Chelsea Barracks, London

In our plan for the 12.5 acres of Chelsea Barracks, it became clear that it was only at this scale of operation that the possibility of a residential square might be achieved. This is to say that the familiar London pattern of streets and squares is only possible through the generosity of the scale and territory provided under the patronage of the Great Estates.

Although Chelsea Barracks is very visible from Chelsea Bridge Road, connecting it at a metropolitan scale to the river, Chelsea Hospital and beyond, it is however in the streets perpendicular to this main thoroughfare that locates it in the area. Three streets, Pimlico Road, Ranelagh Grove and Ebury Bridge Road, form a crow’s foot, a triangular larger site of which the Barracks forms a large part, but not exclusively. Further research has revealed the existence of Ranelagh Gardens, the north bank’s equivalent of Vauxhall Gardens, both popular places for entertainment in the 18th century. The axis of Ranelagh Grove forms the centre to this trident and once noticed, it is hard to ignore. The axis also forms a clear relationship with Wren’s Chelsea Hospital opposite. Within the context of this larger plan, the boundary of the Barracks is contained within existing blocks and becomes transformed. The proposed plan forms a pattern made up of existing blocks, composite blocks (part existing, part new), and entirely new blocks. This arrangement establishes continuity rather than discontinuity as promoted in the previous solution by Richard Rogers. The retained regimental chapel is at the centre of the plan on Ranelagh Grove and creates a social/cultural hub for the site as a whole.

If the squares and streets of the 18th century city were primarily occupied by houses of varying scale, the majority of dwellings here are apartments. The conventional apartment building normally has one entrance and extensive horizontal circulation – such an arrangement would undermine the nature of a residential square. And so in support of the square, we introduced the idea of the large house occupied by many – that is, with either one or two apartments per floor with residents identifying their own front door.