10 Weymouth Street, London
The architects expect the brightest hues to age and weather into a mellower dark yellow over the coming year, but at the moment the facade is stunning and bold — a hidden gem only five minutes from Oxford Street.
On a sunny morning visit with architect Simon Bowden from Make, we find ourselves admiring the project from a distance for a few minutes, blinking at the blinding yet beautiful facade.
Many "green" renovations of postwar apartment buildings in the United Kingdom involve wrapping the building in insulation, then over-cladding or covering it as inexpensively as possible, replacing exterior windows with inexpensive new ones. That budget-driven approach (often associated with public housing) leaves little room for creative, integrated design improvements to extend the building's life or architectural character.
Make Architects, founded in 2004 by Ken Shuttleworth, is gaining a reputation for creating energy-efficient renovations that are also design-focused, such as another central London project at 55 Baker Street, and a hotel project under construction in the Midlands.
Ridgeford Properties Ltd, the developer of 10 Weymouth Street, wanted to expand the 2,006-square-meter (21,600-square-foot) building, seeking to raise the value of the property by adding 12 units and a small amount of new ground-floor office space, and increasing the desirability of the existing units. The architects retained the majority of the existing built fabric, making use of the embodied energy while also reducing demolition and construction times.
The building's elevation on Bridford Mews had been flat and nondescript, with just a smattering of windows to provide daylight into the corridors. With the 1,540-square-meter (16,600-square-foot) addition, those corridors are now central in the building's plan, flanked by apartments, each of which has a balcony on either the street or the alley. A real luxury in this neighborhood, the balconies provide views over the rooftops of surrounding low-rise buildings.
The balconies are screened on the top and west sides in custom-designed perforated brass panels designed to let in light and air while providing some privacy. The geometric pattern of laser-cut openings adds interest to the facade and paints patterns of light on the interior floors of the apartments. "We designed six different types of panel that vary in size and in the pattern of perforation, to create a Mondrian-like design," says Roderick Tong of Make.
The exterior cladding is a typical rain-screen system, of the kind often used in the UK and Europe, but the architects believe this is the first time that brass panels of this nature have been used in the UK. In the future, it is possible that the cladding could be removed and replaced if necessary.
The interiors of the existing flats were fully refurbished, with new bathrooms and kitchens and cosmetic upgrading, although this was not a part of the Make renovation. Make did design the new rooftop units in the stepped, two-story, brass-clad addition, which is only barely visible from the Weymouth Street elevation. The four penthouses are three-bedroom units with large, light interiors and private balconies.
Underground, the project increased the number of parking spaces in the existing below-grade garage by extending it in line with the building and optimizing the parking layout. The original building provided no storage for bicycles, so in the reconfigured basement, 40 cycle storage spaces were created for tenants.
An adjacent two-story mews flat was demolished, and in its place was built a new single-story brick garage and service building with a planted roof, attached to the corridor that previously ran along the mews.
Make's sustainability strategy is multifaceted, combining social and environmental goals. The balance of meeting the tight brief and budget while encouraging a mix of tenants and improving indoor air quality and light was a challenge, and the architects sought to make long-lasting enhancements that would also improve the overall building performance.
The refurbishment achieved a Very Good rating at the design stage under BREEAM Ecohomes (which has since evolved into the UK government's Code for Sustainable Homes), and all of the new flats achieved the Lifetime Homes Standard for accessible and adaptable homes.
A ground-source heat pump was installed in the alley to provide energy-efficient heating and cooling. "The pump provides low grade heat for the apartments," explains Tong, "which means pre-heating the water boiler for hot water usage, and it is also used as the under floor heating."
Projections at the design stage suggested this system would produce at least ten percent of the energy consumed in the building, as required by Part L building regulations in the UK, relating to sustainable energy. However, the project's mechanical and electrical engineer, Maleon, expects that the system will produce much more than ten percent, and perhaps up to half of the total energy consumed in the building, according to Make, although this has not been assessed.
The building's improved accessibility, including new entrance doors and lifts, was required to comply with DDA (Disability Discrimination Act 2005). A complete lobby refurbishment was requested by the client to raise the quality of the building, and also to increase the number of people able to use it, therefore fostering a greater diversity of residents. The project also included expanded offices for the ground-floor tenant, the Architects Registration Board.
Ridgeford considers the renovation of 10 Weymouth Street a success: within a month of completion in summer 2009, all of the apartments had been sold or rented.
The project demonstrates that value can be added to modern, urban multifamily housing with a more sustainable approach than demolishing and rebuilding.
With a powerful flash of design alchemy, Make Architects turns an ordinary block into architectural magic.
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Terri Peters is an architect and writer based in Denmark, currently pursuing a Ph.D. about architectural approaches to the sustainable renovation of postwar housing. More by Terri Peters