Witherford Watson Mann has created a home in King's Cross for children's creative drawing charity House of Illustration
Founded in 2002 by the likes of children’s illustrators Quentin Blake and Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) as well as former RCA Rector Sir Christopher Frayling, London’s House of Illustration was set up with an outreach programme to inspire and engage young children, to get their pencils out and draw. In this way, the charity’s big aim is to support creative literacy and communication skills in London's primary schools.
So it’s good to know that, despite the outreach, the House of Illustration now has a home – for 15 years at least – at Granary Square, King’s Cross, aptly within spitting distance of Central Saint Martin’s School of Art. In its first completed commission since winning the Stirling Prize for Astley Castle last year, Witherford Watson Mann was commissioned last November to create a 120 m2, three-room gallery space for the charity – all for the less-than-fairytale sum of £200,000.
In carrying out this fit-out of the existing Victorian warehouse, the architect was keen to maintain a sense of the original building’s details while ensuring that it had optimum viewing qualities for the three small gallery spaces. This was done by turning the galleries into ‘white boxes’ and concentrating on the threshold spaces between them for more nuanced detailing. Painted in a more sombre palette of grey, here, the leaves of the original doors register flush with the new plasterboard walls, with original cornices and skirtings delicately revealed – a counterpoint to the minimalism of the galleries.
The result is a space that, although compact and bijou, is perfectly conditioned to display the small works of illustration that breath life into children’s literature
But even in this modern exhibition space there are still concessions to the original building. Witherford Watson Mann ’s cornice line projecting into the space not only acts as the lighting run, but serves to highlight the original Victorian soffit beyond. As each gallery becomes smaller, so this cornice line drops commensurately, creating greater intimacy and a greater sense of distance between the ‘box’ and the space that encloses it.
With the need to strictly control the galleries’ light levels, Witherford Watson Mann created huge shutters for the windows which mitigate the worst effects of direct sunlight. Centrally pivoting, like the upright spine of a book, they allow an umbra of controlled daylight to wash across the wall’s internal face without unduly interfering with lighting levels. LED display lighting – a curator’s request – was provided by Scotland firm Mike Stoane Lighting’s ‘Artists’ range, which apparently sheds a warmer light onto artworks.
The result is a space that, although compact and bijou, is perfectly conditioned to display the small works of illustration that breath life into children’s literature; and which in small, subtle architectural gestures, creates a modern volume that is at once of itself and part of the greater history of the building.