Michael Hopkins and Partners' home for the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, its fourth in 550 years, ingeniously creates an enclosed site and a building of spare elegance
The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers was granted its first royal charter by Henry VI in 1448. Hopkins' new building is the fourth since that date, the initial medieval building having perished in the Great Fire, and its replacement, by Wren's surveyor-assistant Edward Jerman, having succumbed to the Luftwaffe's incendiary bombs. But it was Mammon's intervention, rather than Vulcan's, that led to the demolition of A S Ash's undistinguished 1956 replacement for commercial redevelopment in 1996.
The triangular Smithfield site, as presented to Hopkins in 1996, was unprepossessing; an amorphous backland, devoid of any street frontage. In the event, Hopkins has skilfully reordered the site so that a central, cloistered quadrangle accommodates the Haberdashers' new building around it. Beyond this central enclave, a second layer of apartments and offices (the former a conversion of Weddel House, an undistinguished Edwardian office building, and the latter a well-mannered new speculative development by Hopkins), detach, both physically and symbolically, the discrete business of the Haberdashers from the surrounding bustle of Smithfield.
Consequently, the only hint to the outsider of this internal 'oasis' is a tantalising glimpse of the courtyard through a narrow slot in the Bridge Street elevation, forming the entrance and incorporating a porter's lodge, rather in the manner of an Oxbridge college. Indeed, the building's organisation around a cloistered quadrangle, with the livery hall occupying its entire west side, is essentially collegiate.
But as with much of Hopkins' recent work, such references tend to be oblique, rather than literal. Unlike the collegiate model, the livery hall, master's flat, library and long gallery share identical elevations, so that only the taller ridge of the hall's roof and its ventilation flues give any clue of spatial hierarchy.Moreover, at ground floor level, the cloister is discontinuous, on the north side utilising glazed infill between the piers to form an orangery.
The other major organisational device employed is the architectural promenade, which effectively determines the disposition of key elements, so that 'quadrangle' and 'route' constantly interact to describe the building. A 5m-deep loggia leads to a 5m 2lobby and then to a dramatic top-lit spiral staircase to the gallery at first floor. This incorporates two further 'induced' square lobbies, which define the corners of the quadrangle, but also act as a transition between the gallery and the route's climactic event, the livery hall. On the first floor, the route occupies effectively two adjacent sides of the quadrangle, the other two accommodating a drawing room, a library and flats for the company's officials. In this way, the 'route' also establishes a spatial hierarchy from 'public' to intensely private.
The square courtyard, loggia, gallery, transitional square lobbies, pochés, and even the general proportions of the building suggest a 'Classicising' tendency, but again the references are implied, rather than overt. Indeed, the architectural expression owes more to Hopkins' concerns for tectonic display, and follows on in a logical development from Glyndebourne, Emmanuel, and Charterhouse.Moreover, the decision to employ eight bays to each quadrangle elevation produces a central column and a potential duality, anathema to any self-respecting Classicist!
Flemish bond loadbearing brick piers form the cloister and are connected by flattened arches of brick voussoirs (in reality brick slip facings to pre-cast concrete lintels).
These piers are reduced at first floor to form tall, slender columns which increase the scale of the upper storey. Between them are inserted metal sash windows with stretcher bond brick spandrels. The flattened arch theme is repeated at the window head, and the bay is resolved at roof level by generous overhanging eaves from the 45º pitched roof, with a diamond grid of lead panels. The outcome is elevations utterly devoid of gratuitous stylistic whim and which directly describe an assembly of familiar building components.
Visually, the dominance of the roof has the effect of minimising the potential intrusion of the eight-storey rear elevations to apartments and offices which bound the site. The internal corners of the quadrangle are resolved simply, with robust chamfered piers, a robustness contrasted with the white oak cladding to the ground floor offices within the cloister. The net result of such apparently simple architectural devices is to endow the central quadrangle with a serenity at variance with the fey, bronze water feature by William Pye, which appears not only incongruously out of scale with the building, but also superfluous.
While the 'public' spaces engage with the quadrangle, the difficulties surrounding a restricted land-locked site mean that the 'working' spaces (courtroom and luncheon room) with access from the gallery, are denied a view and must rely on clerestory lighting.
This device works well in the courtroom, (where, incidentally, an apsidal end accommodates the company's existing furniture of similar plan form) but provides distracting views of the messy backs to adjacent 19thcentury buildings. But in the luncheon room, salvaged 17th-century panelling from a previous Haberdashers' hall has been reinstalled and sits somewhat unhappily under the massive clerestory lantern. There are plans, however, to install a laylight to rectify this.
The real purpose of this building lies in the livery hall. In plan, it responds exactly to the 20m quadrangle dimension (as do the gallery and orangery). But a 10m depth produces a double square on plan and also, by retaining the 45º roof pitch, doubles the height of the ridge. This produces a space of exquisite proportions dominated by the elegant propped roof with attendant stainless-steel tension net exposed beneath it.
The walls are panelled from veneered North American white oak, while the braced diagrid of stainless-steel channels incorporates acoustic panels, also of oak.
Sited to the west of the quadrangle, the hall could easily have been dominated by the eight storeys of apartments to the east, but their blandest of stock brick elevation has produced classic 'background' architecture which, in the event, is barely noticed. Interestingly, the architects have avoided the temptation to express the ridge-mounted ventilation flues internally (the air exhausting through slots in the ceiling panels), but the 'diagrid' is expressed externally in the lead roof cladding, offering one of many thematic connections between inside and outside. Sops to tradition - a mezzanine minstrels' gallery and rich blue silk blinds (designed by Patty Hopkins) - add further richness to what must surely emerge as the classic modern reinterpretation of the medieval hall.
