed around a central landscaped area on a site surrounded on all sides by existing building stock. It replaces an outmoded building that was no longer fit for its purpose. The design picks up on its surroundings in an intelligent and contemporary way.

DRP was initially commissioned to refurbish the existing hostel building. However, it soon became clear that a new build would be more feasible in terms of cost and facilities. The resulting design separates the hostel into two accommodation blocks and a third 'life skills' block which has educational and self-help facilities - including a teaching kitchen, art space, IT suites and offices. The third block will feature large areas of glazed façade and a sedum roof. The blocks are arranged around a green space which has bins and bikes stores, parking and landscaping.

Matthew Richardson, DRP director responsible for the project, says: "The three blocks, while physically separate, are linked visually and notionally to read as 'individual houses' instead of an 'institutional home'. The form of the completed block is broken up into smaller components, and each of the new blocks will be sympathetic to the neighbourhood as a whole."

It was for this reason, as well as environmental credentials, that untreated sweet chestnut boarding was selected as one of the main materials in the project. The fast-growing timber is harvested locally in Sussex. DRP has also opted for rendered block work, powder coated aluminium windows and single ply roofing membrane.

Matthew Richardson says: "The chosen materials reference the 'urban grain' of the building's location in a contemporary way. Materials are all low maintenance, the building is designed to be energy efficient, and the elevational treatment and articulation reflect the rhythm of nearby developments in Portslade."

The building also has sweet chestnut louvres to provide solar shading to the stair towers, timber clad hanging bays that step out from the elevation, and sloping mono-pitch roofs. Within each of the 'houses', residents will have their own room with ensuite facilities and each 'house' contains a communal kitchen and living room. The idea is that individuals can take ownership of their own space, and feel independent rather than part of an institution.

And it isn't just human residents that DRP has to consider. A badger sett exists on the site, and work near it can only be undertaken at certain times of the year, under license, to avoid disturbing the animals.

Matthew Richardson adds: "The new buildings are about people - clients, staff and visitors. A balance of sensitivity, integration and vibrancy is reflected in the materials, textures and colours as well as the use of the inner and outer spaces and their transformation during day and night."


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