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Interacting with Heritage Buildings

We are experts in the design and delivery of a wide range of projects with a particular specialism for working with existing buildings and heritage assets.

Throughout the lifetime of the practice, we have often been asked to design new spaces for old and precious buildings. We are passionate about the architecture of all eras, from the concrete modernism of Denis Lasdun, who’s 1972 library for the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies we have refurbished - to high-urban Georgian townhouses, neo-classical public buildings, and country estates.

This experience has given us a real knowledge of the sensitive and creative realisation of contemporary space in historic buildings of quality. The refurbishment projects that we have engaged with are all within special buildings – often listed, and all cherished by their owners and communities that use and enjoy them. As an architect this is quite a responsibility, which necessitates extra care, dedication to the building and research.

Our fundamental approach is to remove any unnecessary accruements to the original fabric, then repair and re-layer with new additions in a way that does not harm the building. Heritage buildings must be retrofitted in such a way that ensures that interventions can be easily removed at a future date. In our view, this is the essence of successful heritage refurbishment.

For the comprehensive refurbishment of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in Lasdun’s Grade II listed Charles Clore House, the accumulated fixtures and fittings were removed to showcase the original exposed concrete finishes while the reorganisation of the library, administration and academic research spaces are upgraded, but still speak the language of the original materials. And for the new Object Based Learning Room within UCL’s Grade 1 listed Wilkins Building, the project required an advanced technical specification, with high quality lighting, audio visual, data connectivity and air conditioning. Our innovative solution was to introduce a completely new ceiling raft constructed from lightweight steel trusses and timber. This structure is supported by two new storage pods at each end of the room which does not require suspension or support from the ceiling or walls. This principle protects the historic fabric of the room and provides a concealed network for the technical specification. It is essentially a removeable object within the room, that has minimal impact on the listed building – a fully reversible intervention.

Applying sustainable design solutions to historic buildings is a very specific technical process, and one that requires a great deal of investigation and research of the existing fabric. A significant proportion of our work involves the re-use of existing buildings, often this is not for the initial purpose for which they were designed. The benefits of this in terms of minimising the use of resource inputs and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emissions is clear.

For example, at Elsley House for Great Portland Estates, we designed the refurbishment of an Art-deco building in London’s West End. The building’s fabric and services have been upgraded to improve thermal efficiency and to provide comfort to occupants. Part of this process required the recycling and repair of existing heritage assets, including all the original metal windows which were painstakingly removed and upgrades, improving the thermal performance. Existing rooflights have also been refurbished, bringing maximum natural light into newly arranged lightwells allow light to admit into basement floors and minimising daytime electrical lighting.

The dark grey brickwork of the extension is a deliberate contrast to the red of the existing building and aides the reading of the block as an abstract composition distinct from its neighbour. Across the project, the new elements where in a limited dark grey and white palette as a deliberate contrast to the multi-coloured original building. Within this palette, the colour of the bricks was chosen to match the metalwork of the new windows and roof extension while also picking up on the colour of engineered brickwork base. The extra-long bricks add a horizontal emphasis to brick and bond and pattern to distinguish it from the original building. The dark mortar colour was chosen to match the brickwork with recessed joints to increase the horizontal emphasis. Laser cut screens to the base add decorative interest to the curtain walling, car lift doors and entrance area. Again, these were coloured to match the adjacent metalwork and brickwork.

In addition to the appealing aesthetic characteristics of the masonry, the team’s decision to utilise brick as an external skin to the rainscreen façade build-up also simplified the construction and future maintenance of the project, satisfying all the various client bodies aspirations in terms of longevity, budget and time constraints.  The use of double soldier courses and coloured panels to the “wall” blocks along the park edge emphasizes their horizontality.  Their omission on the canal edge volumes emphasizes their verticality and enhances the “finger” like quality of each wing.