Mealhouse Brow

Evaluation

Character

On its hilltop site the development's roofs form a dramatic setting for the spire of the neighbouring St Mary's Church which dominates the Stockport skyline.

The Market Place street level is some two storeys higher than the Mealhouse Brow elevation which slopes steeply down toward Little Underbank with its shops, pubs and cafes, giving a southerly aspect and views above the surrounding rooftops to the larger of two courtyards and several apartments.

Following the previous building line the detailed design retains and enhances the locale's character and the shops provide maximum active frontage on the scheme's two public facades.

Research through old illustrations and surveys has assisted the careful restoration of the refurbished buildings' original door and window openings. A medieval cell was refurbished and is illuminated for viewing through a small glazed door on Mealhouse Brow.

Use of recovered materials and building elements found on site, such as chimney pots, along with details reproduced appropriately for the restored buildings, ensure that the place's rich history will be conserved.

 

Roads, parking and pedestrianisation

Limited vehicle access on surrounding streets results in considerable traffic calming, creating safe pedestrian circulation on all sides. Most of the building edge comprises occupied shops or entrances, ensuring a high degree of surveillance.

While two flats have private entrances directly from Mealhouse Brow, two gated entrances off Market Place lead to two semi-private courtyards, linked by a covered passageway in the block's centre and overlooked by apartment windows and balconies. Five street level flats have entrances reached directly from these courtyards.

Given the nature of the site, its pioneering location in terms of reintroducing homes into the town centre and the way the lively street frontage has been maintained by shops, the use of gates is appropriate to ensure adequate security. The site's complexity and relatively small size mean that it provides no parking.

With restricted parking on surrounding streets, car owning residents are obliged to seek private parking arrangements further afield. This problem could be simply resolved by allocating a number of residents' parking places in the public car park some 50 metres away.

 

Design and construction

Apartments are accommodated in a mixture of old and new fabric and, with site constraints, this results in 20 different floor plans. Ground level units are wheelchair accessible, but complicated levels have denied the possibility of lift access to units above, to which two fire-protected staircases lead.

The buildings' structural state along with the site's topography and archaeological heritage led to a wide range of building techniques in a relatively small scheme.

The rear medieval town wall was consolidated with stainless steel ties and plates fixed to the sandstone bed rock below the scheme's main buildings. The Mealhouse Brow wall's irregular brick coursing was carefully replicated during rebuilding and the positions and dimensions of previous openings were retained; both recycled bricks and specially made new bricks were used.

The listed building on the corner of Mealhouse Brow and Market Place was restored using original timber floors and a reinforced concrete floor at ground level to tie the structure together. Its original oak truss roof was renovated but elsewhere the rebuilt structures have new rafters and purlins, and timber trusses have been used in new buildings. Market Place's retained facades are supported by a steel frame running behind; the new brick and block structure extending from this supports concrete beam and post floors.

A proprietary sound insulation system has been used on floors throughout, but the variety and complexity of the construction methods required all units to be tested for acoustic performance and some adjustments made to the ducting. Slate roofs are recycled or new Spanish slate, and building elements such as chimney pots and rainwater goods have been reused or specially reproduced.

New components like cast iron and cast aluminium rainwater goods are to a high specification. Restored parts of the scheme have new locally made timber sash windows, while the new build uses timber casements, helping to define the complex relationship between old and new.

Retained original openings have sometimes resulted in unusual internal daylighting arrangements such as small windows at floor level. The south side of the small courtyard is only one story high, allowing sunlight to reach flats along the north side.

An Eco Homes rating of "good" was set in 2001 at the time of the planning application; this could have been higher but gas use was precluded because of listed building considerations.

Heating is by off peak electricity with a positive air circulation system which avoids condensation. Basement spaces are used to house services and also for storage by the landlord, who will manage the semi public spaces within the block. The surrounding streets are all adopted by Stockport MBC.

 

Environment and Community

The town centre is well served by buses and the main line railway station is within ten minutes walk. With schools within walking distance, there is also a wide range of shops, cafes and pubs in surrounding streets including the Victorian covered market across the road.

A six cycle store along with bin stores is provided off the scheme's larger courtyard, and a recycling area in the entrance area off the smaller courtyard. All flats are rented and, although small, accommodate a demographic cross section of the population including retired couples, single mothers with teenage (but not small) children and single persons.

Though occupation is only recent, an interacting community is starting to form with the establishment of a tenants' association supported by the housing association. The larger courtyard enjoys a south-facing terrace with views, and seats are provided to encourage casual encounters between occupants. Plant pots and hanging flower baskets indicate that personalisation and enhancement of the courtyards by residents is starting to take place.

Related case studies

Upton (Phase 1, Site A)

Upton (Phase 1, Site A)

The design code for Upton guides the overall character of the community but allows flexibility when it comes to designing buildings for this high-volume housing development. Designed by KRT Associates.

The Manor

The Manor

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Key information

Location

Stockport

Region

North West

Award

2006 winner