Q+A: FX Chats to Walmer Yard Project Designer, Fenella Collingridge

We talk to Fenella Collingridge, who has been working as an associate designer on the bespoke Walmer Yard project.

Words by Clare Dowdy

Fenella Collingridge has spent the past nine years collaborating on one of the most original developments in the UK. Walmer Yard in a northerly corner of London’s Holland Park has so many bespoke, crafted elements and is so much a product of its creators that it is a surprise to discover that it was built to sell. The four houses around a small courtyard were commissioned by developer Crispin Kelly of Baylight Properties and have been designed by longstanding architecture teacher Peter Salter, along with Collingridge as associate designer.

Walmer Yard is full of novelties and experimentation. Where did that approach come from?
A lot of the experimentation came from Peter [Salter] and his teaching, but also from my eight years teaching architecture at the Royal College of Art, from my previous life as a painter, and from a research collaboration I have been doing with the artist Antoni Malinowski, at the Architectural Association.

Fenella CollingridgeFenella Collingridge

What was your approach to colour in this project?
There were lots of experiments with materials and pigments and the ‘penumbra of the shadows’. Our aim was to hide the colour in the pockets of the building, largely because colour is extremely dominant. Often a very powerful colour was reflected into shadow and on to its opposite or complementary colour, and in some places I managed to make a winter mist colour or light that floated in the sun over a dark clay pigment.

Walmer YardWalmer Yard. Image: Hélène Binet

Highlight for us one of the places where a standard product has been used in an unexpected way.
One example is the tunnel render used on all the exterior walls. We have used the acoustic tunnel render on the front facade, and behind the timber louvres of the courtyard, as well as in the underground car park, where you would more usually find it. This acoustic render is normally a creamy white, but we darkened it. By darkening and cutting back the surface of the render, the Vermiculite (which is in the render for insulation, fire and acoustic reasons), appears like golden flecks. It’s very beautiful. On a sunny day the render surface is almost golden and purplish blue in the shadows, and of course it is absorbing sound, so it feels peaceful.

Light well at Walmer YardLight well at Walmer Yard. Image: Hélène Binet

You and Salter went out of your way to use non-standard solutions. The effect is striking, but did it have any downsides?
It was very difficult to do anything different, both in terms of warranties and detailing. People rely on off-the-peg solutions because they automatically have a fire rating, and that gives a uniformity to everything. It seems to me that the fire rating of plasterboard has a lot to answer for! We were extremely privileged that the contractor Shaw building group and developer Crispin Kelly were prepared to make, and sanction, such brave moves. Because although we had experimented with many of the materials – even on site – seeing things realised on such a large scale was exciting, but also took a lot of nerve.

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