For earlier stories on this subject, look up “PRINCETHORPE COURT STORY” in the TAG CLOUD.
This section is not intended to be a design brief, I just want to illustrate how the concept we were developing permeated through the whole of the design, right down to the smallest detail. We also wanted to get well away from the institutional feel of residential care which emphasised to residents they were living in someone else’s building, which was no longer their own home.
We were wanting to create an environment where people could live out the rest of their lives and not have to move on. We also wanted it to be a community where you could enjoy the privacy of your own home but have the company and support of the neighbours around you.
The scheme had 48 flats which was considered large. at a time when 30-35 dwellings was more the norm. The reason for the bigger project was related to the need for scale to support a care staff team and a restaurant. The flats themselves were mainly one bedroom, but we insisted on them being 2-person i.e. big enough for a double bed. This is a forgotten issue these days but one bed, one person was the standard at the time. The flats were only 35m² which is very small compared to the 50m plus of the current day. The Princethorpe flats were palaces compared to a 10m² bedroom in residential care!
A key principle was that there was level access throughout the scheme – lifts were provided to the first floor and their were no steps or stairs anywhere in the scheme ( except for fire escape stairs ) — all doors were extra wide to accommodate wheelchairs and fire doors were free-swing or held back on magnetic links and only closed automatically if there was a fire alarm. These issues are standard today, but at the time they were exceptional and relatively expensive to provide.
Now let’s look at some of the more symbolic details in the scheme which were designed to emphasise the concept:-
- Individual House Front Doors.
Front doors to flats in residential care and in a lot of Local Authority / Housing Association sheltered housing were generally flush style internal doors, often all gloss painted the same colour to minimise initial and future maintenance costs. At Princethorpe Court we took the opposite view. Your front door is a symbol of your home as your castle. Front doors were panelled external doors with brass door knockers, brass house numbers and letter boxes. The knocker said to staff, knock and wait before you enter someone’s home – this often was not the practice in residential care.
The letter box was even more contentious, with the fire officer and the Post Office. Fire officers didn’t want a hole in a fire door, and this debate lasted until we found a compromise, but we kept the letter boxes! The Post Office just did not want the hassle of delivering post within the scheme, when in a residential care home they could do one delivery to the manager’s office. This argument raged for many months, but we were adamant that residents had their own address and were entitled to receive their mail through their own individual letter box. We won in the end but there were some grumpy postmen to start with.
Once we had the letter box, we could also have newspapers delivered and leave people to pay their own bills, which underlined the concept of people living independently in their own homes.
This idea extended to milk deliveries and a shelf was provided outside each front door.
- Internal Streets.
The internal corridors of most residential care homes were long, straight, bare-walled and only punctuated by regularly spaced identical front doors. Small filing cabinet labels were the only way of knowing somebody lived inside the flats. The easy slip-in and out label was an indication of how long they were expected to stay.
We were building homes for people to live long happy lives and we wanted them to be proud of their new homes.
At this point I must mention the designer of Princethorpe Court. Ian Hardy was an exceptionally talented architect and he bought into the concept completely. He also took us literally when we said we wanted an excellent design and that’s what he gave us – but it wasn’t cheap. Still he gave us design ideas which ExtraCare Charitable Trust is still using to this day.
In the internal corridors, Ian styled them as external streets. The flats all had kitchen windows looking onto the street. The walls were constructed with an expensive external rustic brindle brick that matched the outside of the scheme. External wall lamps illuminated the corridors focussed around the porch of the flats’ front doors. The corridor floor was a jute matting which was imported from Holland. It was not only expensive, but we were worried about its durability. Thirty years later, it is still there and looking good. The widths of the corridors were relatively wide and at corners were opened out to include planting boxes full of rubber plants, ferns and assorted jungle vegetation.
To finally seal the idea that this was more like an external environment, the first residents to move in were invited to give each corridor a separate “street” name which then became part of their address.
These are only two examples of the many issues we debated over long hours – developing the concept. We were fortunate to have Ian Hardy’s design flare to interpret them so well. It is testament to the whole team that many of these themes continue to be used to this day.
MORE TO COME