London Squeeze

A London architecture firm's office takes the form of its awkwardly shaped site and diverse surroundings.
August 11, 2010

London-based architect Allies and Morrison designed its new office building to provide ample studio space for an expanded design workforce. The development stands on an awkwardly shaped site not far from the new Tate Modern gallery south of the Thames River.

The surrounding urban fabric is characterized by a mixture of different scales and types of development. This is reflected in the volumetric form of the new structure. The front of the building, facing on to Southwark Street, is boldly contrasted with the rear.

While the latter rises in three steps to the top and is distinguished by narrow slit windows, the 36-meter-long north face overlooking the main road is fully glazed. The exposed reinforced concrete skeleton-frame structure visible through the glazing is based on a 4.50-meter grid. It was chosen as a cost-effective form of construction and complied with the need for great thermal mass.

A curtain wall system was used for the street face. It was refined to achieve a more elegant profile — as far as the demanding acoustic and thermal constraints would allow. The façade consists of story-height double-glazed elements 1.50 meters wide and ensures a maximum exploitation of daylight. To the rear of the glazing are story-height perforated aluminum fins fixed in pairs behind every mullion. The fins can be pivoted to provide screening against solar glare and to allow individual control of internal conditions; or they can be fully extended to create a sense of privacy, preventing overlooking from the buildings opposite. Their bright yellow coloration also serves to enliven the façade when viewed from the street.

All materials used in this scheme were chosen for their simplicity and robustness: gray exposed concrete alongside steel, glass, aluminum, and white plasterboard, with dark granite or gray synthetic resin for the floors. The simple yet elegant glass safety barriers to the staircases and around the multi-story atrium — indeed the entire internal finishings — follow the same principle, resulting in a building with a unified design language.

This article originally appeared in our sister publication Detail, a German-based architectural review journal now available in an English version. For subscription information, visit:www.detail.de/english.