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LOFTY AMBITIONS

interiors - Turning a 1920s assembly hall into an apartment confronted architect Eldridge Smerin with issues of space, light and views typical of a loft

Though this assembly hall near London's Regent's Park is part of a substantial stonefaced building in an upmarket neighbourhood, by the time Eldridge Smerin became involved its interior had none of the decorative grandeur its exterior might suggest. Having accommodated various prosaic business uses, the hall's main defining features were its scale, reaching over 6m high. It is now an apartment of 418m 2, with essentially a single aspect on to the street through full-height strip windows.

Set on the second floor within a larger building, it faces west to retail and residential uses across a relatively narrow street.

There is a strong sense of being in the buzz of the city, though privacy concerns about being overlooked from across the street are to be addressed by blinds. This street contact, and the full-height windows, contributed to the decision to pull back from the window wall, creating a full-height living/social space for the full length of this street wall. It is a simply legible, rather elongated space, articulated by the windows on one side and a two-level insertion on the other. At floor level a screen wall hides a galley kitchen and associated servant and storage spaces. Above are bedrooms expressed as pods, glazed from floor to ceiling, looking on to the main space and through it to the street beyond. These rooms do have some of the structural separateness of pods, being steel-framed and suspended from new beams inserted above the ceiling plane.

Audio and video are distributed throughout, centrally controlled along with lighting scenes. IT is by wireless network. Restrained use of often-expensive materials such as stone and timbers provides a background, somewhat gallery-like atmosphere for a future purchaser to make their own mark. Assumptions about the sort of future owner led to the creation of a film-screening room within a new rear addition, which also provides skylighting to the apartment's dedicated entrance stair. This addition is expressed at the rear of the building as a contrasting glazed brick volume.

Although the apartment is essentially single aspect, with some opening lights to the strip windows, there are a few small windows to the rear, and a terrace for the master bedroom above the extension, allowing some natural cross-ventilation. There is a whole-house background mechanical ventilation system, with cooling available in the master bedroom and hall, though the weight of the building keeps temperatures relatively stable.

Internally there is more enclosure than in many a loft, but then with more than 400m 2 there is plenty of open space too. It is eminently liveable for a wide variety of potential occupants.

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