6a architects has refurbished and extended a community gym as well as providing a new community building, collaborating with artist Caragh Thuring
RIBA West London Regional Award 2023
Great Things Lie Ahead, Holborn
6a architects for Holborn Community Association
Contract value: £1.9 million
Cost per m2: £4,651
Great Things Lie Ahead is the refurbishment and extension of a community gym in Holborn, London, to provide a new community building for the Holborn Community Association.
6a architects has stripped back the old basement to its concrete structure and opened it to the sky, with a new roof with lantern rooflights over a multipurpose hall. A two-storey street-facing extension provides the entrance and function spaces. The result is a more accessible and more visible building that has allowed the community association to expand the range of cultural, social, and sporting activities they can offer.
The architect’s approach respects the client’s limited budget and builds on the foundations of the previous building in a pragmatic yet harmonious way. Materials are left exposed wherever possible, expressing their function and bringing scale to each of the spaces. White painted steel trusses (fabricated in sections to allow them to be brought to site down the restricted narrow alleyway the building sits on) dogmatically span the width of the site to form the tall roof to the hall and the smaller-scale spaces at the front of the building. Exposed timber joists express the construction of the roof. Painted blockwork walls define internal spaces. The subtle restraint of some of the architect’s detailing is particularly successful, with small design moves adding up to more than the sum of their individual parts.
6a architects worked with artist Caragh Thuring to deliver the project, and her influence has permeated almost every part of the building in an integrated way. The most visible element is the etched glass facade at the front of the building. This is inscribed with a montage of names, places, and dates between the mortar lines of invisible bricks, which evokes the history of a more solid wall that once stood in its place. The narrative of the screen tells the history of the community association (taken from found scrapbooks on the site) and engages local people with personal narrative and testimonies. The effect of this screen, which is mounted into a proprietary curtain walling system, is to allow the new glass facade to be transparent and welcoming while also being slightly veiled and protected. The artist’s other contributions have brought colour and delight. The colour schemes for a two-tone balustrade wrapping the stairs and for the tiling pattern in the changing rooms both elevate something ordinary to something special.
Accessibility and sustainability are dealt with seamlessly. A lift has been inserted to provide equal access for all visitors, insulation has been added to the basement, and an air-source heat pump provides heating and cooling when required in the main hall.
The impact of this building has extended out into its community – through its active programming and events, but also literally in the repaving and planting of the alley. Climbing plants positioned at various points alleviate any apprehension about entering this space, and letters and numbers carved into the paving stones engage visitors with the building well before they arrive.
The jury particularly admired the architect’s role in the project, which began nine years before the building was finally completed. As a regular user of the building prior to its redevelopment, the lead architect was central to project’s ambition through the development of the brief, the involvement of the design team, and the funding process. The result is a calm building which acts as a vessel to engage a community of different users – all of whom will be able to find delight in using it.
Client Holborn Community Association
Contractor Quinn London
Structural engineer Price & Myers
Environmental / M&E engineer Ritchie+Daffin
Quantity surveyor/cost consultant Jackson Coles
Building control Sweco Building
Project management Bidwells
Landscape architect Dan Pearson Studio
Graphic design John Morgan Studio
Party wall surveyor Avison Young
See the rest of the RIBA West London winners here. And all the RIBA Regional Awards here.
To find out more about the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com
RIBA Regional Awards 2023 sponsored by Gaggenau, EH Smith and Autodesk