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A deliberately imperfect restoration: Upper Street by Groupwork + Amin Taha

Amin taha 02
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AJ Specification case study: an in-situ ‘terracotta’ concrete structure reinterprets memory and heritage

ARCHITECT’S VIEW • PROJECT DATA

This scheme providing apartments and an outlet for furniture retailer Aria, rebuilds the ‘missing piece’ of an Islington terrace which has sat incomplete since it was bombed in the Second World War. The choice of construction and fabrication processes was key to ensuring the ‘restoration’ was not an attempt to seemingly remember perfectly and mimic the past, nor to become part of an unconscious incremental development of the neoclassical language. Instead, the structure, and the visible marks of its making, stand as an analysis or critique of the nature of memory. 

The form of its outer and inner walls and roof are conceived and built as a 1:1 hollow cast of the former building. An in-situ cast ‘terracotta’ concrete mix 0.5m thick performs as load-bearing structure, external and internal finishes and thermal envelope. While this presented a complex and technical construction challenge, the process brought opportunities to explore and enhance the notion of representation of past traditions. The monolithic nature of the material and construction methodology became a simulacrum of pilasters, capitals, pediments, cornices, windows and doorways.

161122 amin taha upper street 079

161122 amin taha upper street 079

Upper street elevation

Upper street elevation

A computer model of the ‘existing’ building was built through the study of historical site photographs and a three-dimensional point cloud laser survey of the site and its mirror-twin, the intact southern ‘pavilion’ on Waterloo Terrace. This was broken down into 300 panels, requiring 450m2 of formwork and assembled on site in 1.2m-high horizontal bands, effectively creating a negative mould of the building.

Amin Taha, founder, Amin Taha Architects

Architect’s view 

While the structural shell can stand independently as a large, hollow, cast form, the internal floor plates are cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Notches and pad stones were cut into the existing brick party walls to take the CLT floorplates and were then laser surveyed to allow the offsite CLT manufacturing to fit precisely into the party wall notches. Once delivered to site, the CLT was assembled in eight days.

Barnsbury street elevation

Barnsbury street elevation

Amin taha 03

Amin taha 03

Third floor plan

Third floor plan

The digital fabrication process, while critical to the production of accurate construction information, introduces imperfections in the manufacturing process. The cast façade bears the marks of the tooling head which traced against the formwork geometry, and these can be seen on close inspection. Understanding that, on occasion, the translation of the CAD information into the manufacturing equipment could result in lost and distorted details, areas likely to ‘fail’ were encouraged to do so, sometimes oversimplifying details, skewing them, or losing them altogether.

This digital manufacturing process, having as many opportunities for ‘failure’ as the physical manhandling of formwork and pouring of the monolithic mix, reinforced the notion of ‘misremembrance’ intrinsic to the building’s construction and our understanding of the past.

Amin Taha, founder, Amin Taha Architects

Amin taha 04

Amin taha 04

Detail

Detail

Project data

Start on site July 2015
Completion September 2017
Gross internal floor area 545m2
Form of contract JCT Traditional
Construction cost £1.8 million
Construction cost per m2 £3,300
Architect Amin Taha with Groupwork
Client Aria
Structural engineer Webb Yates
M&E consultant Syntegra Group
Quantity surveyor Cumming Europe
Accoustics Syntegra Group
Sustainability Syntegra Group
Specialist metalwork Intuitive Engineering 
Project manager Groupwork
CDM coordinator Goddard Consulting
Approved building inspector MLM
Main contractor Talina
CAD software used Various 3D and 2D packages
Annual CO2 emissions 16.36kg/m2 

Section internal elevation

Section internal elevation

Amin taha 01

Amin taha 01

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