Creating a factory for big ideas
Built in 1912 as a sawmill and coppersmith’s workshop, and more recently used as a hinge factory, 44 Loman Street’s latest incarnation is as the home of multi-media design consultancy Big Idea. Big Idea bought the Southwark property at the end of 1996, and approached Allen-Gale Architects asking: ‘We’ve got this building. What can we do with it?’ The initial response was ‘Pull it down’ - the structure was in too bad a state to be preserved - although the original roof trusses and both flank walls have been retained. What remained was a long narrow site with two blind walls. ‘The main priority,’ says Howard Allen of Allen-Gale, ‘was to get as much light as possible into the building - especially the ground floor.’
Accordingly, both elevations are largely glazed, with glass-block walling reinforced in both directions at ground-floor level - Big Idea’s last office was ram-raided three times. Large steel doors complete the industrial look. The back door on Copperfield Street is used by couriers and opens on to an inside waiting/delivery area, while the front door onto Loman Street opens on to an unusually restrained foyer space - ‘they didn’t want the kind of lobby you cover with photos,’ says Allen, ‘they wanted it to be bare as bare’. The visitor is confronted with an austere white wall, with only an occasional projected image for adornment.
Ground-floor spaces are reached by a corridor with a wall of acid-etched glass blocks - an effective means of bringing natural light into the otherwise windowless meeting room. The corridor opens onto a gallery space equipped to hold multi-media exhibitions, which in turn opens on to the kitchen and a large area of ‘flexible space’ so that all three can be used together for functions. The remainder of the ground floor is taken up with wcs, an av room, and a voice booth lined with Melatech foam from the Noise Control Centre. Computer equipment is housed in a highly secure vault made by extending the existing basement space, which once served as the sawpit and was used as a bomb shelter during the war.
A concrete stair tucked behind the free-standing wall in the entrance area leads to the first-floor studio, an open-plan space flooded with natural light from full-length rooflights (with solar-reflective film) and windows at either end. A new roof truss, indistinguishable from the others, has been added where an existing wall was removed. The space is remarkably free of clutter: printer, fax machine and storage are contained in a purpose-designed bay by the back stair, and duct zones are concealed within continuous storage units which run along both long walls. Richard Meier desks are flush with the built-in shelves so that desks and shelves combined read as a single continuous piece of furniture. The result is a serene modern workplace, with the elegant 1912 roof trusses, now sand- blasted and repainted, as the only visible relic of the building’s past.