Saxton Phase II

Saxton, Leeds. £40m refurbishment and extension of surplus social housing stock in a mixed tenure estate.



Saxton is a £40M residential scheme on the fringe of Leeds City centre, and the result of an invited competition won by Union North in 2004. The project is an exercise in the reinvention of redundant social housing stock and involves the redevelopment of two 1960’s blocks within the Saxton Gardens estate which includes five other blocks fully occupied with Leeds City Council tenants. The new development provides a range of apartment types complementing the existing housing, and will cater for different demographics through a combination of tenures. Social housing is not delivered within the development boundary as this is provided elsewhere on the estate. Prior to commencement of the project in January 2007, the two blocks had stood empty for years and were in poor condition. This inevitably led to problems as the derelict buildings became a magnet for anti-social activity which disrupted the lives of the residents of Saxton Gardens and beyond. Furthermore, the looming 9 and 10 storey blocks were an colossal eyesore, casting a bleak shadow of neglect over the estate, and eroding any sense of civic pride. The project presented a number of key challenges. The first of these was to develop an ambitious and inspiring vision for the site which would overcome the stigma associated with its social housing context in a way that would not only be marketable and attractive to prospective purchasers, but would also integrate with and reenergize the existing community. The marginal location also meant that there was considerable emphasis on the commercial aspects of the project as a result of limited values, and a clever strategy was required to make any scheme viable. The existing buildings provided a total of 214 flats which were accessed via eleven service cores, each serving only two flats per floor and making the buildings very inefficient in their ratio of saleable floor area to circulation, Union North proposed a strategy which generated increased density, improved efficiency, and provided a range of apartment types and sizes that were better suited to market demands. This involved demolishing everything except the primary concrete structure which was retained for cost and environmental reasons. The floor plates were then extended with a new steel fame to provide four apartments per floor per core, and a total of 410 apartments. In developing re-enveloping proposals the blocks were imagined more as a single massive geological feature than as a pair of buildings. A textural treatment to the elevations has been sought which transcends the cellular and repetitive arrangement of apartments which lie behind, and instead works on a larger, bolder scale where the sheer size and linearity of the buildings (and the space between them) becomes the central asset of the site. A central square is defined by the area where the two buildings overlap, and this forms the arrival and focal point of the scheme where all residents and visitors will be greeted by an expansive lawn, deckchairs, recycling facilities and a set of illuminated signs punctuating a logical way-finding strategy. Further function to this area is provided by the post room, building managers and lettings office underneath. One of the obvious benefits of the site is the exceptionally generous six acres of land around the buildings, which is unusual for a residential development with such close proximity to the city centre. From the outset the design team felt strongly that the landscape and buildings should be given equal emphasis, and that the delivery of an imaginative and high quality landscape would distinguish Saxton from other residential schemes in the City. Union North worked with ASL Landscape to create a diverse range of external environments which have all been designed to prioritise pedestrians over vehicles, and to encourage residents to actively engage with the landscape. These include 97 ‘urban allotments’ along with a collection of bespoke garden sheds which have been prominently positioned and are available to the existing Saxton Gardens tenants, the adjacent school, and residents of the new scheme. It is hoped that this will encourage integration between the different strands of the local community. Elsewhere on the site, residents can enjoy the orchard, a boule court, BBQ areas, table tennis tables, formal lawns, extensive and varied planting, and a wooded hillside sculpted using material produced by the creation of level parking areas. The landscaping scheme extends beyond the curtilage of the site to include the Avenue which provides a unified approach to the estate and access to all buildings. The project was developed in two phases, each with a different funding strategy. The first phase being a collaborative funding arrangement for development through traditional bank debt, and the second central with government funding (through Kickstart Development Fund) along with grant funding via the National Affordable Housing Programme. The project is due to be completed at the end of September 2011.