Rooftops and Skylines Maximising Development Potential

28/10/2014

We work at many levels within the urban context and we are currently working on a number of projects that sit above the horizons of other buildings.

 

What’s interesting?

We currently have five projects on the drawing board that are roof-top developments and all within 5 minutes walk of our studio – all of them are in the Hackney Conservation Area. We completed the first one several years ago – it sits on the sky space of our old studio -one of our ongoing projects now sits on the roof of our current studio.

 

What’s in it for others?

There is an immediate recognition and appeal of high-level development upon existing buildings. We work in a fast developing and dense part of London – Shoreditch – where property owners wish to maximise the potential of existing buildings. Just one of our clients acquired their property with the sole intention of adding a roof-top extension. Three of our current sky space projects have come to us from clients we had already worked with and other clients came to us simply because of our local and specific roof-top development expertise.

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Functional Diversity

The roof-top projects are as functionally diverse as the commissioning clients. One might be a penthouse apartment to be lived in by the client, one might be a solicitor’s office for his/her personal use, one might be a residential development of five apartments to rent or a mixed development comprising two spacious apartments and studio/office space

 

The views are fantastic

When designing at roof-top level it is tempting to prioritise the external views which are generally spectacular. We have found that extensive glazing is inappropriate in domestic and small office environments for all of the obvious reasons not least of which are lack of privacy, greenhouse effect, etc.

 

High level gardens and roof terraces make great outdoor spaces

The outdoor spaces associated with roof-top developments can have a wonderful landscapes which are integral to the external areas with a magical secret garden appeal

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How we look at the design

There are several way to approach roof-top design – as a new build on a clean slate site, as an addition to the skyline as viewed from the street and as an addition to the host building.  We have found that a small difference in the context can result in a very different development approach.

 

Constraints

The stucture, access and services as set out by the host building and its surroundings define the design parameters for the new building. The design has to be conceived with the a number of factors in mind – scaffolding and access are obvious key considerations but the disturbance to neighbours, noise levels, increased vehicular traffic not to mention all the other unwelcome aspects of the construction process – each and every one of these must be addressed and minimised.

 

Traditional or Pre-fabricated

For each project the design team considers the use of prefabricated elements in order to minimise the construction time frame, site access and working at height. However, one sometimes has to reluctantly accept that traditional methods of construction can prove to be the most expedient option.  In general the final preference is to erect a steel frame with external cladding.In some projects, to gain access for craning large elements onto the site has proved to be impossible.  If the structure of the host building is irregular, then the structure of the extension will reflect the irregularity and accordingly it is easier to erect and complete on site.

Designing with relatively traditional methods (rather than off-site pre-fabrication methods) means that we can approach a wider range of contractors for prices. We try to specify dry construction methods where possible – steel frame with cladding that can be mechanically fixed. The skimming of plasterboard walls and ceilings, and the grouting of tiles are the only concession we try to make to wet trades. Where possible building elements are prepared at ground level and hoisted or craned onto the construction platform in easy-to-handle chunks. We have found that working on roof-tops ensures that the main contractor carefully considers the construction programme and process, the site set up and storage facilities– there is never enough room for working or storage at high level.

 

Consideration for neighbours

Working at high level in the city generally involves working over someone else’s head, home or place of work. We have ourselves experienced one of our own projects being built over our heads so we know very well how disruptive it can be. The noise generated by work on a roof level travels down the building with alacrity, as does the fallout of dust and dirt and can be alarming to the residents below if they have not been made fully aware of  the side-effects. We go to great lengths to ensure that the other building occupiers are conversant with the construction process, time frame, etc. Despite this dialogue in advance of the start on site on one occasion a resident popped up to the roof-top to see what was going on – the contractor was more alarmed by the neighbour’s intrusion as he had brought along his pet python! The noise level abated immediately afterwards….

 

Conclusion

Roof-top projects encourage designers and builders to sharpen their thinking and to work together from the early stages in order to produce a successful, efficient and cost-effective outcome.  There is little room for late design developments or changes to the construction approach. The bonus for this early and close collaboration is that the project, once on site, tends to move faster as a result of the forward planning.

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