Tag Archives: free form

Design + Build: Up to the Challenge

During Open House London, I visited the Shoreditch Prototype House at Crooked Billet Yard and the Hothouse on Richmond Road in Hackney. Both were mentioned in previous posts (Community and Communication Have Something in Common and In The Public Realm).  They are both interesting buildings in that they have been built on sites that are a bit awkward and are situated next to railway lines. I was particularly interested in how the architects made best use of an otherwise challenging space and how they dealt with creating barriers to the outside elements and noise.

Shoreditch Prototype HouseShoreditch Prototype House was designed and built by Cox Bulleid Architects as a low-cost, low-energy housing solution for urban areas. The building is located on a small site, sandwiched between a Hackney Community College building and existing small brick warehouse buildings that have since been converted into housing or commercial use. It is situated on a small cul-de-sac and faces a goods yard. The architects incorporated a large element of green through the use of “vertical planting” and created a garden with substantial trees and plants in the building’s forecourt, sheltered from the street by tall protective walls. The four storey building serves as the architects’ live/work space with a work studio on the ground floor; living room, dining area and kitchen on the first floor; two childrens’ bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor; and a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom on the top floor. All floors have access to outside space and exposure to green, be it the garden forecourt or the steel mesh decks on the first and second floors or the top floor terrace. Climbing foliage and creeping plants embrace the south-facing front of the building, winding their way around the decks acting as a screen, filter, sunshade, and oxygenator, as described by the architects. The result is an immensely private and comforting residential retreat in a very urban, industrial environment. The property shares a party wall with the neighbouring building to the east. At this end of the house, the services (kitchen, bathrooms, stairwell) are situated to provide insulation to the principal rooms (living room, bedrooms) from noise next door. The architects use windows and sources of natural light cleverly to keep the space bright, given its snug location amidst existing buildings. The stairwell wraps itself around a light well, bringing light from the roof window to floors below. The dining area at the back of the first floor is double height, the roof grandly exposed to the sky by glazing.

Hothouse, London Fields, HackneyHothouse is built on an unusual site between a railway line running north from Liverpool Street and the north end of London Fields. Free Form, an arts trust, occupies the building as well as the arches under the railway adjacent to the site. The building is boomerang shaped, as described by the architects Ash Sakula, and curves around a children’s play area in the park. The building is set away from the railway line itself to permit sufficient access to Network Rail for line maintenance.  Attention was paid to the shape and positioning of windows to provide a secure perimeter and effective barrier to noise from the railway as well as creating a bright workspace for the occupiers. The rail-side of the building features a wall that runs parallel, but zig-zags with double height windows facing the direction of the route of the rail line rather than looking directly onto the tracks. The result is a sound barrier that still allows light in. The ground floor is a large open space suitable for exhibitions or as a large workshop area. Curved, amoeba-like windows move fluidly along the park-side wall, providing natural light in a way that is secure and protects the ground floor from unauthorised access from the park. The first floor features open-plan office space with high ceilings and a mezzanine area on the railway-side for storage or overflow desk space.  A large continuous stream of windows line the park-side, which provide natural light to staff and can be opened for fresh air ventilation. A second line of amoebic windows graces the wall above and frequently casts bizarre shapes on the floor as the afternoon sun shines through the trees. Meeting rooms and self-contained studios are situated on the top floor, next to an unheated, glass and solar-panel covered corridor which leads to a large roof terrace. With unencumbered views of London Fields, the terrace is a grand space for entertaining in the summer.

Both buildings are highly successful. They are pleasant to be in and are purposeful in their use in locations that might otherwise deter occupation. They are excellent examples of modern design and fit well with their surroundings. I believe the structural and design solutions of creating barriers where they are needed (services and stairwell in the Shoreditch Prototype House and the zig-zag rail-side wall in the Hothouse, for example) are practical, aesthetically pleasing, and do not detract from the overall appeal of the buildings. Well thought out design and good research on materials and building methods mean that successful development on a challenging site can be done in a cost-effective way.

In The Public Realm

Last weekend was the annual Open House in London.  Over 700 buildings and spaces were made available to the general public, with free access to some that are normally limited to their owners or occupants and guided tours by architects, historians, or people closely involved with the spaces.  One such space I visited was the Hothouse in London Fields, Hackney.  Hothouse will be highlighted in another post because it is its tenant and one of its products that feature today.

