Tag Archives: england

Leaf Facade

Leaf Facade in London, England, by Squire and Partners, 2013

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Architectural inspiration can be found just about anywhere nowadays—forms and structures can echo those of animals; buildings can become landforms through the manipulation of landscape; and a building's function can dictate its expression, among an almost infinite number of tactics. In many cases inspiration comes from something nearby, such as an area landmark or an important view. In the case of Squire and Partners' design of a private house in Mayfair, London, inspiration came in the form of a house one block away.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Drawing courtesy of Squire and Partners

The five story residence—consisting of four bedrooms, a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a home cinema, two roof terraces and an area of green roof—sits in a conservation area, so the architects converted an old pub (The Red Lion) and retained an 18th-century brick wall, behind which the house rises. Cladding of the house was inspired by a building on Curzon Street that faces the preserved brick facade. Seen below, the building on Curzon street stands out because it is the only one on the street covered with ivy (Virginia Creeper, actually), as well as standing out for its location at the end of the short perpendicular street visually connecting the two otherwise unrelated buildings.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

As the process documentation below indicates, the architects abstracted the leaves that make up the facade on Curzon Street and found ways to create a repeating element that has some depth, texture and shadow. The final result does not have the seasonal variation of the (literally) green facade one block away, but the scale and pattern have quite a nice effect, both from a distance and up close.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Per Squire and Partners: "The contemporary interpretation of leaves is crafted as a metallic shingle, which cover a three story elevation and rooftop pavilion. The PPC [polyester powder coating, I presume] coated folded aluminium leaves – 4,080 in total - subtly vary in tones of bronze to mimic organic growth patterns. The concept was designed over a three year period of research and development working closely with Swiss manufacturer Tuchschmid."

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

The color variation in the "leaves" is particularly noticeable up close, though not really from a distance. The yellow-to-brown range gives the facade an autumnal hue that also recalls bricks, but with a diagonal orientation rather than a horizontal one. The best aspect of the repeated detail is the folds, which enable the leaves to overlap but also to cast shadows and face in two directions. This feature ensures that the leaves will reflect the light in various ways throughout the day, tracking time in their own way, just as the facade with Virginia Creeper tracks time (the seasons) in its own way.

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners

Photograph courtesy of Squire and Partners


Slip House

Slip House in London, UK by Carl Turner Architects, 2012.

Occupying one of four plots forming a gap in a typical Brixton terrace, Slip House constitutes a new prototype for adaptable terraced housing. Three simple ‘slipped’ orthogonal box forms break up the bulk of the building and give it it’s striking sculptural quality.  The top floor is clad in milky, translucent glass planks, which continue past the roof deck to create a high level ‘sky garden’. Designed to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, it features ‘energy piles’ utilizing a solar assisted ground source heat pump creating a thermal store beneath the building.

PV’s, a wildflower roof, rain water harvesting, reduced water consumption, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery within an airtight envelope with massive levels of insulation make this one of the most energy efficient houses built in the UK. A prototype brownfield development offering dense, flexible, urban living – the house is a vehicle for in-house research into sustainable design, seamlessly integrating the often conflicting aesthetic requirements of architecture and alternative low energy systems. We are working to develop this model for multiple developments and as affordable housing.

Living and working (‘Living over the shop’) is something that really interests us.  We see a prototype new ‘terraced’ house, squeezed into under-utilised city (Brownfield) sites. This flexible type of home can allow for the artisan or home-worker to sub-let or downsize.  This can enliven local communities and produce ‘homes’ which create opportunities rather than be dormitories or financial assets. Slip House is flexible and can be used as a single home, studio workspace and apartment, or two apartments.

The perimeter walls are load bearing, freeing up the internal areas of supporting columns or additional load bearing walls. The house’s open-plan layout ensures that walls / dividers are simple to erect and require minimal construction effort. This aspect of Slip House is not only financially sustainable but also environmentally so, as it helps to ensure the permanence of the overall structure, as minimal modifications can allow the house to adapt to changing lives and living situations indefinitely.

Archway Studios

Archway Studios in London, UK by Undercurrent Architects, 2012.

