Fred Rodgers highlights what can be achieved when residents get involved and stand their ground!

On 2 November, several Barbican residents had the opportunity of attending a presentation at 347 Crescent House of the pilot scheme for refurbishment of both the glazing and ventilation. This was by Richard Partington of the architects, Studio Partington, and Peter King, sales and operations manager of the ventilation engineers Aereco.  

Unlike any of the Barbican blocks, Crescent House is listed Grade II* and the refurbishment has been carried out in close co-operation with both Historic England and Twentieth Century Society. Despite the difference in grading, probably because all the Barbican terrace blocks, like Crescent House, have barrel roofs, there is a mutual problem with the top floor windows.

The most notable feature of the refurbishment is the installation of vacuum sealed window glazing. The overall thickness of the replacement is 9mm with, with a 1mm vacuum separating two 4mm sheets of glass. This has meant that no alterations were needed to the frames, thus retaining the integrity of the listing.

Unlike the Barbican blocks, the window frames in the Crescent House, where there are less than 60 in total, weren’t manufactured but produced by carpenters. As a result there are variances between the frames of each window and this seemed to cause a major difficulty as far as the “fit” of the replacement glazing is concerned. 

There are only two manufacturers of vacuum sealed window glazing – one in Belgium and the other in China – so the potential logistics difficulty could, at least, have led to delays if the “fit” wasn’t. However, the Chinese manufacturer has been able to manufacture to an architect supplied template for Flat 347. Hopefully, the carbon cost of transport will be recovered over the lifetime of the product.

The basic difference between the glazing supplied from China and that from Belgium is that the former is available in a toughened form, particularly necessary where windows are from floor level. It seems the manufacturer in China has solved the technical problem which the Belgian one hasn’t and one, it seems, forced Pilkington out of the market.

At the end of the day, the finished window is a great tribute not only to Richard Partington and the manufacturers but also to the craftsmanship of the installers. From a Barbican point of view, almost all of the original frames have been retained but repaired where necessary. And, of course, our single glazing could be replaced with vacuum sealed glazing, which has an efficiency rating between those of double and triple glazing but without the need to modify frames fitted with single glazing.

Although interesting, the ventilation system is probably not suitable for Barbican flats as it involves the use of an electric fan which operates on “need” rather that human operation. A bathroom ventilation fan is usually controlled by the light switch. With the Aereo system, CO2 sensors activate the fan, say, when more people come into the flat or there is a heat/steam build up in the kitchen and, of course, the bathroom. A better and no doubt more accurate description of the system is available from www.aereco.co.uk.

The refurbishment of Flat 347 is twenty or more years late. However, developed technology, if the current planning permission and listed building consent applications – 23/00466 and – are approved, will see a far more efficient and, hopefully, resilient outcome than an earlier intervention could have achieved. That said, there are still problems ahead before every Crescent House flat is fully refurbished.

Because of the small flat size, the window replacement requires residents to be re-located for three weeks, at least, and, in the absence of the proposed works programme, it’s difficult to know what other works will be carried out at the cost of lessees. Already, because of building control regulations and the siting of boiler flues, the gas boilers in a number of flats have to be replaced with electric heaters. There also seem to be some doubt whether or not City Corporation will address the existing damp and mould problems.

The very high standard of the craftsmanship in Flat 347 has to be maintained throughout. And, reverting to the lack of a works programme, it’s not known whether all the kitchens and bathrooms of all of its tenanted flats will be upgraded like Flat 347.