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Charlotte Road gallery and shop by Stephen Taylor Architects

Stephen Taylor Architects’ latest completion on Charlotte St in Shoreditch, east London, is a mixed-use building that he originally was going to live in with his family and for which he has acted as the developer. Above the ground floor and basement gallery/commercial unit is a family house, fitted into two floors and with a roof terrace looking across the rooftops of this former warehouse district.
Photography by David Grandorge

The black, engineering brick façade is one of the new vernaculars in the area. While developers have made their attempts to mimic the muscular scale and construction of the warehouses of the area (witness two banal red-brick residential developments on Hoxton Square amongst many others), architects have gone for trendier materials - the timber of Waugh Thistleton’s Eyre Brothers restaurant, the black clad rooftop penthouse on 16 Hoxton Square by Buschow Henley, Reglit-like glass for Mae Architects on Hoxton Street, and, most significantly, dark black engineering brick by Maccreanor Lavington on the Lux Cinema and adjoining bar - now called the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen.

This last building is probably the most important piece of contemporary architecture in the area, and the one that should have been most influential. It was completed in 1998, right at the beginning of the wave of gentrification that has taken hold in Shoreditch. But no-one really followed its lead, evidenced by the examples above, and, more recently, David Adjaye’s Rivington Place gallery with its cartoonish faux-industrial imagery. Until now. Stephen Taylor’s building bears an extremely close resemblance, to the extent of borrowing its brick bond - the bricks are arranged in a vertical bond on the lintels, to express their lack of a structural role, and horizontal where the bricks coat the columns.

Perhaps Taylor’s is a bit more bling - bronze balustrades and the excessive studded metal entrance door - and this and its symmetry add a sense of this being a warehouse-like palazzo for a rich person. And, sure enough, the maisonette will become the pied-a-terre for the MD of a particularly ‘urban’ fashion brand (Taylor and family decided to move to the suburbs instead). That brand will also take the ground floor unit as a shop - the fit out will be designed by 6A Architects.

Inside, the building is a charming enough family house, with a large cutout lightwell that levers illumination into the tight site. On the lower floor of the house (the first floor of the building) are the bedrooms, all accessed from a timber lined box at the heart of the plan, acting as a lobby. On the upper floor are the public rooms, with two separate stairs up to the countoured deck of the roof terrace.

In the context of Taylor’s work, Charlotte Road bears a certain relationship to the black brick and gold details of his nearby Chance Street housing. That is an amazingly small and very well-published set of three houses that prove his credentials as a maker of tough urban buildings that maximise tricky sites. It’s intelligent, well-mannered urban infill of the kind we’d like to see more of, but wouldn’t suit most families.

This building is nice, but the street it sits on is now rather sad. There are a few Shoreditch originals there, but the depressing state of the Bricklayers’ Arms and Barley Mow pubs (once the epitome of Shoreditch’s alternative, edge-of-city quality) and the demographic of the residents (ones I know of on this short street alone - the son of an extremely rich Swedish family, two architects, a fashion designer) is off-puttingly coherent.

The building is a symptom of that - a no-doubt profitable and well made image of the new Shoreditch. Perhaps that’s why Taylor decided not to live in it after all.

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