Front-to-Back Terrace Blocks

“Blocks planned on an east/west axis contain through flats so that each of the tenants have a southern outlook for their living rooms while some of the bedrooms face north; where such blocks occur on the southern perimeter of the scheme flats have been planned so that tenants, if they prefer, can have living rooms facing northwards over the gardens.”

Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, Architects “Barbican Redevelopment” April 1959

Defoe House

Defoe House

The overriding factor for internal design was achieving maximum sunshine for living areas. Terraces ‘on an east/west axis’ means blocks like Defoe, Speed, Thomas More and Andrewes Houses, where the length of the terrace is on an east to west line. Since the terraces have windows along the long sides, these windows are necessarily facing north or south. As between north and south, most of a day’s sunlight will fall on the south side of the block. So it would have been unfair to have some flats facing only south, and hogging all the sunlight, and some flats facing only north, where it would be like living on the far side of the Moon. You can tell the difference by comparing window box growth – luxuriant on the south face of these blocks, sad and sparse on the north side. So most of the flats in east-west terraces are ‘front-to-back flats’, usually extending 18.3 meters from one side of the building to the other, with the living rooms and studios facing south, and the bedrooms facing north.

Most of the day’s sunshine falls on the south side, which is the living area, but some early morning sunshine falls on the north especially in the Summer. In fact, all year round my south-facing living room seems to be flooded with sunlight. I quite often have to pull down the blinds, even in the winter, to be able to sit comfortably at my desk near the window. Certainly in the summer, but even in the winter if I’m being particularly lazy, I can be woken up by the sunshine coming into my bedroom windows on the north side, although a bit of that is probably reflected off Shakespeare Tower.

Upper storeys of east-west terraces contain 2-room studio flats with vaulted roofs. A section in the centre of the vault is cut out to provide clerestory lighting in the centre of the flat.

Since each flat on each floor runs front to back, stairs and lifts have to be fitted into a space between each set of flats. So, in an east-west terrace each segment of the terrace has its own lift and staircase which serve two facing flats per floor. This design means that lift maintenance costs are greater per flat in east-west terraces than in north-south terraces because flats in north-south terraces flats face one way or the other (east or west), rather than going right through the block, and they have central corridors for access, so they only need lifts at each end of the block.