The Royal Institute of British Architects National Award winners for Architecture were announced on 27th June. The 54 winners include 20 that have creatively adapted existing
buildings. This does prove an interesting direction towards more sustainable architectural commissions and recognition for the complexities of reinventing the building stock of previous eras. The Stirling Prize shortlist for this year’s best UK building will be announced later this month and will be drawn from the 54 regional winners. Those selected will have to wait until October for the winner to be announced.
Squinch has his eye on two projects in London.
At Westminster Abbey, a gothic rocket has been squeezed almost invisibly behind a flying buttress, between the 13th century Chapter House and the 16th century Lady Chapel. Impeccably researched and detailed by Ptolemy Dean, 19th Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey, the new structure and reimagining of the triforium attic space is a gem. Dean has drawn from meticulous observation of historic details to invent an original, finely wrought, metal, glass and stone, seven storey tower enclosing an oak stair and hidden lift that gives access to new gallery spaces within the triforium. The lift shaft is wrapped in 16 different types of stone drawn from the history of the Abbey and laid in alternating bands. The galleries are entered via a bridge and new opening, to oak beamed attic volumes. The displays are well mounted, whilst shafts of atmospheric sun light carefully avoid the damaging impact of natural daylight. The galleries also give a new perspective into the main volume of the Abbey from the triforium vantage point. This confident, imaginative and scholarly intervention to one of our greatest landmarks will doubtless and justifiably become a valuable new tourist attraction for London. It was built with privately raised funding.
At Kings Cross, another era of everyday industrial architecture has been transformed from an almost derelict and neglected rail yard into a new retail destination. The result is more than a further addition to the formidable regeneration around Kings Cross that Argent have been master planning and developing over decades of perseverance. The original function of Coal Drops Yard was the marshalling and delivery of coal to 19th century London from Britain’s coal mines in the North.
Two divergent terraces of industrial brick arches and cast iron colonnades formed a difficult, over lengthy and disjointed space when viewed in its dilapidated state a decade ago. That’s where the inventive genius of Thomas Heatherwick comes on to the scene. Somehow, he saw nave, dome and high altar as a way of adapting and articulating the space between the terraces. By a simple twist of the roof shape and some ambitious engineering by Arup, a central focus (dome) is created. The sinuous slate roofs just touch, a structural kiss, whilst breaking the original uncomfortable length of arcaded brickwork. At the same time, an exciting new volume is established overhead. It appears to be one of the most dramatic and elegant new spaces in London.
The original dark grey brown brickwork has not been over-restored, thereby retaining the gritty rail yard character of the place. Heatherwick Studio have taken these prosaic industrial structures and with insight, seen the diagram of great cathedral form in order redefine the space between the terraces, then added imagination to create a new quarter for London. It was a more difficult spatial problem to solve than most would think. Thomas Heatherwick has made it look easy; that’s why the word “genius” is appropriate.
This is a guest article by Squinch.