According to Undercurrent Architects, over 10,000 arches comprise the Victorian railway infrastructure that cuts up the city of London. Their design of the aptly named Archway Studios—a live-work space—positions the building under and adjacent to one of these arches, thereby exploiting the potential for the other 9,999. This particular one is part of a 19th-century railway viaduct in the Southwark district. The load-bearing brick vaults of the viaduct are accompanied by some rusting steel above; both appear to have influenced the architects in their design.

The three-story structure looks like it merely sits next to the viaduct, or caps one of the openings. But it actually extends underneath, sitting atop a rubber foundation and separated from the brick above via an independent liner and plenty of acoustical blanketing. This results in a fairly open and light living space on the ground floor, but that is only half the story. A section through the building would reveal an "L" shape—one leg level to the ground and one leg pointing up, extending past the railway's guardrail, as the building actually does.

The vertical leg contains a bedroom and bathroom one floor above, accessed via a spiral stair, and the work space above it still, up a straight-run stair. A skylight caps the volume, and combined with the shape of the floors below, daylight extends all the way to the ground floor. Natural light also enters the interior through the narrow windows that are located in the gaps between the surfaces of weathering steel that cover the vertical volume. These windows are very important, given the confines of the site and the need for privacy.

The rusty steel skin is easily the most striking aspect of the design. The way it appears to drape itself from the top of the building and peel back to admit daylight as it extends to the ground recalls Undercurrent's Leaf House, but turned on its side. In addition to their organic forms, each house takes its inspiration from their surroundings (industrial infrastructure, trees) and creates an interesting dialogue between inside and outside. The Leaf House's freedom of structure is not available with this London site, but the architects let the interior follow the archway, making the residents aware of their unique situation.

The Woven Nest

The Woven Nest in London, England by atmos studio, 2010.

The following text and images for this residence in Stoke Newington are courtesy atmos studio.

This home for an actress and musician carefully slots between buildings and sightlines, and wraps built-in furniture into every available surface. The massing was generated from the view-lines along the High Street below, tucked carefully out of sight to achieve planning permission for a new story with front outdoor space hidden within the row of listed buildings. The roof-form deploys a double-pitched butterfly roof, angling upwards from low flank walls to greet the arriving visitor with taller walls at the central stairwell. A crystalline valley skylight hangs above, flooding the void with light. Staggered floor sections carefully borrow space from below. The V-shape in section repeats in plan to ease a tidy outdoor terrace between new and old façades, the doors from hall and bedroom folding neatly together.

The project’s palette mirrors the client’s interest in Japanese economy, restraint and invention, and provides a sense of surprising spaciousness within tight confines. Spaces from adjacent rooms are borrowed and traded, with each room offering a panoply of different views and directions. Mirrors double and quadruple the extent of views and entice optical exploration, while maximum continuity between the surfaces of the built-in furniture provides a sense of further elongation, and interest. The house assembles around the central open stair, its timber strands growing upwards towards the light and unleashing delicate tendrils to frame each step. To the right, spaces sneak into the stair – as bathroom storage below or the underside of the desk above – while to the right the open treads fan and splay into a generous array of surfaces for the living room.

Both plan and Planning constraints generated a complex series of intertwining spaces, enlivened by light and interconnectivity.

Upstairs, the stair-tree verticals curl into architraves and continue into rooms either side of the eyelid to the sky above. Their lines flow to form a desk and shelving unit in the study, wrapping around to welcome the unfolding sheaves of floor plank that conceal a bed within the floor. The low table/cupboard nestled at the window flows out to form a long courtyard storage bench, which slips back inside as a bathroom counter, carved with a sunken bath. This same surface plunges through the bather’s view-slot into the bedroom, a faceted plane (the laundry-lid) folding up to form the final blackout for this bedroom/bathroom opening. It continues as storage into the plinth of the welcoming bed beyond, and onwards as bedside counter before folding back into the wall and the rhythms of the stair beyond.

The house is thus unified by a single curl of complex in-built furniture, bridging inside and out, closed and open, his and hers and anyone else’s in its careful compaction of storage and use and its careful alignment of the body within spaces and the eye towards sky. The rear window angles carefully back above its sloping brick parapet, offering great starry views from the pillow. Its fixed glazing folds at the stairwell to form an opening frame, a complex rhomboid perfectly slotted into the available space. The courtyard opposite protects privacy yet offers generous views of sky and city (from bath or bench, table or toilet), and tantalizing views into the intricacy of this urban jewel.