Hothouse, London Fields, HackneyThe Hothouse is home to Free Form, a non-for-profit organisation whose tagline is “making artwork for the environment”.  Operating as a registered charity, Free Form provides services including the provision and commission of public art, regeneration projects, solutions for creating safer communities and public spaces,  manufacture and use of recycled glass through its Green Bottle Unit, training and learning programmes, and workspace within Hothouse for artists and designers.  One of such example of Free Form’s art in the public realm is a seating and performance space in Bishops Square, Spitalfields, E1 in East London.  Bishops Square is Hammerson’s office building development on the site straddled on the west by the City and on the east by Spitalfields, East London.  The forecourt in front of the office buildings is a leafy, open public right of way with raised green grassy patches, a rectangular pond-like water feature (complete with beautiful lilies and lily pads), reinforced glass floors revealing the archaeological history beneath the site, and sheltering the seating and performance space – a triangular sail-like pavilion.  Two half circle benches for seating under the pavilion are illuminated by an inner and outer circle of 48 recycled glass inlaid roundels, which are lit by fibre optics and linked to a colour wheel.  The lights change from blue to green, illuminating the space.

Yesterday, I witnessed something pretty special and unique taking place in this performance area.  It was a fabulously sunny Sunday, probably one of the last sunny days of the English summer.  Bishops Square, as well as Spitalfields Market, Brick Lane, and the Truman Brewery, was filled with people.  They were gathered around a band, as the musicians set-up and tuned their instruments.  My boyfriend, Colm and I sat down to have a break from our market browsing, but leapt to our feet as the band opened with a rather sexy deep bassline.  I stood on the stone kerb on which we had been sitting to get a better look.  Five musicians were positioned under the pavilion – two drummers, an electric bassist, a double bassist, and a saxophonist.

Mustard PieI had not seen a band configuration like this before and they had my attention.  They sounded great, interesting, sexy, and slick.  We walked up closer and around the performance area looking for a banner, sign, CDs for sale, anything that would give a clue as to who this band was, but there was nothing.  I posed the following question to Colm – “why is it that we are sure to be told the names, addresses, and birthdays of the crappest bands, yet there is nothing to tell us who this great band is?”  His response was “because they don’t need to make money”.  Not exactly right.  Instead I found out that the true answer was that anyone who knew anything about the local jazz scene, knew who these guys were.  I went up to a guy in a white T-shirt perched on one of the boxes behind the sound engineer and tapped him on the shoulder.  “Excuse me, who are these guys?” I asked him.  Over the loud and resonating bass and drums (double dose of each no less!) he told me that one of the drummers was from a band called Polar Bear, there were also members of Led Bib, and he told me the name of the saxophonist – Jan, but I couldn’t quite catch the surname.  He informed me that the five musicians were improvising.  At the end of the piece, the drummer (not the one from Polar Bear) got on his microphone and thanked everyone for listening.  He introduced the band and mentioned that it was the first time they had played together as a unit.  I certainly hoped it wouldn’t be the last time.  Back at the flat, Colm looked up Polar Bear and found Seb Rochford’s name and image on the internet.  I looked up Led Bib and found out it was led by its drummer, Mark Holub.  With help from the wonder and power of the internet, I was led to Jan Kopinski’s myspace blog.

Led Bib and friendsThe quintet was comprised of drum and bass team from Polar Bear – Seb Rochford and Tom Herbert, the drummer and bassist from Led Bib – Mark Holub and Liran Donin, and Jan Kopinski on saxophone.  Together, announced Jan’s blog, they were Mustard Pie.  Both Polar Bear and Led Bib were Mercury Music Award nominees, in 2005 and 2009, respectively and deservedly so it would appear.  I was fortunate enough to experience something very unique – it was creative, dynamic, and incredibly cohesive for five artists collaborating for the first time.  The music and sounds, the interwoven chords, riffs, and musical patterns were talent and musicianship in its rawest form.  I was in awe and I was inspired.

To say that it felt like a magical place to be is no exaggeration.  It was a public space used to its greatest capacity.  Art and music together in the public realm, for everyone and anyone to enjoy free of charge.