St John’s Grove

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London, UK. 2013

Palmer Garages
St John's Tavern
South-East Axonometric
View from St John's Grove
Upper level plans

The site occupies a wonderful position in North London, close to Archway Underground, Upper Holloway Station and the A1, while only a few minutes walk up Cathcart Hill to Hampstead Heath. In the 19th century the site and the neighbouring Peabody housing block were occupied by pairs of grand houses as seen elsewhere on St. John’s Grove. The dining room of St. John’s Tavern was a small park similar to the park on Pemberton Gardens. Over the course of the 20th century the park was absorbed by the pub and the villas on the site fell into ruin before the neighbouring estate was constructed and the garages erected. The site is located between the large scale blocks of the pub and the estate with two distinct frontages, the gracious villas of St John’s Grove to the south and the rear and service facades of Brookside Road to the north.

St John’s Grove is a wide, tree lined street. The buildings attempt to disguise the scale of the individual dwellings as well composed large villas and grand terraces. The interiors are subservient to the order of the street with no concession to orientation. At first glance St John’s Tavern is a carefully composed building of brick with fine render elevations. Further study reveals the building to accept variety in a relaxed manner while the conglomerate collection of extensions and additions gives character to the flanks and mediates between the public character of Junction Road and the residential streets behind. To the east of the site sits the existing Peabody building. The brick and articulated concrete elements make clear reference to the construction of the pub while the pitched slate roof acknowledges the form of the surrounding villas.

Our proposed new building looks to mediate between the pub and Peabody block, bringing order to the north-west end of the street and improving the neighbourhood through the creation of well scaled and used external spaces with their own identities. The building occupies a footprint similar in scale to the surrounding villas and sits within the plot, entering into conversation with the adjacent villas. The building creates a large south-facing garden held between the pub dining room and the existing block that creates a new rhythm with the setback of the Peabody building. It is held away from the perimeter to allow passage around the sides and daylight to enter the flanks while preserving the light to the neighbouring buildings. The motif of the single storey conglomerate extensions of the pub is used to create a deep threshold to Brookside Road that houses an entrance court, secure bike storage and refuse storage.

An apartment is a suite of rooms for living — a series of rooms that form a part of a larger building, connected to other areas and a place that contributes to the whole. A home is not an autonomous, and repetitive element without a sense of place driven solely by efficiency. Giving spaces particular qualities and imbuing value to the rooms creates a home. Our design seeks to give generosity, both physically and socially, to create a place for people to live their lives in the way they choose.

The secure entrance court leads to a generous shared entrance hall, non-threatening and lit by full height north glazing leading to four two bedroom and four one bedroom apartments. The individual apartments are also organised around a hall. The hall is not a corridor but an extra room at the centre of the apartment, a place to spill into, play, change shoes or work. Naturally lit through glazed doors from surrounding rooms it is a place that occupants can take possession of and occupy in their own way. By connecting rooms in surprising ways (rather than along a corridor), the apartments have a spatial richness akin to a mediaeval hall house, granting surprise and a sense of scale.

A very generous south facing living room is connected to a large kitchen with room for a table for at least four people. The kitchen has a large window with a deep cill for a window seat, while obscured glass allows natural light but preserves privacy. Large bedrooms are big enough for two (double or twin), with plentiful space for storage. One bedroom faces south and in the case of the two bed apartments one faces north.

A winter garden makes the most of private external space, providing additional space that can be used year round and contributes to the thermal performance of the building and keeps operational costs low.

Project status
Competition entry

Competition Date




Michael Lee Architects

Environmental Engineer

Max Fordham