Minotaur in Northumberland, England by Nick Coombe and Shona Kitchen, 2003.

The Kielder Water and Forest Park is located near the Scottish border on the largest man-made lake in Europe. A variety of attractions suit just about any taste, with cycling, walking trails, visitor centers, a castle, a conference center, and more. What pertains to us here is the contemporary art and architecture at Kielder, a program started in 1995. Three years later, an advisory report concluded that future commissions should focus on contemporary architecture, specifically the idea of shelter, Softroom's Belvedere the first such construction.

September 2000 saw the completion of the next piece, James Turrell's Kielder Skyspace, a cylindrical chamber sited on a rocky outcropping. Its interior is capped by a 3m (10 ft) diameter circular opening to the sky. Like much of Turrell's artwork, it requires time for the eyes to adjust and for meditative contemplation. The latest commission to open is Minotaur by Nick Coombe with Shona Kitchen and the next commission is A New Forest for Kielder by David Adjaye.

Minotaur is billed as a contemporary maze, resembling a labyrinth in plan but using tricks in section that add interest for today's visitor. One is the window at left which appears "impossibly thick", but is only as thick as the gabion walls. Others include a confessional seat, a seating alcove for kids to surprise their parents, a set of stairs at the end of a dead end corridor that gives the visitor a means to evaluate their position, and multiple slots and other openings within the maze.

The goal of the maze is to reach the tall chamber projecting above the other walls, its recycled turquoise glass rocks set off against the basalt stone of the rest. Once there the visitor can sit down and gaze at the square opening to the sky (recalling Turrell's Skyspace) before finding a route out of the maze.

[Google Earth link]


Selfridges in Birmingham, England by Future Systems, 2003.

Wednesday, September 4, saw the opening of the new Selfridges Department Store in Birmingham, England, an important part of the large shopping development Bullring. Designed by London's Future Systems, the blob-like building is a contemporary take on the windowless retail box, a standout in this otherwise architecturally typical, yet ambitious, development in the city center.

Extending the street plan of Birmingham into the development, the overall plan of the Bullring attempts to integrate itself into the city, but ultimately it is an updated mall, Selfridges acting as one of the two anchors as in a typical dumbbell mall plan, forcing itself upon the city. The emergence of this this building type in cities attests to the impact of shopping, in particular its saving grace. Coupled with the draw of contemporary architecture, shopping is becoming the means of saving city centers, definitely evident to Birmingham's city planners. With more than 140 shops, the Bullring attempts to become "a new beginning for the city", according to the developers.

Beyond the mere existence of new shops and restaurants, the Bullring also helps the city by providing over 3,000 parking spaces, improving public transportation and, most importantly, creating a nexus of activity, as witnessed by the opening day festivities in the image to the left. The sustained popularity of the area is no doubt dependent upon the Selfridges store, both for its amenities and its architecture. The novelty of its design gives it standing alongside the Guggenheim by Frank Gehry and the Milwaukee Art Museum by Santiago Calatrava.

Though the new Selfridges has a similar goal to the Guggenheim and the MAM - reinvigorating cities - it is their means that separates them. Bilbao and Milwaukee use cultural institutions to attract people and act as symbols of their respective cities, while Birmingham uses commerce to do the same. But the gap between culture and commerce is shrinking and often blurry, as witnessed by the introduction of art and cultural amenities in malls and other retail developments, and the abundance of stores in museums. Shopping is becoming the common denominator in much of daily life.

Covered in 16,000 spun aluminum disks (click for detail), the irregularly shaped building follows the configuration of its site while allowing glass openings for access and daylighting. While the solid exterior is beautiful in its uniqueness, it poses problems for the architects in breaking the mass, the openings unrelated to the spun disks, though they are successful at ground level below the aluminum cladding. Another problem, or potential problem, is the longevity of the disks in terms of adhesion and cleanliness. If disks fall off over time it will be noticeable since it is all 16,000 disks together that give the exterior its appeal, as well as their brightness and reflectivity.

Inside, the four-story department store is dominated by a central atrium that follows the exterior in its irregularity. Natural light pours in through skylights above, extending all the way to the first floor. Helping to create a pleasant internal environment, studies have shown that increased daylighting equals increased sales, so the atrium is justified both architecturally and economically. While the interior can't live up to the exterior it doesn't need to, since it would probably overwhelm the consumer. Ultimately, its relationship to the city is stunning, guaranteeing that Selfridges will become a symbol of Birmingham.

