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We were invited by a charitable Christian organisation to produce a feasibility study and sketch design for new almshouses and associated community facilities witin the grounds of a c16th grade ii listed existing community.  Their brief suggested that a new wing would be in contemporary style, and fit in with the existing, but not necessarily be a mirror of them.  They required between 12-15 new apartments for single occupancy and a Common Room to seat 35-40 people with kitchen and WC facilities to add to the existing 15 apartments.

We added to their brief some items we believe necessary to support the growth of the community, including an extension of the Chapel, and minor alterations to the existing buildings and surrounding landscape

We produced 6 designs, the favoured of which is illustrated to the right.


We aim to provide apartments which remain accessible, comfortable and sociable, however restricted and infrequent one’s movements become.  They should also provide privacy when required, both within the flat and through its windows.

As the flats are intended for single occupancy, and there are good Common Room facilities outside the flat,  they are clear and open so they feel spacious and yet are only 43m2, the minimum size recommended for accessible flats.

The large bay window provides excellent observation into the gardens around, from where residents can watch the world go by, or invite a friend or two round for a cup of tea.

The sitting area is open to the dining and kitchen areas, with good through-ventilation provided by windows on both sides of the flat.

The furniture arrangements are easily re-configurable.

The bed area is screened off from the sitting room space. If a resident found themselves bed-ridden for some time, they would still have a good view out into the gardens through low-cilled windows, and there’s ample space for friends to pass by and keep them company.

The bathrooms and kitchens are fully accessible with plenty of space for wheelchairs.

The flats are paired with another, so in times of need, internal doors can be left open to keep an ear out without compromising warmth or security.

The flats would be very well insulated, and made of good quality, long-lasting materials.   All services and meter cupboards and in the shared lobby so residents need not invite strangers into their home if they are uncomfortable doing so.







The diagrams below lay out six quite different options for how the site could be developed to comfortably accommodate 12-15 new flats and a Common Room, while also making life better for existing residents.  The photocollages at the top of this page show Option F.

There are some key aspects that you will find in all of the Options:

1) Homes and shared facilities to support a dignified, communal life.

2) inor amendments to the existing garden and buildings to bring out their best qualities.

3) A gentle form of architecture which nestles comfortably into the historic setting, but which is unashamedly new.

4) An architecture which listens carefully to the site, the residents and the wider community and responds sensitively.

5) A deeply practical response which relishes solving complex problems in a simple way.



Option F (below) centres around two yards, one a courtyard for meeting and gathering, and a garden for tending plants and enjoying their growth. All of the main areas of the site are accessed off the courtyard, much as in a traditional monastery.

The extended Chapel takes central place, easily accessed off the courtyard via a ramp and stairs, with the Common Room set to one side, dividing the yards in two, but with fully glazed façades allowing views through.

This option proposes all flats are accessed form the front,. in clusters of four (two flats downstairs and two upstairs), so (similar to Option E) all the new flats share a common ‘entry experience’, rather than entering from the back. This would mean that well-designed and integrated stair-lifts may be needed to get up the stairs.

Well-placed planting in front of windows prevents direct overlooking into sitting rooms from the front pathways.

A new accessible pedestrian entry courtyard is created to the east of the historic range, giving direct access into the Chapel from the rear, via the new lobby.

As with Option E, this Option also requires parking to be ‘off-site’ on the grass verge.

Above: View of Common Room

Top Right: Typical Apartments

Far Right: View from typical apartment

Right: Typical handed flat plans

Below: Chronology of Historic Buildings


This plan to the right illustrates our preliminary assessment of the historic development of the site, summarising the evidence we found in historic maps and other desktop research.  All findings should be carefully verified on site with material analysis.

The various phases of development are in different shades of grey with the oldest, original C16th core building shown in black and the most recent in light grey.   The current buildings on site are outlined in red.

The oldest record of the building is on the 1768 map of Canterbury by John Andrews & Matthew Wren, which shows two a main buildings and an annex on a plot smaller than that of today.  The Historic England listing description notes the central range of buildings date from 1595.

The site appears to have remained unchanged right up to 1822, with a map of that date showing no change from 1768.

By 1877, the survey map shows a number of new buildings on and around the site boundary for the military.  The changes also include a number of extensions to the original building. It also appears that the Chapel may have been significantly enlarged in this period.

Further changes are made to the garden front of the main range between 1877-99, presumably adding kitchens and bathrooms to the backs of existing apartments; these additions subsume or replace C16th wings to this front.

The most substantial changes on the site were made in 1935, including the demolition of parts of the original building and the complete demolition of the historic annex to the west. A new range of apartments and a ‘Hall’ were added to the west, forming a new 3-sided courtyard, as well as a Warden’s Lodge set slightly back.

The 1945 map still shows the substantial range of (post-1822) military buildings to the North-Eastern boundary of the site, but assumed demolished soon afterwards. to make way fro the housing estates of the 1970s onwards.   We assume that the existing boundary wall along this edge is formed of the remains of the back wall of this military range.

The last phase of alterations to the site date from the 1970s where internal alterations were made throughout the historic buildings, including some new minor extensions to the late C19th wash blocks on the garden front. It may have been around this time that car parking arrangements were made, including various small garages.



The diagram to the right analyses the site from a spatial and social use perspective.

The ‘Front’ of the buildings is onto the main road, and the ‘Back’ faces the garden. It could however be argued that the use of the buildings now suggests this is the wrong way round.  We would like to find a way to make the garden front more ‘front-like’ while maintaining the dignified C16th entry courtyard, with the Chapel forming its main axis.

The garden is an important social space for the residents, and their visitors.  The plan shows in black the private (mostly residential) spaces, and in mid grey the shared social space spread along the length of the buildings. The architecture of this area is not the best quality, but new development could improve this.


We can see from the maps that the chapel was extended in the late C19th.  Along with the Hall, the chapel forms the heart of this community, but it will be too small once the new development is complete.  Both facilities could be further extended, perhaps closer together. If secondary access to the Chapel were made from the south (garden) front, the social areas would work as a whole.


We have identified very crudely what is ‘soft’ landscaped (green) and what is ‘hard’ (white).  New developments should nestle carefully into the garden structure, and ensure there is still place for all the different environment.  These include places to fall asleep in the shade of a tree, to gather in a crowd on a tidy lawn, to grow flowers, encourage bees and wildlife, and while away the hours admiring, walking amongst or tending the beds.


There is currently good sunlight at all times of day across the garden, with shady northern courtyards onto the main road. Any new development should carefully consider how the light will be affected.


The traditional entrance to the Primary Courtyard is on axis with the Chapel is up a small flight of stairs, and from here residents have to pass around the main block to its rear. It would be great if a) entry into this Primary Courtyard could be made wheelchair-accessible, and b) ‘passed through’ perhaps via the Chapel into the rest of the site, as one would walk through a cathedral to access the cloister.  There are two other entrances, both vehicular.


There is currently one general parking area, for around 7 cars, plus a double garage. There is also a large driveway for the Warden’s private use on the Western side. Planning legislation suggests that each new home has one parking space allocated for it, without taking any away from the existing development.  This will prove to be a significant factor in the design, but could be negotiated down given the town centre site and nature of the community.


One special aspect of life in a walled garden is that the rest of the world disappears. But there are certain places where this isn’t the case, as shown on the plan. A new development could be designed carefully, with new buildings and/or planting to obscure views to the less-lovely surrounding buildings.


To avoid sprinklers in each apartment, it’s important to maintain access for the fire brigade to all areas; maximum distances from a fire engine should be looked at carefully.