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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
An island of white
Five choices of Britain's best new architecture

Donnybrook Quarter
'Complex and socially challenging'
To mark Architecture Week, each day the Magazine will look at a notable building opened in Britain in the past 12 months and ask what makes it different.

Donnybrook Quarter in Bow, east London, is an island of white in a sea of brown and grey. And even discounting the unusual whitewashed effect, it would still diverge dramatically from the surrounding area, with its squarish modernist look.

Finished in January, the 4.5m development was honoured with a RIBA award on Thursday and a place on the long list for the Stirling Prize, British architecture's top prize.

Architect Peter Barber wanted to create a development which took its inspiration from the "back of pavement terrace", terraced houses where the front door opens right onto the street.

Donnybrook Quarter
Streets are all overlooked
It is not a style that dominates new build these days, although Mr Barber insists these old terraces form some of the most popular and expensive property across London.

Donnybrook - commissioned after a competition run by housing agency Circle 33 - tries to capture this spirit.

As well as opening out onto the street, the front door opens straight into the kitchen/living room. No space in the development - a mixture of flats and non-residential units - is wasted on hallways.

Where there was once a six-storey building, there is now a three storey development with a similar amount of usable space, Mr Barber says. And now there are wide "streets" and pleasant new open spaces formed by the buildings.

Donnybrook Quarter
It is a mixed use scheme
"Seventy percent of the buildings in London are housing," he says. "It is what creates the streets and squares."

The intention is for the outside areas to be an extension of the house, a world away from the dark, dank hallways of many social housing projects.

"This project is a celebration of the public social life of the street," says Mr Barber. "A worrying amount of building in London is done as a gated community. This is a counterblast to that."

And the architect has struggled to make sure that almost every space in the project is overlooked, which is an advantage where you have a white development that must seem like a graffiti sprayer's dream.

Donnybrook Quarter
Promotes thriving public space

"There was a concern that the houses were going to be a clean canvas for hooded youths with aerosol cans, but it hasn't happened" says local resident Julian Ball. "Being so overlooked gives you natural security, it doesn't feel intrusive. It gives a feeling of community, that the people around you are your neighbours and not just strangers living close to you."

While the finished result is striking, some of the features may not be to everyone's taste. There may be some people who cannot bear the thought of people being able to peep into their living room while they are opening the door.

But the development has already proved popular - the 70% of the units that are for sale have already gone - and Mr Barber says he has only heard positive comments from the residents.

He hopes that the public space-creating and space-saving design prove a model for social housing and new private developments elsewhere.

Millions of people live in terraced houses in the North (and probably darn Sarf as well), whose doors open straight onto the pavement, me included, and its not a problem. I'm happy to have additional space inside the house, rather than a tiny useless garden in front. I've got a large south facing courtyard garden at the rear, and its great!
Lynn Knowling, Warrington, Cheshire, UK

I pass these houses every single day, they are always notcieable and bring a smile to my face in comparison to the usual high rise flats. It brightens up the street as everything is brown dull and very grey. Asthetics, space saving and the environment are key factors for future developments in London. It's fantastic to see something different from the 'norm', lets hope there will be more developments like this.
Jenny , Hackney

I think this development looks great and is just what is needed i this country. Why in the UK do we insist on painting every new building a depressing grey colour?? just look how it jumps out from its depressing surroundings, and the simple shapes make it all the more elegant.
Martin, Birmingham

It's unfortunate that in the UK that the height of modernism co-incided with a large social housing boom, so that we've associated modernism with poverty and its style has become a stigma. I hope that projects like this succeed, because if they do, they'll have a positive effect, I think, far beyond their bounds, on the perception of our more impoverished estates.
Dan, Cambridge

Wasn't the community rationale the thinking behind the Barbican development in the City of London back in the 60s? Needless to say, it is now stuffed full of City suits and lawyers, rather than dustbin men and nurses as property prices changed over time to reflect the valueof the location.
Marc, London

Love it - if it was in Kyrenia. But after a couple of damp English winters it'll look as streaky and grey as Delhi after the monsoon.
Robert Maycock, Tenterden, UK

I'm sure the architect's intention was heart-felt, but it looks like an army barracks to me. And in a few years time, when the white paintwork has faded to a damp grey, it will look even worse.
Rob Holman, Chislehurst, Kent, England

With the exception of what looks like too few windows, this looks like a lovely complex that I'd be more than happy to live in. I'm a California native and all of my flats and houses there opened directly into the living room and hallways were rare if ever present - nothing to worry about! I would love to see some interior shots. Very reminiscent of the Greek islands - just the thing London needs!
Lisa, Cambridge, UK

I love the white modernist architecture of the 1920s and 30s; whereas I find the grey, drab architecture of the 1960s and 70s very depressing. I applaud this new housing development. The use of white really lifts the spirits. With a bit of sympathetic planting the deveopment will look extremely attractive. Well done for a change!
Ian, West Sussex, GB

"As well as opening out onto the street, the front door opens straight into the kitchen/living room. No space in the development - a mixture of flats and non-residential units - is wasted on hallways" Looks like we've really progressed since the 1900's inner-city terraced house then... Next you'll be telling me the toilet is in an out-house.
Mike, Liverpool

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