© Valerie Bennett
© Valerie Bennett
© Valerie Bennett
© Valerie Bennett
© Valerie Bennett


Amongst the first sites developed in Southwark’s major regeneration of Elephant & Castle, the £ 30 million Amelia Street Printworks scheme introduced a nine-storey, mixed tenure residential block with offices on the ground floor, making a significant contribution to the borough’s affordable housing quotient.

Its city centre location placed it at high risk of unexploded ordnance, requiring a sensitive approach to excavation; its former usages as a coal yard and then as a printworks had also left as much as two-thirds of the building’s footprint obstructed by existing foundations, in some locations 2-3 m deep. The clay ground beneath lacked sufficient strength to support a substantial structure, and the building needed to follow the curve of the adjacent elevated railway line.

Basement walls were a critical element; sheet piling formed a cantilevered retaining wall, which allowed large obstructions to be removed and the ground compacted. Waterproofing solutions varied by location; cores and plant room requirements were more stringent than the underground car park.

We specified small diameter piles so as to reduce impact, and allow the possibility of future relocation. We liaised with the rail authorities to mitigate damage to their tracks through vibration during groundworks, and accordingly specified rotary bored piles. In areas designated for landscaping we also designed retaining walls to take the extra load which might have affected the structure of existing party walls.

In terms of superstructure, we kept the building as simple and flexible as possible, placing four blocks around ‘cold cores’ with cast-in thermal and acoustic breaks to separate them from the heated flats. A traditional RC frame was used with aluminium cladding, giving a sharp, durable finish indicative of its industrial history. An emphasis on speed was realised through use of prefabricated bathroom pods, and an EcoHomes rating of ‘Very Good’ was achieved using methods such as multi-utility heating networks and grey-water recycling.

Nine-storey residential block using modern methods of construction in a highly restricted urban location

London, UK
First Base
Glenn Howells Architects
£ 30 million
  • 2011 British Homes Award