A light-filled, community-focused housing complex for the over-55s in suburban Surrey proposes a new kind of residential scheme for retirees
Words by Cate St Hill
In just under 50 years it is predicted that there will be an additional 8.6 million people living in the UK aged 65 years and over — the equivalent of the existing population of London. With a quarter of the UK population set to be over retirement age by 2066, specialist housing for the elderly is becoming a growing market for architects. As people enjoy longer, healthier lives, there’s a need for high-quality, thoughtfully designed homes that fit somewhere between the luxury of a spacious, private house and the safe security of smaller, serviced flats and traditional care homes.
Coffey Architects’ latest project, Moor’s Nook, is a considered, light-filled and community-focused housing scheme for the over-55s in suburban Surrey. Created for retirement property developer PegasusLife, it’s the London-based practice’s first major housing scheme and its largest building completed in the UK to date. Founded in 2012, design-led developer PegasusLife is relatively new to the retirement sector, hand-picking architects such as Mae, Proctor & Matthews, and Morris + Company (previously Duggan Morris) to rethink communal, retired living and create inspiring places where people can maintain their independence.
Flats on the upper floors enjoy the volume of the roof, with lofty ceilings and skylights. Image Credit: Tim Soar
Comprising 34 one- and two-bedroom flats arranged in a horseshoe shape around a communal courtyard, Moor’s Nook sits on the site of a former industrial laundry facility, a short walk along the Basingstoke canal from commuter town Woking. It’s bordered by a local cricket pitch to the north, a series of nondescript industrial units slated for development to the west and a handful of low-rise homes to the south and east.
From the outside there’s nothing to suggest that this smart, new, red-brick building is necessarily for a certain demographic of people. What at first glance appears to be a contemporary interpretation of the neighbouring two-storey Victorian townhouses rises up along a quiet cul-de-sac to form a disjointed, four-storey block on the site’s street corner. Coffey Architects wanted to give the project a familial sense of home and domesticity — the simple zig-zag of the individual pitched roofs, clad in zinc and set flush with the brick facades, gives the illusion that this might be a complex of urban, single-family units, repeated on a larger scale. A monolithic, dark-grey chimney, a reference to the old laundry’s own stack that once stood on the site, bookends the building on its north side. The raised, textured pattern on the bricks, inspired by the area’s wider arts and crafts aesthetic, subtly marks out the limits of each flat.
The zig-zag of the zinc-clad pitched roofs gives the illusion of terraced housing. Image Credit: Tim Soar
It’s almost like a series of Monopoly homes have been arranged in a neat row; the tall, end block being pushed back along the building’s north facade to create a corner that opens up and invites people in through a colonnade lined with built-in benches. This pocket of public realm could have added 400 sq m of sellable space to the development but is instead used to connect residents to their surroundings, directing views across to a small park opposite and softening what could have been quite an abrupt, heavy frontage.
The cloistered walkway leads through the reception and staff offices to a more intimate, central garden hidden away from street view. ‘PegasusLife has a very strong brief about entry and that threshold of coming in and welcoming people,’ says Phil Coffey, founder of Coffey Architects. ‘We wanted to create a civic building from the street, but internally make something that was much more communal and cosy. At the feasibility stage they had an L-shaped block, but we’re really keen on dual-aspect flats, just in terms of light and quality of life, so we actually created something that was U-shaped; you can both look out to the city and into a courtyard that faces south.’
The raised, textured pattern of the brickwork subtly marks out the limits of each flat. Image Credit: Phil Coffey
Flats are accessed either via the courtyard or an internal staircase (and lift) that leads up to wide, external balconies overlooking the garden below, designed to nurture a sense of community and encourage residents to bump into each other. The thick, chunky slab of the zinc roof lines up with the width of the balconies to make the courtyard appear as if its been carved out of a single, solid block. It has a feeling of protection and seclusion, directing views out across the countryside beyond. ‘For 34 units on the site and for the height of the building, what I really enjoy is that it doesn't feel too big. When you sit here it’s almost like sitting in a two-storey terrace,’ says Coffey. ‘That’s achieved through the balcony access because it breaks up the elevation but also because of the way the roof overhangs; it’s a very simple tool to bring the sense of scale down.’
Dark-grey brick is brought in from the ground floor, up the stairs and into the communal areas — ‘a bit of a fight’, admits Coffey, to fit into PegasusLife’s somewhat conservative interior scheme that runs as standard across its properties. Opening up to the balcony on the first floor is a social space and lounge for residents, with a brick hearth that utilises the aforementioned chimney. ‘The reason for putting the social space on the first floor is that it doesn’t feel like everyone is above it; people rise to it and people go down to it. It allows the balcony to be lived in with chairs and seating outside, suggesting to people that this isn’t just a circulation space, it’s a space to be enjoyed by the residents,’ explains Coffey.
The cloistered walkway around the public space on the ground floor.
Inside, the dual-aspect flats feel bright and roomy, with floor-to-ceiling windows at each end filling the white-washed spaces with light. The homes have been designed to be flexible; blank canvases for the residents to make their own. Central cores with services and bathrooms mean the residents, especially those with two bedrooms, can choose whether to face their living spaces into the courtyard or out to the city. Flats on the upper floors enjoy the volume of the roof, the additional, lofty ceiling height making them seem much bigger than they are on plan. Photovoltaics on the roof and large overhangs for shading tick the sustainability boxes. ‘While it’s important to get the numbers right, we mustn’t forget that architecture in itself is sustainable,’ says Coffey, ‘and the fundamental thing for me about architecture is connecting people to their environment — and if you can do that, they might just care a little more for it.’
Targeting downsizers, this is retirement living, not as a prison sentence to live out the rest of your days in pokey, fusty, slightly depressing surroundings, but as something that’s aspirational — if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford it. It should be hoped that such living will one day become standard for everyone, because what makes all good homes great — a focus on natural light, generous rooms, a connection to green, open spaces and the community, as seen here — applies the same whether you’re 8, 28 or 80.