A slim infill opens out to a complex office building tightly packed into a constrained space
Infill. It’s not generally a word to get the heart racing. But sometimes an infill project has a degree of complexity and challenge that makes it fascinating. Take 2 Tabernacle Street, in London’s booming Shoreditch. From the outside, on this narrow street one block back from the City Road, all you see is what looks like a restored Victorian light-industrial facade, of a kind familiar in this district. But if you venture inside, you find a sizeable new brass-clad office building squeezed into a very confined space. Designed by Piercy & Co, its form is an ingenious response to its tight confines.
You’d be highly unlikely to get away with such a bulky object in an internal courtyard today, but this was not the case between the wars, when this was not an office area and a cigarette factory was built here. Much altered over the years and converted to office use, it – along with its neighbouring block on Worship Street to the south – went up in a serious fire in 2010. When it came to the rebuild, the owner of the site wanted both to increase the available floorspace and to do something more adventurous architecturally.
So little elbow-room was there on this L-shaped site, that when the owners of the building to the east refused permission to erect temporary scaffolding within its curtilage, the whole line of one wall of Piercy’s replacement building had to move inwards 1100mm just to make it possible to build. But this brought its own rewards: the enforced set-back allowed Piercy to introduce a strip of glazing at this point to bring daylight down to the lower ground and basement levels. This led to what, architecturally speaking, is one of the two best spaces in the building – the other being the narrow-plan top floor with its origami-like ceiling which has something of a penthouse feel to it.
‘I don’t think that rights of light is always a good concept for a building, but in this case….’ says Stuart Piercy. Indeed, the form of the building was largely determined by rights of light (and party wall agreements), resulting in a slightly Libeskind-like angular appearance that is wholly pragmatic rather than symbolic. It gets very close indeed to the block to the south, rebuilt by Ben Adams – but even here the gentle backwards slope of the brass-clad facade brings down a modicum of daylight. Given the conflagration history here, windows are mostly 60:60 fire-rated double glazed units.
Equally pragmatic is the narrow facade that leads through to the new building behind. Given that the old facade here had been destroyed, the architect could have fought for a modernist replacement – even though the building lies within the Bunhill Fields and Finsbury Square Conservation Area. Instead, seeing that this had been one of the better Victorian moments in what was a distinctly degraded streetscape, it chose to rebuild it – with modifications, the principal one being to raise the opening by a little over a metre to allow a more generous feel to the reception behind, along with a mezzanine overlooking it. The reclaimed brickwork – which is also exposed internally – is supported off a concrete frame. Piercy played up to the Victorian aesthetic with exaggerated cornices inside and out. The ultra-modern chandelier in the reception descends from a very domestic-looking plaster ceiling rose.
Elsewhere, the need to keep overall height down while maximising floorspace led to bulkhead services zones rather than uniform ceiling heights.
This is a £3.6m design-and-build contract for a 1600 m2 building – the trick being, as Piercy relates, to have a design contract to Stage E (on the old system) which provides design detail and so greatly limits adverse change by the contractor. Piercy is used to this – his recent new-build for a different client, Derwent London, the Turnmills building in Clerkenwell, was also D&B. But in Derwent London’s case, he points out, they have an enlightened attitude – ‘It’s E going on F’.
Other tricks of the trade include making balustrades to set-back floors (such as between ground and lower ground levels, linked by a staircase) with deep steel uprights. These are visually solid from any angle of vision except face-on – so providing privacy for those working at the edge of the upper level.
Arguably this is the kind of project that would only stack up financially in such parts of London, where every scrap of land is intensely valuable, space instantly let. But as densification projects go, this works by being both intelligent and elegant – even witty. The result is a pleasing variety of unusual-to-eccentric office spaces, apt for the ‘creative industries’ that Shoreditch attracts.
Contract cost: £3,6m
GIFA cost per m2: £2493.44
KgCo2/m2 calculation: 15.61
BREEAM rating: Very Good
Form of contract - JCT 2005 Design & Build
Client: Durley Investment Company
Project manager, cost consultant and CDM co-ordinator: Jackson Coles
Structural engineer: Price & Myers
Services engineer: GDM
Fire engineer: Exova
Main contractor: Kind & Company
Planning consultant: DPP
Curtain Walling: Propak Architectural Glazing
Structurally Glazed Rooflights: Cantifix
Sash and Casement Windows: Complete Fenestration
Tecu Brass Cladding: KME
Imperial Yellow and white glazed brickwork: Wienerberger
Cast Stone Façade Mouldings: Haddonstone
Lighting: Encapsulite and Zumtobel
Period plasterwork and mouldings: Troika Mouldings
Oak panelling and doors: Soundcraft Doors and Windows
Floor and wall tiling: Domus