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MAJOR PORTSLADE HOSTEL PROJECT IS COMPLETED

The final phases of the £5.1m rebuild of George Williams House - a large hostel facility for vulnerable people in Portslade, East Sussex - have been completed, providing a contemporary answer to age-old concerns about 'institutional' accommodation. The architect throughout was Matthew Richardson, formerly of drp architects and now of Brighton and Hove based a : b : i : r architects (www.abirarchitects.co.uk ), a practice set up this year to focus on high quality, sustainable design.

Commissioned by a provider of services to vulnerable user groups, the three-phase project - which provides various levels of managed accommodation and a much-needed life skills facility - began in 2004. The first phase of independent accommodation was occupied in September 2007 and the completion of the final two phases saw the managed flats and life skills centre being handed over to the client in June 2009.

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 had become unfit for its purpose. The design picks up on its surroundings in an intelligent and contemporary way.

The initial commission was aimed at exploring the refurbishment of the existing hostel building. However, it soon became clear that a new build would be more feasible in both cost and resulting facilities. The outcome 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 spaces, IT suites, laundry and offices. The life skills building features large areas of glazed façade and a sedum roof. The blocks are arranged around a series of terraces and landscaped garden spaces.

Architect Matthew Richardson 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 is 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. Rendered block work, powder coated aluminium windows and single ply roofing membrane were also used.

Richardson continues: "The design response and materiality 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 buildings also have sweet chestnut louvres to provide solar shading to the stair towers, and art/IT spaces with timber clad hanging bays that step out from the elevation, with everything topped by sloping monopitch roofs. Within each of the 'houses', residents will have their own room with ensuite facilities, together with communal kitchen and living room. The new studio apartments are all self-contained, with living/bed space, kitchen and shower room.

The idea is that individuals can take ownership of their own space, and feel independent rather than part of an institution.

Richardson concludes: "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 in the use of the inner and outer spaces and their transformation during day and night."

Email: olli@abirarchitects.co.uk


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