After leaving Brick by Brick, Chloë Phelps founded an architecture firm committed to tackling London’s housing crisis through community-focused infill. Find out how learning from Croydon informs her work at Grounded.
LB Croydon’s development company Brick by Brick is winding down but the expertise from building housing on small sites lives on.
Chloë Phelps founded Grounded on the experience gained as Brick by Brick’s Head of Design. During that time, she supported the development of over 24 schemes that created nearly 800 homes across the borough.
“A lot of local authorities have been looking at small sites stock and we learned lots of valuable lessons.”
Now other London boroughs are showing an interest in the company’s efficient and practical approach to housing development on both big and small sites.
“I think there’s a lot more successes than people know,” she says. “A lot of local authorities have been looking at their small sites stock. But few have progressed them to the same extent that we did in Croydon.
“There are lots of valuable lessons that we learned and should be sharing. We’ve built expertise in brief writing and site due diligence.”
After leaving Brick by Brick in 2019, Chloë launched Grounded, an architecture practice that recently joined Future of London as a member. Grounded is part of Place Capital Group, a development company that specialises in working in partnership with local authorities and housing associations.
Public and private sector collaboration at Future of London
According to Chloë, a big motivation for joining was our connection between public and private sector, which reflects her own career path.
“I saw joining Future of London as a way of keeping in touch with the public sector, though I guess they’re now more our clients. I think the last few years has demonstrated that the public and private sectors need to be working much more collaboratively.”
“Our team is passionate about the housing crisis, and I don’t just mean the new build housing crisis, I mean housing management, retrofit. We want to be part of those big conversations and bring our experience from both sides of the fence.”
The firm is founded on values related to community involvement and making a positive contribution to housing development.
Chloë worked at LB Croydon in the placemaking team as well as an in-house design manager before joining the council-owned development company.
Grounded is on the Greater London Authority’s A+U Framework in the small sites lot. Chloë is also a member of LB Camden’s design review panel and advises on small sites development.
“Future fit” and making the most of existing sites
While she is clearly proud of her work in Croydon, Chloë is keen to talk about other subjects too – particularly retrofit, or “future fit” as she prefers to say. This chimes with a new Future of London project on making the most of our existing assets, including developing skills and other community resources.
“I think retrofit needs a bit of a rebrand,” she says. “We spent a lot of time as an industry talking about the new build housing crisis. There’s a lot of funding and it’s seen as more exciting, whereas retrofit is seen as a very technical problem.
“Our job as architects is to create some joy around the idea that these should be really exciting projects to be part of.”
Returning home to Essex
Outside London, Chloë is progressing a retrofit project in Lancaster and a project in Essex that is literally close to home. Grounded is part of a team delivering a masterplan for a new garden community between Tendring and Colchester where Chloë spent her childhood.
“I grew up in the village right next door to where 7500 homes are going to be developed. So from my point of view that’s really personal,” she says. “I know what it feels like for local people.
“When we talk about placemaking, that place already exists. Yes, it’s green fields but there are people’s memories of the lanes with hedgerows and archaeology, and all sorts of things that are already there. Now that place is being turned into something completely different.”
When the project is eventually completed, will she be able to show her face back home?
“I hope so! I’m going back with an architectural mindset and I’m finding out new things about the place. Our pitch at the interview was I want to make a place that genuinely is the reason for me to move back to Tendring.”
After 20 years as a practising architect with a lot of experience in the public sector, Chloë embodies the cross-sector approach at the heart of Future of London.
She talks positively about the experience in Croydon and is committed to sharing her learning with the sector, so other local authorities and ultimately communities can benefit.