When architects do strange things

The Observatory housing development at Hollow Lane, Wincheap is new this year

by Nick Blake

When gazing upon the imaginative architecture at the Observatory housing estate in Wincheap’s Hollow Lane, you get the impression that it certainly makes a change.

But then again, sometimes architects – let off the lead – leave strange things behind. Let me explain.

Each of the 52 three- and four-bedroom homes has a little glazed turret above the bedrooms, hence the Observatory name.

Unless, however, you have a ladder nobody can observe, merely be woken up by sun streaming into bedrooms.

Another extra: purchasers will need dressing gowns. There’s no privacy from your neighbours here with all those floor to ceiling windows in conspicuous positions.

New homes at Hollow Lane, Wincheap

Elsewhere, the layout keeps a welcome bit of the Hollow Lane hedgerow, but the roundabout at the entrance destroys the rural feel – and would appear superfluous with such a low volumes of traffic.

The road design on the site does not use modern guidelines that introduce a narrowing of the carriageway to slow down vehicles.

Access splays produce nasty little geometric bits of grass verge which again aid speeding cars.

The safest junctions are 90 degree corners such as you get in Victorian housing areas.

The developer has given some houses a Radburn type ambiguous pedestrian on one side, vehicle on the other layout.

This will make finding front doors a puzzle like it is on part of the Pine Tree Estate off Forty Acres Road, Canterbury.

This was discredited 40 years ago, but, it is said, was requested by the city council and has led the Observatory to have vast, expensive lengths of blank brick walls around car accesses which have no character.

The houses, although having some large windows, are rather harsh and boxy with a poor relationship to each other thereby failing to generate an attractive townscape.

The final issue is that no affordable housing exists in the Observatory and yet our council asks there to be 30% of it in new developments. 

Could this be because the developer thought it would not suit his upmarket offer?

Nick Blake is an architectural consultant who runs his own company. He lives in the St Stephen’s area of Canterbury


  1. I have to add a piece to my own article. After writing it, I studied the site plans in more detail I found that there IS affordable housing, hidden away in one corner and barely mentioned in the sales material. Sadly there are only ten units…under 20%. Why did the City Council let them get away with that, when their policy asks for 30%? It is a normal flat greenfield site which appears to have no unusual problems.

    This under achievement of affordable housing is continually occurring in the Canterbury district and right across the country.The result is that the 30% target will not be achieved in aggregate and yet research released two weeks ago found that 42% of new homes need to be affordable.

    The City Council has just done a deal to provide 63 Council Homes of average size, two and a half bedrooms, at Parham Road Canterbury. They will cost £365,000 each and yet in 2017 the average price of a Canterbury house was £ 317,279.

    They are sited within a massive student housing area and do not seem to be a good deal for those on the Housing Waiting List or the Council tax payer.

    Instead of that, why did the Council not insist on the full 30% of affordable homes at The Observatory, fifteen , and provide them itself? The land cost would have been reduced and they would have been ” affordable” for tenant and Council tax payer alike. Having said that, affordable means at 80% of market price, still well outside the range of most people on the Housing Waiting List.

    So the Observatory will mean that those in need of a home will just gaze on in amazement.

  2. I found this excellent article really interesting and it will certainly motivate me to be far more observant in future of the important type of fine detail on and around our buildings that Nick has identified.-even though I might get neck ache.

    I was especially pleased that he had referred to the importance in urban settings of hedgerows.

    The extreme world wide weather of the recent months must surely have removed any lingering doubt about the urgent need for widespread tree planting. I hope locally our planners will have taken note and will strengthen their resolve to resist the monetary driven enthusiasm of many developers to cover as much land as possible with concrete and brick..

    That said please let us not lose sight of the value of hedges along our roads particularly dual carriageways. As well as removing pollution they reduce noise and lift the spirits to an extent that more than justifies the cost of planting and ongoing maintenance..


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