Grant Associates helps set new benchmark for older people’s social housing with London scheme

November 2, 2023

Bath-based international landscape architecture practice Grant Associates has attracted widespread praise of its work on a social housing scheme described as “reimagining the almshouse for 21st century inner-city living”.

The firm worked with RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann and charity United St Saviours on the scheme of 57 units in Bermondsey, South London.

Having recently welcomed its first residents, the Appleby Blue project, pictured, is being acclaimed as setting a new benchmark for the provision of older people’s social housing in the UK.

With 51 one-bedroom and six two-bedroom apartments, it is the latest addition to the UK’s collection of 1,700 almshouses and is viewed as a modern take on very rich history that looks to creatively address society’s dual challenges of isolation and dementia as well as embracing opportunities for an active and involved older age.

The design looks to promote the benefits of direct contact with urban life, while the building is designed to encourage residents and non-residents to come together through its open nature and progression of places to share, cultivating a strong sense of community and reducing loneliness.

The landscape design by Grant Associates creates a close fit between the external spaces and the building with a distinctive and seasonal landscape at its heart, with an emphasis on transparency, with direct and indirect views of the garden spaces through and around the building.

The sequence of gardens and rich range of planting offer residents and non-residents a connection with nature, places to garden and an opportunity to socialise or relax in peace and quiet.

A garden court, conceived as an abstract woodland glade with a raised and gently cascading linear water feature, provides an oasis of calm and relaxation, while a productive garden on the roof of the second floor provides a place for gardening and food production.

The scheme’s terrace provides raised gardening spaces for the residents as well as a planting mix of herbs, fruits, vegetables and companion planting with flowers for cutting, creating outdoor rooms for communal summer dining.

The acoustics of the space coupled with the sound of the water feature combine to create a relaxing, sanctuary-like space for residents and visitors despite being just a few feet away from transport links that connect them into the city.

Grant Associates director Keith French said: “It is our hope and ambition with Appleby Blue to evolve both perceptions and design approaches taken towards older people’s social housing in the UK going forward.

“We are showing that a myriad of benefits arise from direct contact with urban life and with a seasonal landscape strategy.

“The scheme embrace changes in the seasons and has been specifically designed to both meet the needs and support and empower ageing residents.

“From the outset the landscape was never considered a cosmetic addition to the almshouse environment but an integral part of the relationship with the building, the design and use, atmosphere and wellbeing of the community.”

He said the project was about finding solutions to the challenge of housing an aging population – not just a suburban model of retreat but creating an urban model so that residents and community could benefit from living in the city with a seasonal landscape and a place to connect with nature.

“It has become increasingly common practice to relocate over 60s away from urban centres, pushed or incentivised to the city edge or the coast,” he added.

“Yet, as people live longer and remain active later in life, not everyone wants to withdraw from the bustle of the city.

“On the contrary, many wish to remain close to the neighbourhoods they have spent their lives in. “Older people have a lot to contribute, providing commitment and continuity in the locality.”

Grant Associates describes its work as reconnecting people with nature in insightful, delightful and distinctive ways while addressing the global challenges of urbanisation, the climate crisis and biodiversity extinction.

The firm is best known as lead designers of Singapore’s world-recognised Gardens by the Bay and the Superbloom experience at Tower of London.

Its work also includes supporting Bath’s Forest of Imagination community arts event. It won the Best Show Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2021.


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