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‘Hackney Mole Man’ house transformed into an artist’s live-work studio wins best new home at New London Awards 2021

·4 min read
The transformed former home of Hackney Mole Man won ‘best dwelling’ at the awards held by NLA on Friday  (Ed Reeve)
The transformed former home of Hackney Mole Man won ‘best dwelling’ at the awards held by NLA on Friday (Ed Reeve)

This year’s winner of the best dwelling at the New London Awards 2021 was once a crumbling corner house above an illegal labyrinth that had been dug by the homeowner, the Hackney Mole Man.

Now a three-storey, live-work home for an artist, the overhaul building won the Best Dwelling category at the awards ceremony, which was held on Friday 26 November by industry body New London Architecture (NLA).

It was formerly the home of the Hackney Mole Man – William Lyttle – who had lived there since the 1960s and had whittled his time away by burrowing a network of tunnels under his house.

He had spent nearly half a century digging the dirt out with a shovel and a homemade pulley, hollowing out tunnels and caverns 26ft deep and 20m in every direction.

The new design by the architects Adjaye Associates paid homage to this extraordinary habit via its extended basement and underground living areas, surrounded by sunken gardens.

Yet the new home is airy with natural light flooding in through skylights in high ceilings and a large glass sliding roof.

This time the resident is looking up as well as down.

In order to reduce the embodied carbon of the renovation, the architects reused 15,000 reclaimed Victorian bricks, reinstated the bay windows and upper floorboards.“

The project takes an existing part of society otherwise discarded, to create something that opens, reinstates and celebrates the building’s context and existing texture,” the judges said.

Other categories included the overall winner, housing, conserving, working and learning.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the other winners of the New London Awards 2021.

From disused arches to an green corridor in Southwark

The Overall Winner

Architects: PDP London

The transformation of boarded-up Victorian viaduct arches that stretch from Bankside to Bermondsey into a green corridor of pocket parks, play areas and community hubs has been named the overall winner of the New London Awards 2021.

The 3.5 km Low Line Commons by architects PDP London is the first unbuilt project to ever win the coveted title.

Low Line Commons is the first unbuilt project to ever win the overall award (Handout)
Low Line Commons is the first unbuilt project to ever win the overall award (Handout)

The disused and oppressive spaces under the railway that have been physically dividing communities for generations will be transformed into a nature-filled, bio-diverse walkways with shops, restaurants, studios and workshops that are reflective of the neighbourhoods it passes through.

It will also have 50,000 sq m green roofs, 1,000 sq m of wildflower meadows will replace forgotten industrial land, 500 new trees will be planted along with 10,000 new plants, while old paved areas will make way for new green ones.

30 pocket spaces with seating or for community get-togethers are being created along with sensory play areas for children with special needs.

“What’s is better than taking grotty, left-over pieces of urban fabric and stitching them together into spaces that can be used by local communities as well as providing linked-up walking routes that support active transport,” says Peter Murray, chair of the judging panel and chair of NLA.

Other judges were Eleanor Sharpe of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Andreas Ruby director of the Swiss Architecture Museum and Benjamin Prosky from the Centre for Architecture / American Institute of Architects New York Chapter.

Winners of the Housing category

Cutting edge council houses

There were three winners named in the Housing category.

The first was Agar Grove in Camden which delivered 493 new council houses for existing residents while adding more affordable homes and market-rate homes for sale too.

Low rise pavilions were demolished but the estate’s landmark structure, Lulworth Tower was retained and refurbished. The delivery was planned so residents only had to move once and whether a council house or a private sale home, it is impossible to tell the difference from the outside.

Agar Grove in Camden is the UK’s largest Passivhaus project (GLA)
Agar Grove in Camden is the UK’s largest Passivhaus project (GLA)

359 of the homes are built to Passivhaus standards, which means energy and heating bills were cut by 90 per cent in a bid to prevent fuel poverty this winter. It is the largest energy-efficiency scheme of this kind in the UK and the brainchild of Mae and Hawkins\Brown architects.

Peter Barber Architects designed and delivered 15-high quality homes across six sites in an existing housing estate in Gospel Oak while other improvements have been delivered to the neighbourhood, such as new paths, new front gardens, new terraces and improved access to green spaces, along with a new square. This project, Kiln Avenue, was the second winner of the Housing category.

The final winners were new apartment blocks on the post-war Frampton Park Estate comprising 45 social rent, shared ownership and private sale homes. The scheme was part of Hackney Council’s in-house, not-for-profit housebuilding programme, designed by Henley Halebrown.

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