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Charles Holland Architects

The Phoenix, Lewes

CHA were commissioned by Human Nature to undertake a series of feasibility studies and produce massing, elevation and design code information for a new sustainable neighbourhood and riverside development on a brownfield site in Lewes, East Sussex within the South Downs National Park.

Human Nature have commissioned CHA amongst a variety of practices to work on this ambitious work at masterplan as well as individual block and building scale.

Our scope was to define Parcel 2 (one of two Gehl blocks), facing the River Ouse within the wider development. They are between three and six-storeys high and predominantly contain apartments arranged around a large, shared courtyard. They have been named after the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl and follow his definition of a successful urban city block.

The design process focused on the riverside character of this block in relation to the River Ouse. This river facing part of the scheme needs frontages that offer variety of architectural character, material language and façade composition.

To this end, CHA’s design adds an approach that draws positively and inventively on historic forms, using valid precedents and references to develop an architecture that embraces decoration, ornament and variety of character.


The specific scale, location and aspect of Parcel 2 has prompted a slightly different focus to the overall Lewes Character Appraisal. Whilst the Gehl Blocks can be seen as consistent with the scale of much of Lewes’ urban grain in plan terms, their height (3 – 6 storeys) and their location on the river edge, gives them a greater scale and importance in terms of mass.


To reflect this, we have shifted the focus of reference from pre-Georgian and Georgian buildings to later Victorian and Edwardian structures. We have drawn on a history of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century where traditional building materials and forms were adapted to larger, commercial or residential typologies.


Alongside examples of these found in Lewes, reference has also been made to buildings of that era more generally including the work of architects including Richard Norman Shaw, Ernest George and H Fuller Clark.


The block is expressed as two main four storey elevations to the river with a break or ‘twitten’ between to allow connection from the river edge to the courtyard.


The design allows for a degree of variety and changefulness across the façade. This is comprised of a number of elements such as a consistent riverfront colonnade, pierced by regular rectangular openings, which can be open or glazed. It also includes the use of bay windows that ‘step in and step out’ and can also project vertically to form a decorative or expressed parapet.


As well as roof articulation through the use of gables, mansards and dormer windows, all of which change the articulation and punctuation of the roofline whilst allowing for greater variety and expression.


The construction and materiality of Parcel 2 reflects the need to build more sustainably and will be made with CLT as part of a development wide approach.


The facing materials are to be a mix of bricks or mathematical tiles of various colours typical of Lewes and the East Sussex area including red along with glazed cream and black along with stone. This use of different materials draws from the rich collage of materials in Lewes generally as well as the historical practice of refacing timber framed buildings in m-tiles. Pitched areas of roof are to be clad in pantiles, either glazed and coloured or unglazed.

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