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FaulkerBrowns | The architects behind the design of Jesmond Assembly

20 July 2021

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Our Jesmond Assembly community sits in the heart of the Brandling Village Conservation area in the affluent Newcastle suburb of Jesmond. Comprising 63 independent later-living apartments the community has been designed for social connection.

We recently caught up with Patrick McMahon, Associate Partner at FaulknerBrowns Architects to find out more about the building design.

Hi Patrick, can you provide an overview of the design at Jesmond Assembly?

Jesmond is a leafy suburb on the edge of Newcastle City centre and is one of the city’s most desirable areas to live, characterised by Victorian terraces and tree-lined streets. Eskdale Terrace is located within the Brandling Village Conservation area and adjacent to the South Jesmond Conservation Area, so the design of Jesmond Assembly has been highly influenced by the rich heritage value of its context.

Jesmond was largely agricultural land until it was developed to meet the growing housing needs of the city during the industrial revolution. John Dobson, the City’s architect, created a visionary masterplan for Newcastle, comprising a series of new residential districts, characterised by brick clad terraced streets. Eskdale Terrace is unusual within this context because of the variety of other buildings that later appeared and occupied undeveloped parcels of land between terraces. So, within the beautifully well-defined residential streetscape we also find the neo-classical Royal Grammar School, Victorian Jesmond Parish Church (also designed by John Dobson), the Romanesque style Jesmond Synagogue, and Georgian style Newcastle University Easton Hall. These all bring a further richness and unique quality to Eskdale Terrace.

We looked at how Jesmond Assembly, as a residential typology, could start to stitch part of the terraced street-scape back together, and this led us towards a contemporary take on the Victorian terraced form. The design evolved into a back-to-back double gable silhouette which is extruded along the street and then articulated into a series of defined terrace modules. Visually, this results in a series of domestic-scale terraces and a sense of familiarity within the wider context.

You’ll see further reference to the Victorian terrace theme within the façade design, which incorporates expressed chimneys to the gables, zinc Dorma windows, and semi enclosed bay ‘shrouds’ at low level. These are a contemporary interpretation of Victorian bay windows, but here create sheltered external patio and balcony spaces. These features are all contemporary responses to the historic context and create clear visual relationships to the adjacent terraces. The clean and sharp lines and tectonic material junctions of the exterior are inspired by the Japanese style of late Victorian design which is something we also carried through into the interior design approach.

Can you explain about the design of the interior spaces?

As soon as you walk through the front garden from Eskdale Terrace and enter the communal space we wanted to create the sense that you have arrived home. The design of the communal spaces has been key to achieve this but also to provide residents with a variety of settings for private, semi-private, and communal activities so they have options and flexibility in how the space is used.

We also focused on carrying the Victorian theme through internally, so the architecture and interior design were truly symbiotic. Time was invested in creating bespoke furniture for the communal spaces, again based upon the reduced ornamentation of the Japanese Victorian style. The communal fitted kitchen areas, bookcases, sideboards, honesty bar, fireplace and wall panelling are all a contemporary take on grand Victorian homes.

Much of the internal communal area is defined by black metalwork, a prominent example being the balustrade to the staircase and gallery which is used as an open screen to define the social kitchen and the library from the main circulation area. The metal work is contrasted by warmer tones and softer materials such as timber, textured ceramics, and fabrics, but all work together as a palette to create a series of luxurious backdrops to read a book, socialise with neighbours or entertain friends and family.

The lounge and honesty bar open onto an external garden on the first floor, giving homeowners access to external seating within a beautifully planted terrace area. There are also a series of semi-private gardens for homeowners at first floor level, creating opportunities for people to sit outside in their gardens to enjoy the private space or wander along to the communal terrace to socialise.

What considerations were made to complement the existing local architecture?

The key was how to manage scale for what is a fairly sizeable building, so the terrace and modular approach that repeats down the street, modulates scale and engages with the scale and proportions of the adjacent buildings, including key features such as bay windows, eaves heights and ridge heights, was vital to creating a building that feels integrated and complementary of its surroundings. We’ve tried to reinstate the Victorian terrace in a contemporary way.

Were there any challenges with the design?

The conservation area context provided one of the main challenges but also the most important opportunity. We always approach building design through a thorough investigation of heritage as it helps to build a narrative and spring board for the concept design - a set of rules, reasons, and justifications to help direct us.

This is an urban site, with existing developments on all four sides, so space was a key a challenge. There was little breathing space and creating a generous landscape setting was a challenge. We followed the urban design rules of the street and positioned the building to create a series of gardens at ground floor level. But we had to be more creative to provide an equivalent garden to the east side of the building, whilst balancing this against the requirements for a car park. So, we lifted the eastern apartments and landscaping up to the first-floor level, hid the car park below and created a landscape setting that is vibrant yet protected and enclosed. This became a modern interpretation of a Victorian walled garden with trees to the east creating a sense of privacy with a green outlook.

What is your favourite feature of the design?

We’re really pleased with how successfully the building stitches into the existing streetscape. The terraced approach is legible and the building makes a positive contribution to the conservation area and heritage of Eskdale Terrace. I think the communal spaces have been one of the most successful elements and really does create that sense of arriving home. They are luxurious but homely and provide a range of settings for people meet, to socialise, or just relax and read a book by the fireplace.

Personally, working with Pegasus and designing for the later living market has been really rewarding. At the end of the day, we design buildings for people, and I enjoy going back to see people enjoying their new settings, settling in and starting to call it home, so I’m looking forward to popping back as homeowners settle in and the landscape establishes itself. It will be interesting to see how people transform their apartments and put their own stamp on the building.

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To find out more about the homes and lifestyle at Jesmond Assembly contact the team by phone: 0191 247 4463 or email: [email protected].