London architecture today, for all the big-hitters that dominate the headlines (Foster, Rogers, Heatherwick), finds its richness in small studios. Peter Barber leads one such studio, where for the past 30 years he has led the development of some of the city’s most sensitive housing and housing developments.
Among these are McGrath Road, a small development in Stratford, East London that reworks the traditional back-to-back housing model for a local council. The typology, prominent in the 19th century but unpopular in later years due to its lack of a garden, is a perfect fit for senior housing. In Barber’s scheme, the tightly packed homes are gathered around a shared courtyard, allowing residents to move smoothly between public and private space in the development.
Architecturally, it’s also more daring than a typical council project. Clad in brick – a ubiquitous material in the capital – the detailing evokes a more continental European approach to design. This adventurous and energetic approach is typical of Barber, and 2018 seems to be the year the world has taken notice. The studio has recently been leading the charge in a renewed housing initiative in collaboration with London’s various borough councils and mayor Sadiq Khan’s Greater London Authority, with numerous projects already completed and many others in the works.
On the sutdio’s website, Barber cites a quotation from Walter Benjamin: “Buildings are used as a popular stage. They are all divided into innumerable, simultaneously animated theatres. Balcony, courtyard, window, gateway, staircase, roof are at the same time stages and boxes.” The studio’s recent success can perhaps be attributed in part to this democratic ideal: buildings are backdrops in our lives, we make them just as much as architects do. Learn more about Peter Barber’s recent works in London on Metropolis Magazine.