Adelaide Wharf

In August 2003, the architect was commissioned by developers First Base to carry out a study into a generic housing type for Key Workers in London. The aims were to develop sustainable, high-density schemes of 150-250 units with a low cost target. The housing study turned into a successful bid for the London-Wide Initiative, and in December 2004, English Partnerships invited First Base to develop the Adelaide Wharf site. Adelaide Wharf is the result of three years of working closely with Bovis Lend Lease (BLL) to develop a building system which reduces trades, interfaces and construction time on site. BLL worked with the design team from the outset in putting together a fully costed bid for the London-Wide Initiative, and all proposals were discussed in detail with their trade contractors to test their buildability and find more efficient forms of construction. The resulting system is a prototype for other First Base schemes, which has and will continue to evolve as lessons are learnt from the procurement, construction and operation of Adelaide Wharf and future projects.


The Adelaide Wharf site is in a residential part of Hackney, with the Regent’s Canal to the north and Haggerston Park to the south. It was previously used as warehousing in a brutal building, on the site of an old timber wharf. The six storey block wraps around three sides of a landscaped courtyard defining the edges of the city block, and the two street elevations have coloured entrance courts lined in glossy vitreous enamel cladding panels punched through between streetscape and courtyard. The entrances are double height. Sheltered and secured outdoor spaces emphasise the break in the block at street level and frame views of the garden from the street side. The courtyard at the heart of the scheme is a shared garden for use by the residents, the landscaping providing a focus when viewed from above and from the street. Simple use of geometric lines relating to the facades, planting and lines of movement through the site create a variety of smaller spaces for the use of different groups of people for resting or playing in the space simultaneously. Adelaide Wharf also includes 650 sq m of affordable workspace to be assigned to a community-run regeneration agency ensuring a lively mix of use and activity on the street. Within the apartments, circulation is minimised with all serviced spaces located along the corridor wall, and the living/sleeping spaces making maximum use of the window walls. The layouts all have open plan living/kitchen/diners, and one bedroom apartments have double doors opening between the living and bedroom to maximise the sense of space. The family apartments within the upper storeys are mostly located on the south facing elevations with large balconies as extensions of the living room areas. The main entrance lobby and stairwell is lined with a 16m tall printed timber pattern by local artist Richard Woods echoing the former use of the site and the external cladding. Richard Woods was selected after a design competition run by First Base at neighbouring artist studio The Tannery.


The modern construction methods employed at Adelaide Wharf reduced trades to as few as possible, minimising wet trades on site and making extensive and pragmatic use of prefabrication to reduce time on site and improve the quality of build. The principal components are a concrete frame with flat slabs and blade columns using prefabricated reinforcement mats, a unitised cladding system avoiding the need for scaffolding, prefabricated bathroom pods, balconies and plant, and dry-lined internal partitions. The build was completed in 18 months, including for 2 months lost due to below ground obstructions in the former brown-field site. The simple massing of the building made the quality and articulation of the façade critical. Adelaide Wharf derives its aesthetic identity from a unitised facade system and pre-assembled balconies and its appearance a colourful blend of timber, zinc and glass. The ground floor is a smooth engineering brick base with projections and coloured doors creating a series of events on the street. The cladding to the upper storeys consists of panels of rough sawn Siberian Larch boards set around two repeating window patterns which reflect the arrangement of the flats inside, and the whole façade is unified by horizontal bands of smooth zinc at each floor level. The balconies are supported from beams at roof level, cantilevering like lifting beams on warehouses. Each balcony is clad with a coloured plane with a single fold in it, and offset from the windows, cantilevering in alternate directions at each floor to produce double height gaps between them and reduce overshadowing to the living rooms below. Conclusion At Adelaide Wharf, the project team have developed a high quality, sustainable building with 147 homes that brings a new urban density, scale and architectural quality to the area and provides an innovative prototype for future housing schemes.


17 photos and 4 drawings

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov updated
    about 5 years ago via
  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings added a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via