McGrath Road, London E15

On 8.10.2018, Oliver Wainwright wrote of the development pictured above:

“A row of great brick arches marches along a back street in Stratford, east London, framing the front doors to a row of new homes, as if a Victorian railway viaduct had mated with a Georgian terrace. This sturdy brick mass is an arresting sight to find among a jumble of 1960s council housing in Newham borough, rising four storeys to a crenellated top, giving it the fortified air of a casbah. Walking through one of the gaping vaulted archways into a central courtyard, you almost expect to find a lively souk of carpet sellers hawking their wares.

This is council housing as imagined by Peter Barber, one of the most original architects working today.”

Wainwright notes that Barber has long worked with homelessness organisations.

““If you developed a 200-metre wide strip of land in the last bit of suburbia all around London,” he says, “you could get a million homes.” His utopian proposal for a Hundred Mile City would see the capital ringed with a “dense, intense edge”, a continuous belt of houses, schools, shops and little factories laid out in terraces, with narrow pedestrian streets and squares, the whole thing connected by a monorail (“Bexley to Brentford in 40 minutes”). He describes it as “a linear Barcelona, a circular Rome, a stretched Porto”. It protects the green belt by intensifying suburbia: the city would grow inwards, rather than sprawl outwards, seeing “Metroland consolidated, back filled, integrated and urbanised”. It is a mad but brilliant proposition, a window on to another world that is just the kind of radical creative thinking that our housing problem so dearly needs.”

Lee Mallett interviewed Barber for an Evening Standard article of 8.3.2019. Barber’s practice, founded in 1989, bought its own Victorian terrace house with printworks behind in King’s Cross in 2002.

” “The team disappear downstairs and jam. One dream is we’ll start a jazz club.” It’ll have Barber on guitar or piano, both of which he plays. He has nine staff and handles “10 to 12 projects” every year, at the moment working on about 700 homes across London. “We’ve seen too many practices lose their way as they have grown,” he says.

If the office feels “kind of studenty”, then it is because Barber has kept up his teaching, for one day a week, at the University of Westminster and has lectured all over the world. “It keeps the mind agile,” he says. He grew up near Guildford, but “feels like a Londoner” and describes his career as “an escape from suburbia”.

Mexican architect and engineer Luis Barragán is a key inspiration. “His work was about solidity, mass, permanence, colour. These themes run through our work, from the earlier rendered projects right up to the brick projects we are doing now.

“It is very distinct from what gets built today in City Road and in Vauxhall, Nine Elms, Battersea. They are ‘frame’ buildings — predominantly glass.” “