Further links to history are revealed in artefacts amassed by the Haberdashers and displayed in the smaller spaces. They present an eclectic mix, added to by some beautifully crafted (if overwrought) furniture by Linley, for which the restrained architecture is a fitting backdrop.
So what judgement emerges, and how does the Haberdashers' Hall illuminate our understanding of a mature Hopkins oeuvre? This building reiterates familiar Hopkins themes, particularly in its remorseless pursuit of geometrical precision, and in its overt display of traditional building elements which conceal the building's services within pochés. It also avoids any fashionable stylistic trappings, or an adherence to any equally fashionable theoretical underpinnings. These generic qualities are then matched with elements which are job-specific; in this case, an instinctive reaction to a complex brief, an assured response to a demanding physical context, and an ability to reinterpret tradition and established norms. In this respect, the Haberdashers' ambition for a new building to extend its long history has surely been realised.
Peter Fawcett is professor of architecture at the University of Nottingham Structure The new livery hall complex has been built with load-bearing masonry walls using a hydraulic lime mortar, providing construction free of movement joints while avoiding the very slow strength-gain of putty lime mortar. The cloister flat-arches are concrete, faced with brick slips.
In keeping with the general theme of using exposed wall and roof structural elements throughout the building, in a number of areas the soffits of the concrete slabs are exposed.
Finely detailed and finished precast concrete beams and slabs utilise recessed cast-in light fittings. The main feature stair linking the ground and first floors shares this quality of precasting, each tread formed of a repeating spiral element and each element connected to its neighbour by hidden structural dowels.
The livery hall offers a modern interpretation of the traditional timber-panelled hall and high ornate roof. The new hall,20x10m on plan, is covered by a 45infinity pitched feature roof in which the ceiling is recessed between the main structural elements to give a clear expression of its diagrid structural form. The diagrid roof replaces traditional orthogonal roof trusses and cross bracing with a single structural form that performs both functions, using interlocking rafters laying at 45º across each face of the roof.
The ends of each timber rafter were glued into stainless-steel shoes. Each junction of the roof diagrid is formed by a stainless-steel node into which a rafter shoe was bolted on site. Finally, the diagrid truss was completed by using stainlesssteel ties which connect directly to the nodes. To limit movement of the roof during construction, each stainless-steel tie was progressively tightened as the additional loads of the panelling and heavy lead roofing were added.
In the adjacent reception gallery, the timber diagrid theme is repeated, but with the stainless-steel roof ties gathered centrally to create a pyramidal roof structure. The court, committee and luncheon rooms each have their own unique roofs formed around a concrete shell structure which creates a large lantern centrally in these rooms.
For the new offices on Hosier Lane, a slim, single-span concrete structure was constructed to create a virtually column-free office with a shallow flat soffit structure, offering free distribution of M&E services while minimising building height. The brick facade avoids the normal unsightly horizontal expansion joints at each floor level, with the full five-storey height of brick facade constructed off structural supports located at first floor level.
Opening up the site involved several demolitions, including one structural bay depth from the whole of the back of Weddel House. It was sold in this condition to developer London & Henley, which added a new rear brick facade, choosing the brick in cooperation with the architect.
Ventilation systems in the livery hall had to be discreetly integrated into the building without compromising aesthetics. Plenums were built into the ceilings with air paths in the joists - something the architect and engineer worked very closely to achieve. Elsewhere in the hall, a dedicated air handling unit supplies conditioned air to displacement terminals at low level on the perimeter, extracted at high level by fans.
Generally, air distribution is either highlevel fully mixed or low-level displacement, depending on room use and space available.
Principal spaces are comfort-cooled. The orangery, library, offices, drawing room and display room are naturally ventilated with perimeter heating.
Overall there are two main plant areas, one in the basement and one on the roof.
The basement accommodates boilers, air handling units, toilet and car park extract fans.The roof accommodates chiller, kitchen extract, space for condenser units and cold water storage.
Ducted and piped services used defined horizontal and vertical routes. Most pipework is within the floor voids, which required specific consultation with the architect.
DESIGN COMMISSION June 1996
START ON SITE January 2000
COMPLETION May 2002
AREAS Hall - Basement 1,600m 2, Ground floor 1,300m 2, First floor 1,200m 2Hosier Lane offices - 1,728m 2Weddel House (now Market View) - 65 serviced apartments over retail units
CONTRACT JCT 98, private with quantities
ACQUISITION AND DEVELOPMENT COST £25 million
CLIENT The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
ARCHITECT Michael Hopkins and Partners: Michael Hopkins, Patty Hopkins, Jim Greaves, Amir Sanei, Tony White, Andrew Morrison, Sarah Thomson, Leith Kerr
STRUCTURAL, SERVICES ENGINEER Arup
PROJECT MANAGER GTMS QUANTITY SURVEYOR Robinson Low Francis
LIGHTING CONSULTANT Light and Design Associates
MAIN CONTRACTOR Holloway White Allom
SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Brick supply James and Taylor; bricklayer Swift Brickwork; precast concrete Histon Concrete Products; timber feature roofs Cowley Structural Timberwork; joinery Ruddy Joinery; leadwork T&P Lead Roofing;
architectural metalwork Clifford Chapman Metalworks; specialist glazing Pollards Fyrespan; M&E services Lorne Stewart; conical rooflight Stainless Brass and Glass; plasterwork Dulley Ceilings and Partitions; ironmongery Allgood; purpose-made carpet Tyndale Carpets