Mystery of Bridport House: Why is award-winning Hoxton council block still defective seven years on?
PUBLISHED: 09:17 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:17 30 August 2018
Hoxton's Bridport House opened to fanfare in 2011 as the first council housing built in Hackney for four decades. Seven years on, Emma Bartholomew hears of tenants' misery - and fears - as repairs to the crumbling brickwork rumble on
Social housing tenants are on tenterhooks waiting to find out what’s wrong with their award-winning building as the council moves to dispel rumours it is falling down.
Hackney Council has insisted there is no problem with the structure of Bridport House in Bridport Place, which borders Shoreditch House.
But tests are still being carried out on the defective building, which is swathed in scaffolding and wire mesh.
Two separate engineers are carrying out tests to see if major works are necessary, and there are holes where bricks have been removed for examination.
Bridport House was the first council housing to be built in Hackney in 40 years. But the people who live there have been plagued with “non-stop” problems since they moved in, in 2011.
Just one year after construction the Gazette reported the eight-storey block of 42 flats was “falling apart at the seams” when 70 tiles suddenly fell off the roof.
Cracks were already apparent in the brickwork and people’s homes would flood when it rained.
At the time, construction firm Willmott Dixon blamed the problems on “snagging issues”.
But residents continue to be affected by “never ending” problems.
Designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, the building frame is made of timber to enable construction on top of the massive storm sewer that runs diagonally beneath the building.
Its foundations are shallower than a traditional concrete structure, and it took just eight weeks to erect rather than 22.
Now the bricks that encase the wooden frame appear to be being “pushed out”, while brickwork down one side of the building is uneven with bumpy waves.
Michael Jones questioned why no proper investigation was done when the first bricks fell down in 2012. “I kept telling them when the bricks first dropped this whole building should be investigated,” he said.
“We don’t know where we stand with this. They could say they are going to condemn the block and the brickwork.
“They are lovely flats, badly put up, and we have had seven years of hell in here.”
It was Michael who first realised something wrong two years ago.
“I had a very good camera and I stood across the road and started taking pictures of things that didn’t look right on the brickwork,” he said. “Zooming in, I could see movement – that the bricks had come loose in the joints.
“I could see serious ones where it looked like a brick had been punched out from behind.
“On some of the balconies the bricks have moved, like a step. The concrete hasn’t held.”
Architect Paul Karakusevic spoke about the building in an architectural lecture the year following the build.
“We had to design this in eight weeks to get a tranche of HCA funding,” he stated.
“To solve the problem of the drain we used cross-laminated timber. But the residents were very clear on day one they didn’t want any lightweight buildings. They didn’t want any [cladding] or anything that would fall apart after five years.
“So we used that, being very light and strong, and combined it with two very high quality bricks, and wrapped the cross laminated timber structure with the two engineering grade bricks. The frame goes up in eight and a half weeks.”
A council spokesperson apologised for the “inconvenience of the ongoing surveys”, but could not give a time frame for completion. Although the town hall has been adamant there is no problem with the building’s structure, the only completed test so far has been to the brickwork outside one flat.
The council refused to share the results of the test with the Gazette.
“We’re committed to completing any necessary repair work as quickly as possible,” said the spokesperson. “This one-off work is to repair cracked brickwork on the outside of the building, and aims to permanently solve the problem rather than leave tenants facing ongoing maintenance and disruption.
“This issue is isolated to the external brickwork, and there is no structural or major work necessary to homes or communal areas.”
Willmott Dixon is carrying out the repair work in line with its contract. A spokesperson said: “We have engineers investigating the brickwork at the moment who will decide the extent of repairs required but we can reassure [people] the issue is isolated to the external brickwork, and there is no structural or major work necessary to homes or communal areas.”