[Google Earth link]

Women’s Library

Women's Library in London, England by Wright & Wright Architects, 2002.

Although not an award winner by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) proper, Wright & Wright Architects' Women's Library in London, England was chosen by the RIBA Journal as the "Building of the Year". While the last Stirling Prize was given to a pedestrian bridge, a structure expressing technology and engineering, this library on Old Castle Street is a quiet masonry container with internal subtleties rather than extroverted flair. The contrast between the two projects is indicative of much contemporary British architecture: light or heavy. This simplification is not to detract from either work, but to place the Women's Library in a tradition of building in British architecture that is solid and rewarding.

The library sits on the site of an old wash house from the Victorian era and houses the largest collection of books in its home country devoted to women's history. Its program consists of the usual book storage and reading rooms, along with a seminar room, exhibition space, offices, cafe and a garden (click here for plans). Both a renovation and new construction, the building steps in plan and section to build up in scale from the retained wash house facade to the mass of the new building. A copper-clad volume (at left) acts as a link between old and new, its materiality reacting to the dark brick of the old and the orange brick of the new. Inside the building continues its use of brick from the exterior, also using stone, wood, steel and glass to create a calm environment suitable to the building's purpose.

According to the architect, "we have a reputation for producing extremely high quality, sustainable buildings using traditional materials, often in innovative ways. Our buildings do not follow the quirks of fashion but instead consist of ordered, legible spaces that are beautifully and carefully detailed." A promotional statement indeed, but one that is accurately reflected in the Women's Library. For example the strict air quality measures required for the book archives are achieved through passive means, not mechanical, so the building actually has less that a quarter of energy costs versus a conventional system. Also the simple plan with the main stair (at left) illustrates the ordering of the spaces through the library, lovingly crafted with oak and stone finishes on the interior.

In addition to the care of the architecture, the Women's Library is notable for the mere fact of its existence, a place for "celebrating and recording women's lives". The library's archive houses materials ranging from suffrage to the abolition of prostitution, with the exhibition at the time of this article looking at the transition for girls into womanhood. All in all, the library is an extremely positive place that stresses pride and the enjoyment of life, much like the architects whose place an importance "that we and our clients have fun."

[Google Earth link]

Ogilvy & Mather

Ogilvy & Mather in London, England by Buschow Henley, 2001.

The following text and images are by London, England's Buschow Henley for their design of Ogilvy & Mather's offices in London's Canary Wharf.

Ogilvy & Mather moved from central London to Canary Wharf in 1991 at the start of the economic downturn in the UK. Each department was allowed to stake their individual claim for space creating an ad-hoc layout on the largest single office floors in Europe. The result was highly segregated departments connected by a series of disorienting circulation routes which left staff inclined to stay put rather than venture into 'alien' territory.

Initially, we undertook a three month research study for Ogilvy which, resulted in a universal desire to challenge the status quo of departmental division, and change instead to client focused teams. A study into deep plan space was carried out to resolve the unique problems of dealing with 'football pitch-sized' floorplates.

From the outset we agreed a number of rules that the scheme (and the client) would follow. These include no offices on the perimeter walls (to maximize daylight deep into the building) and radial circulation (simple, and similar on both floors to ensure movement around the building is straightforward). The plan is therefore developed as a simple diagrammatic progression from core to perimeter consisting of enclosed spaces (offices/meeting rooms), circulation, storage/services (reprographics/vending/etc.) and finally open plan work spaces at the perimeter adjacent to the windows. Into this framework are dropped a number of memorable spaces which, break up any potential monotony without reducing flexibility of the work areas. These new centers of meaning include brand areas, creative spaces and a double height resource gallery which bisects the building connecting diverse groups within the working community. The resource gallery provides working booths, private areas, TV viewing 'rooms' and lounges.

The main area of change is in the newly created double-height reception gallery, which incorporates the boardroom and bar over a bridge spanning between the two. Directly in front is the cafe. A mezzanine has been created to ease the route between 10th and 9th floor leading down to the (30 foot-long) bar. The completion of the processional route is the 32 person-boardroom which, is formed by a suspended plaster shroud wrapped in glass. This two-story room, chapel-like in scale, frames a view of the entry-bridge above.

