Status: Project (2011) On going (2011 - 2018)
Types: Education, Library
The scheme, commissioned by Land Securities, incorporates a mix of retail and office space, affordable housing and a new library on Victoria Street in central London, and has been developed as part of a masterplan for the Victoria Transport Interchange, now called Victoria Circle.
The city block which contains the Victoria Palace Theatre and the Duke of York public house will now also house a public library, affordable housing and a small office building. This site and our previous proposals for it are entering into oral history, and the site is already becoming known as ‘Old Victoria’. In our designs over the past four years we have sought to consolidate the setting of the listed buildings as a recognizable part of the city; as a city block unified by scale, materials and colour and by a coherent if varied way of making openings and creating recognisably similar architectural details.
Crucial to this has been the figurative aspects of the design; the repetition of a simple colonnade type at ground floor and the emphasis upon windows and niches in the facades generally. These niches will sometimes house people on balconies or in deep window reveals. They will also add another layer of imagined inhabitation, acting as settings for a series of sculptures. The site can be said to house almost all of the activities associated with a good bit of city; places to work, live, enjoy culture and to learn, as well as places to eat and drink. It is a microcosm of a city.
The site is home to a listed building, the Victoria Palace Theatre, and is opposite the Westminster Cathedral Conservation Area. It sits above Transport for London’s proposed Victoria Station Upgrade (VSU) and the Kings Scholars’ Pond Sewer. The resultant restrictions on loading have necessitated the use of a lightweight engineered timber structure throughout our scheme.
Initially we were attracted to the fact that the white faience South facade of the theatre hosts a number of sculptural stone figures, as does the stone facade of the train station opposite. Our design responds to these cues creating a ‘stone room’ out of this end of Victoria Street. Just as Parliament Square defines the Eastern end of Victoria Street with a variety of public uses unified by the singular materiality of stone, our proposal aims to intensify your experience of a recognisable place made up of different building types and uses designed to complement their urban setting.
The library, which sits on Victoria Street, is conceived of as a modern palazzo. Its primary, glazed façade is shaded by a travertine screen, which incorporates solar chimneys that will allow the reading rooms to be naturally ventilated as well as protecting users from the hot South sun. This façade steps back in plan giving a view of the fine signage on the Eastern facade of the Victoria Palace Theatre, which is currently occluded by the existing building. Our new ‘Palace of Books’ can also be used for evening events due to the provision of a cafe and public meeting room. It is a state-of-the-art ‘green’ building that responds to nature (solar orientation, geo-technics) and technology (subterranean water and rail lines), and to its cultural and architectural context also.
The scheme also includes 35 units of affordable housing with a mix of tenures, located to the East of the site on Bressenden Place. Dwelling in the modern city involves a careful balance between privacy on the one hand and the opportunity to engage in the life of the city on the other. Affordable housing poses particular design problems, not least the difficult task of creating opportunities for individual inhabitation within a rigorous approach to domestic urbanism. Large parts of London and especially Westminster are planned by blocks of housing, and, in these locations, the mixture of dwelling types is successfully assimilated into a clear urban grain. Georgian housing appears at first glance regular and uniform, but subtle differences in size signal that the architecture is a backdrop for life. The discrete character of urban housing enables idiosyncrasies to be placed into an architectural frame; from animated pot plants to snazzy curtains. Intermediate housing sits above the library. The social needs rented accommodation is separated from the library by vertical vents that serve the tube station below ground.
The external brise soleil protects the flats from solar gain and provides privacy for inhabitants’ bedrooms and will also act as supports for planting. Behind this deep threshold a Jura limestone wall is cast with shadows. Private parts of the flats are withdrawn from the street whilst the living rooms project as bay windows. Each flat has a balcony and is accessed by a bridge, which themselves are part of the private domain. Internally, the engineered timber construction will be partly exposed. A series of layers builds up the façade so that it will appear as a relative of the library, establishing continuity between these interconnected parts of the project.
The office building, located to the North of the site, also incorporates the listed façade and shop interior of TM Sutton, a local pawnbrokers. It is designed to have retail at ground floor and office on all floors above. Owing to its location, the office is not exposed to solar gain or to high noise levels, therefore a facade treatment that differs from those of the library and housing is appropriate. The timber columns and end of floor plate are to be clad in Jura limestone which will give the facade solidity and depth. The timber beams are visible within.
On the North facade, parallel opening windows are proposed, while on the East and West facades, and on the whole of the top floor, juliet balconies will enable inhabitants to take advantage of views and abundant fresh air to their offices. These balconies will greatly enrich the appearance of the building from street level by allowing human inhabitation of the facade. The windows pop forwards to open and thus the façade becomes animated, and each floor plate can be naturally ventilated.
In massing terms, the design acknowledges the shift in scale upwards from the Georgian block, housing the Duke of York public house and the Victorian theatre, to the taller 1960s commercial buildings and those permitted in the masterplan that form the immediate hinterland of Victoria Street. We aim to create a fine setting for the listed buildings, unifying them as part of a cohesive city block with a common architectural language. Construction commenced Autumn 2011, and completion is due in 2018.