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Mad Men formula: 10-4 Pentonville Road by Stiff + Trevillion

Stiff + Trevillion has rebranded a tired office at 10-4 Pentonville Road in London, writes Christine Murray. Photography by Kilian O’Sullivan

It’s the Derwent London winning formula: buy a dreary piece of commercial real estate with reversionary mid-market rents in an improving area of London, typically in the West End or City borders; strip it back (to the frame, if necessary); hire a solid architect to deliver a design-led refurbishment; increase floor space significantly; and secure a long-term tenant at an improving rate.

Made famous by its successful delivery of AHMM’s Tea Building and Angel Building, Derwent has been a game-changer in office development not only because its approach is considered sustainable, but also lucrative. Typically, new-build is expensive and takes longer. Derwent London has proven that, working with a respected practice, it’s possible to get like-new rents for a refurb office, while increasing the value immediately with extra floor space, and over time as the neighbourhood improves. In December 2012, Derwent’s portfolio of properties was valued at £2.9 billion. And, because it retains the properties as landlord, Derwent has a steady annual net property income of £117 million, meaning it can fund its own projects.

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10-4 Pentonville Road is another example of the Derwent approach. Stiff + Trevillion was appointed to tackle the refurbishment of these two dated 1980s buildings located opposite one side of the Angel Building. The practice has worked with Derwent before, including on Innocent’s offices at Portobello Dock. Given the success of retail and lettings at the Angel Building (not to mention its nomination for the Stirling Prize), the time was right to build on the revitalisation of the office market in this corner of Islington, and overhaul these two unpopular, brown-tinted glass buildings.

To increase floor space, Stiff + Trevillion bridged over Angel Mews from second floor level and also added an extension to the back of No 10.
This increased the net internal area of office accommodation by 1,000m², a 25 per cent uplift. Each building entrance has been retained to allow each block to be let independently as separate floors, or as half-floors with shared receptions. New canopies supported by a Mies van der Rohe-inspired cruciform column successfully increase the entrances’ visibility from the street and herald the aggrandised double-height reception space. The aesthetics of the column are mirrored in the silver-anodised window mullions.

The Derwent formula relies on architecture that ages well. Because they are not in prime locations, it isn’t a matter of uncrating the shiniest new building on the street with a fanfare, but producing a handsome building that will increase in value over time.

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In the reception, Stiff + Trevillion reference Alvar Aalto with its desk design - inspired by his Savoy vase - and the material palette - tough finishes that include polished concrete floors and oak panelling. Only the front of the building was re-clad in white, grey and black charcoal-fired Petersen bricks - chosen by the architect with the developer on a trip to Denmark - while, for cost savings, the rear of the building retained its 1980s facade. While the salt-and-pepper patterning adds texture, the bricks’ contrived appearance detracts somewhat from the understated elegance of the building’s form and its rhythmic reference to nearby listed Georgian terraces. The higher-contrast patterning will hopefully mellow with age. Ground and first-floor windows have been successfully combined to create a ‘higher order’ - this helps with the building’s visibility from the street and is more successful than the treatment of the top windows, which have been extended up. Without a spandrel, the visible white floor build-up reads as a compromise and would have been better camouflaged than accentuated.

The buildings were marketed to ‘businesses on the rise’, but Ticketmaster has taken the bulk of the floor space, occupying the whole of 4 Pentonville Road and the upper five floors of 10 Pentonville Road, for a total of 47,700 sq ft (4,430m²). At the time of my visit, Ticketmaster’s builders were completing a fit-out with curved walls and breakout spaces. The tenant will pay £1.9 million per annum, based on £45/sq ft (£484/m²) on the top floor and £42.50/sq ft (£457/m²) on a typical mid-level floor, with a rent-free period of 30 months.

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Built to last, Stiff + Trevillion’s 10-4 Pentonville Road is elegant, with tough finishes that will improve with age. There’s also a touch of the Mad Men aesthetic of the Angel Building, making it a worthy neighbour. It won’t make the Stirling Prize shortlist, but the architects’ effortless work and good specification has assured another safe, long-term investment for Derwent.

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