Much of the construction is metal stud frame, clad in plasterboard, decorated matte white, with glazing housed in an aluminum system. A series of Reglit amoeboid constructions inhabit, without blocking out the light, the open-plan space around the perimeter The reception and resource galleries are designed in contrast. The first is light, the second dark, the first colored by (red) pigment, the second by a multiplicity of colored light reflected in the hard metal and graphic surfaces.

Considerable work was carried out to the mechanical installation to service the new layouts. In addition, the existing system was supplemented with a bespoke 'smoking' mechanical system in the communal areas; this was separate from the main supply and extract system. The design for this was based on a low-level low velocity supply, which reduces the amount of contamination spilling to other parts of the open plan area. This involved considerable co-ordination of the services especially where structural voids were created in the slab. Almost 5,000 sq. ft. of space on the 10th floor was removed.

To make the project financially viable it was paramount that Ogilvy were in residence for the duration of the works. The project was constructed in five phases; each lasting between 8 and 12 weeks with Ogilvy employees being relocated between each phase to keep disruption to a minimum.

[Google Earth link]

9 Stock Orchard Street

9 Stock Orchard Street

9 Stock Orchard Street in London, England by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, 2001.

The following text and images are by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects for the husband and wife team's house and studio in London.

Faced with a blank sheet of paper and a couple of buildings to design, where do you start? Any novelist will tell you: write about what you know. What we know is that living and working from the same building means our two lives (work and home) are never easily distinguished, but rather are irrevocably intertwined. An architect's response to this might be: separate the two physically; clarify zones; keep activities distinct; apply order. The person who lives and works there knows this is impossible.

The building sits at the end of a row of Victorian terraced houses. One block, the office, bounds a railway line. A middle block, containing the living areas and conference rooms, is covered with a tilted roof, planted as a meadow. A tower of books rises through this, with a small reading room at the top. The roof is also pierced by rooflights and the top of the larder. Furthest away from the railway, a block contains the bedrooms.

Most offices display their corporate pretensions through shiny, hard surfaces; work is set apart from home, and therefore the architecture must reflect this. In our project, such separation is not possible or desirable. We have therefore wrapped the office in a domestic technology, strips of padded fabric, quilted like a duvet, upholstering the office like a chair, reuniting the domestic artefact with the place of work. It acts as a rainscreen over a timber frame. The material chosen has lasted years of storms on North Sea Oilrigs, so benign London is hardly a challenge. If, or when, it begins to decay, we can unwrap it and start again, maybe in a different colour.

The Dining Room in Stock Orchard Street occupies a space which positions the table ambiguously between the house and the office, recognising the claims of both to the use of its surface. At times the table is used as a conference room for the office, the place of official business. At other times it can be united with the house and plays the role of the formal dining room.

[Google Earth link]

Explore @ Bristol

Explore @ Bristol

Explore @ Bristol in Bristol, England by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, 2000.

Winner of the 2001 Stirling Prize for their design of the Magna Science Centre in Rotherham, England, London's Wilkinson Eyre Architects experimented earlier with rehabilitation and a similar program in Explore @ Bristol, which opened in July 2000. The architects converted (and added to) a listed 1903 Hennebique concrete GWR Goods Shed into a hands-on science center, the first of many such centers in England.

Wilkinson.Eyre created an arcade on two sides with new cladding; expanded space, both horizontally and vertically, in the existing building for exhibitions; added a gallery to the north facade; added exhibition space and terraces to the roof; and created a planetarium housed in a 15m diameter, stainless steel-clad sphere. Total additions and conversions amount to approximately 8000 square meters.

The building's most significant aspect is the glass curtain wall, enclosing the new gallery at the north facade, pictured here in the first three pages. In this full-height wall the architects created an "active wall" that responds the environment, including passers-by, with intelligent glazing and lighting effects. Here the architecture attempts to parallel the program, becoming one of the hands-on center's learning experiences.

The planetarium, at left, seemingly floating in water, becomes the focus of the science center in the public realm, occupying a portion of Millennium Plaza. Although extraneous in regard to the rectilinear addition and existing building, the planetarium helps to make a statement: that science must reach out to the public for understanding, not be concealed in laboratories and the like.

[Google Earth link]