Lighting up time in Soho
'A rag bag collection of workshops in a landlocked site with only an alleyway for an entrance,' is how Steven Pidwill, director at Shepheard Epstein Hunter, describes Broadwick Studios before refurbishment. the practice has converted this unpromising site, off Broadwick Street in Soho, into offices for the contractor/client. Although the brief was for flexible office space which could be let floor by floor, as half floors, or as a whole, Broadwick Studios has been taken by a single tenant, 4 Marketing, which deals in fashion. The original building comprised two separate blocks: a two-storey and a three-storey wing, behind a terrace of shop-fronted buildings facing onto Broadwick Street. The rear elevation of these buildings presents a domestic scene - grey-brick Victorian flats, enlivened by cheerful window boxes, linked by a grid of cast iron balconies and fire escapes. Nothing could provide a sharper contrast to the practice's transparent, colourful office and showhouse which now occupies this backyard.
An atrium links the two wings, flooding the interior of the building - despite the enclosed nature of its location - with natural light. Glazed extensions in the form of an entrance lobby and a rear conservatory, with canopies and glazed landings, stepped back as the building rises, add further to the impression of almost total transparency. Wherever possible the architect has introduced daylight. Showrooms on either side of the atrium have rooflights (on top storeys), new window openings, reflective white walls and light timber floors to show off the rails of clothing. Landings provide continuous circulation around the atrium at all levels.
The administration offices occupy the spaces in the west wing that have least natural light. By extending the building to the western boundary it has been possible to insert patent glazing above the stairs leading down to the basement - a dark but interesting space enhanced by its exposed timber ceiling, cosy atmosphere and open plan: a popular spot for casual office meetings.
Despite this being a speculative project, architect and client were determined not to skimp on materials or finishes. All joinery, including glazing sections, is in oak and the reception area is paved in York Minster stone; stair treads and landings are in profiled metal. The atrium walls - with recesses suggestive of former windows - are painted terracotta on one side, white on the other. Original timber trusses in the ceiling of the three-storey wing have been left exposed but are underpinned by an I-beam; in the top floor of the two-storey wing, three asymmetric oculi have been punched through a deep suspended ceiling. An existing projection on the east wing contains new wcs on every floor.
'The user fits beautifully with the way the building was conceived', says Pidwill. A happy coincidence, since 4 Marketing only appeared when the building was almost completed - and a tribute to the inherent flexibility of the scheme.