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Alan Higgs Architects’ entrance hall for City & Guilds art school bridges two historic buildings

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A steel and glass entrance hall, circulation space and ‘atrium’ gallery provide a new ’face’ to the historic art school in Kennington, London

This entrance sequence to the City and Guilds London Art School is the second phase of work that Alan Higgs Architects has completed for the school, based on a detailed three-phase masterplan that the practice prepared. The first phase saw the renovation of six listed Georgian houses facing Kennington Park Road over a six-year programme, with construction limited only to the summer holidays.

The newly completed phase has seen the removal of piecemeal accretions in the space between the historic Georgian houses and the 20th-century art studios to their rear. This space was then roofed over, using tall steel stanchions, independent of the historic structures, supporting a glazed roof designed to admit maximum light.

The result is a striking new entrance, with a covered atrium space between the Georgian terrace and the studio buildings. This provides a DDA-compliant, step-free access route from street level off Cleaver Square into the main studios via a ramp and a newly installed lift. The space also gives the art school a much more prominent presence to visitors (and passers-by) in a way it has never been able to before during its 138 years on its Kennington site.

The result has been substantially improved orientation and circulation around what is a compact site, particularly for degree shows and public events, as well as much better delivery and collection of art materials and objects. 

The final phase of work is now in planning, which will see the rebuilding of the four main studios of the school at a higher level, with new workshops, a lecture room, WCs, storage and sculpture studios beneath.

City&guilds of london art school 3

City&guilds of london art school 3

Source: Alan Higgs Architects

Architect’s view

Our first work for the art school in 2007 was an appraisal of its options – ’do we stay or do we go?’ Sketchy thinking even then envisaged a new heart at the centre of the site, a positive, defined, multi-purpose space formed from a leftover alley.

First designs, made before we got to know the art school, were generic; they could have been the entrance to an office or gallery. These thoughts were parked for seven years while we executed phase one of the masterplan. Over this time, we became immersed in the history and the teaching ethos of the client, and its collective memory, and this led to a much more specific solution.

The art school’s origins are in the years after the Great Exhibition. It was founded as part of a push to bring higher standards of art and design to manufacturing. This period of English architecture is rich in the efficient and purposeful structures of the Victorian Age – covered markets, factories, arcades, railway stations. Our thinking took its cue from these steel and glass forms and we found that they suited the need for a space to be both a showcase and a resilient environment. The dark steel colour, concrete floor and unheated environment all feel right for this place of creativity and making.

Our new roof stops short of contact with the listed buildings. The resultant gap means that fresh air is abundant and rain is still allowed to be in contact with the venerable brickwork.

Alan Higgs, founder, Alan Higgs Architects

Plan & section after city&guilds of london art school copy

Plan & section after city&guilds of london art school copy

Source: Alan Higgs Architects

Plan and Section as completed

Project data

Completion Phase 1 Jul – Sep 2011 – 2016 Phase 2 Jul 2015 – Sep 2015 and Jul 2016 – Sep 2016
Gross (internal + external) floor area 135m² 
Form of contract JCT Intermediate
Construction cost £800,000 (approx)
Construction cost per m2 £5,900 (approx)
Architect Alan Higgs 
Client City and Guilds Art School Property Trust
Structural engineer Milk Structures
M&E consultant Entropic 
QS Mitchell Price
Historic buildings consultant Alan Baxter and Associates
Project manager Mitchell Price
CDM coordinator Andrew Goddard Associates
Approved building inspector John Miller Partnership
Main contractor Mode Property Developments  
Structural frame and glazing subcontractor Street Structures Urban Design and Developments  
Entrance doors subcontractor Cantifix
Glass louvres subcontractor Colt International 
Lighting subcontractor Delta Light UK 
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions Negligible as space unheated

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