Perforated aluminium panels minimise building weight while throwing interesting plays of light and shadow across both street and interior
It’s a crisp and sunny winter’s day when I visit 22 Handyside Street at London’s King’s Cross, Coffey Architects’ latest, and at 3300m2 its largest, project in the UK. This turns out to be the ideal weather to appreciate one of the building’s key features, the perforated aluminium panels that combine with glazed curtain walling across the facade.
The bespoke panels shine alluringly in the sunlight, the variegated pattern giving a distinctive personality to this speculative office building. Tighter at ground floor level, the triangulated pattern becomes more open higher up, throwing shadows back into the public realm and creating a dappled, filtered light within.
And while it’s the panels that catch the eye, this is a building with much more to say for itself. Briefed to create maximum office space on the highly restricted site, Coffey had to contend with considerable constraints of mainline and underground lines running not far beneath, which necessitated a super-lightweight building and the use of a pre-determined structural grid. The south-facing building had to present two main civic elevations – one on Handyside Street itself where it has its entrance, and the other on the busy route of York Way – where it forms the boundary of the King’s Cross Central development. On the other side, it is neighbours with Morris + Company’s pink-hued R7 office building. There was also a significant – 2.8m – level change across the site from east to west to contend with.
According to Phil Coffey, the three storey building needed to be both expressive to the surrounding city and good to work in. Its form is driven by three key factors: position of the sun, site perimeter and structural grid. The driving design response was to shift the orientation diagonally to generate an appropriate marker on the corner with York Way, and at the same time, improve outward views, directional flow, and heat gain conditions. Crucially, the building is oriented to also face those walking down York Way, where small areas of seating and planting have been created alongside the building.
The rest of the design flowed from this move, most noticeably the roof geometry, which is as much the star of the show as the filigree facade. Taking inspiration from the form of nearby light industrial buildings, the architect designed a pitched roofline that creates a 7m high workspace on the top floor. This is ‘cut’ at either apex or valley level at the elevation perimeters, forming a distinctive gateway corner on York Way where the two apexes are joined horizontally.
Coffey stresses how the building was conceived as ‘an object that was cut, not a building with a roof on it’, and this explains why he worked so hard for the coping to be in the same anodised aluminium as the panels, rather than switching to the PPC that was at one point proposed. This would, he successfully argued, have read as a different element and would have adversely affected the composition.
Inside the building, the architect has created a little bit of drama through the use of a main staircase that is clad in light-absorbing blac, wood-fibre panels. This creates a dark, compressed space before the stairs open up into the contrasting brightness of the office floor plates. Here, the use of raised floors to conceal the services allows for a white expanse of ceiling, especially effective in the gallery-like top floor.
But it’s the effect of the filigree panels that is most memorable both outside, where it throws reflections back into the street, and inside. Combined with solid, transparent or translucent skins, these create various lighting effects that change throughout the day, including a ‘wallpaper’ effect achieved with the translucent panels. Coffey enjoyed working with Fleetwood Architectural Aluminium on these CNC-cut panels. Most have unique designs, the triangular patterns taking inspiration from leaves. Created in anodised aluminium without coatings and with wind braces on the back, they are robust and fully recyclable. Embossed panels with a similar design are used around the entrance and on the west and north elevations.
‘There’s something about this pattern that doesn't feel like it’s been designed,’ says Coffey, approvingly. ‘The less you can see the architect in a building, the better.’
He feels strongly about the importance of creating a healthy workplace and in particular the need to pay attention to the quality of light to enhance wellbeing, adding that this is all the more important in the wake of Covid-19. Particular attention was paid to modelling the passage of light across the space during the working day. The building is targeting BREEAM Outstanding.
‘Architecture should be about circadian rhythms and the way people respond to time and light,’ he says.
He is also pleased with the bright yet calm atmosphere created inside the space, which has been designed to cater for either single or multiple tenants.
‘It also almost feels like a refurb – informal and “found” – because of the way the columns and the grid strikes across it. It’s got a bit of wit about it that I think is quite fun,’ he says.
While it awaits its first tenants, the building is in good company on Handyside Street, forming a pleasingly diverse trio with both the Morris + Company building and Fumihiko Maki’s Aga Khan Centre.
‘The Maki is very calm on the eye and so well considered,’ says Coffey. ‘Ours is bright, Joe’s is a colour. They’re all different and they make a great street. And not a brick in sight!’
Read more about King’s Cross in Hugh Pearman’s visit with Joe Morris of Morris and Co
Client King’s Cross Limited Partnership
Architect Coffey Architects
Delivery architect Stride Treglown
Development manager Argent
Structural engineer Arup
MEP engineer E3
Facade consultant FMDC
Cost consultant and employers agent Faithful and Gould
BREEAM assessor Sweco
Landscape architect Townshend Landscape Architects
Fire consultant Fire Surgery
Acoustic consultant Ion Acoustics