Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson
Photo credit: Jim Stephenson

The John Morden Centre is a new care facility for the residents of Morden College, a care home in Blackheath, London. It provides additional space for leisure activities that are vital for the residents: rooms for gatherings and events including craft rooms, a café, as well as a small doctor’s surgery.

The new extension is a linear building that weaves through its landscape and is sustainable in every sense of the word: socially, environmentally and economically.

The social sustainability of the project brief comes from the intention to tackle problems of loneliness and isolation that can emerge in later life, often leading to anxiety, depression and poor health. The new building addresses this by creating a social hub for the residents. The new communal spaces, where the elderly residents can meet and interact – whether over a meal, an activity or an event, can help to alleviate issues resulting from solitude. The building is also the new reception to the estate for visitors and therefore creates a threshold between the elderly community in the college and their visiting friends, families and the wider community.

In terms of environmental sustainability the building is low carbon in its construction as well as in its use.  Designing the superstructure in CLT means that carbon is stored within the components for the building’s lifetime. Passive ventilation is enabled by the chimneys. This strategy reduces the energy used by the building for heating or cooling the spaces and therefore reduces running costs. The environmental strategies designed have contributed to the architectural expression of the buildings.

Economic sustainability is not only related to reduced running costs but is primarily to do with the building’s longevity. The neighbouring quadrangle from the time of Christopher Wren is 300 years old, it is hoped the new Centre will last as long. Mae’s director, Alex Ely stated ‘…We very much hope this building will stand the test of time’

The new Centre re-connects the existing Octagonal single storey Morden Hall back to the rest of the campus to the north. The octagonal building which was originally used as a performance space, is located close to Morden Road. Morden Hall was surrounded by some older buildings, no longer fit for purpose, and it was separated from the quadrangle by a car park. The old buildings were demolished to make way for the new Centre which reconnects Morden Hall to the original Morden College buildings.  The primary gesture of Mae’s plan is the meandering walkway through the site which respects the existing tall mature trees in the landscape. This winding walkway provides a welcome contrast to the formality of the quadrangle. The passage through the building became the organizational line of the plan – the colonnade – echoing the colonnade of the existing quadrangle. The walkway starts at the northern entrance, turns and kinks southward until it meets the octagonal performance space. The functions of the Centre are arranged on either side of the colonnade: to the west are the craft rooms, dining hall and kitchen, and to the east – the reception and doctors’ rooms.

This extension to the original quadrangle buildings provides a less formal series of volumes within the landscape, and creates a sequence of intimate spaces for the residents to interact with each other, with their carers, staff and visitors as well as with the landscape and gardens.

Each of the new rooms is contained in a separate volume, with each volume having a sculptural roof pitching up in one corner to form chimneys which aid the building’s natural ventilation strategy. These brick clad, single storey volumes are then connected by a light filled, timber and glass colonnade which links the new extension to the existing octagonal Hall and weaves between new landscaped gardens and mature trees.

The structures are made from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) supplied by Stora Enso and glulam from Pabst, and the columns in the colonnade are made of Accoya®, a high performance timber product supplied by n’H International Ltd.

Project Team

  • Timber Engineers and Specialist Installers: EURBAN
  • Suppliers: Stora Enso & n’H International
  • Architects: mae
  • Engineers: Michael Hadi Associates
  • Principal Contractors: Clive Graham Associates
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