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Bare necessities: shedkm’s stripped-back Croydon offices

Alex Monroe Workshop by DSDHA

One Ruskin Square is the first of a new generation of commercial space for Croydon, providing offices with a naked industrial feel. Perhaps too naked for its first tenants from Revenue & Customs, writes Owen Hopkins. Photography by Jack Hobhouse

It’s hard to ignore the hype around Croydon at the moment. Every week there seems to be something in the press about a new building or new initiative. The attention is not unwarranted, thanks to a dynamic council leadership and a redevelopment plan that is well under way, assisted by that rare beast: a local authority architects’ department. Croydon stands for a new way of doing urban redevelopment that appears to mark a decisive break with the laissez-faire.

The effects are already beginning to be felt. Notwithstanding earlier condemnations of the area, most notably from David Bowie (‘It represented everything I didn’t want in my life, everything I wanted to get away from’), Croydon has come a long way from being the bleak mid-2000s home of Mark and Jeremy in Channel 4’s classic cult sitcom Peep Show, whose dreary post-war flat in Zodiac Court became a cypher for the whole series. No longer, it seems, would it be appropriate for Croydon to provide the backdrop to depressing nights at the Lazerbowl, muggings perpetrated by children, and soulless jobs in credit management enlivened only by the unrequited love of a doomed office romance.

Ruskin Square lies at the heart of the rejuvenated district rising around East Croydon station. To its south, around the station’s main entrance, lies Boxpark Croydon: a little bit of Shoreditch transplanted to deepest south London, which it is frankly impossible to imagine Mark and Jeremy visiting, despite the latter’s pretensions towards trendiness. If it appears out of place, this kind of ‘meanwhile use’ points to the risk that redevelopment is really about becoming generic – and that Croydon in a few years could, frankly, come to feel like anywhere else with good rail links and a massive Westfield.

One ruskin square by shedkm © jack hobhouse 05

So, in a way, there’s quite a lot riding on Schroders and Stanhope’s One Ruskin Square, a nine-storey office building by regeneration specialists shedkm. As its name suggests, this is but the first of several new office buildings to be built at Ruskin Square over the next few years, eventually replacing the Boxpark. Shedkm, therefore, had the difficult task of creating a building that both stands alone as a statement of what’s to come and then, once the other buildings have arrived, works within a broader ensemble. It’s hard to judge this now, of course, but the building does succeed in presenting an impressive image without being too overbearing.

Roughly wedge-shaped in plan, flaring out towards its north end, the building lies at the back of the site, with its long side directly abutting the railway line. What could have been a confronting slab is visually split into two sections via a break in the building’s exoskeleton and the separation between the two rooftop pavilions that contain the plant. In terms of the exterior articulation, the steel exoskeleton is the most distinctive element, giving it a kind of post-industrial feel, as if a new building has infilled a pre-existing frame. This feeling is amplified by a cutaway of part of the top two floors on the building’s southern end for a roof terrace that allows the exoskeleton to stand free.

One Ruskin Square by shedkm   2

Currently the entrance to the building is reached from Dingwall Road via a narrow strip of public space that has been landscaped by muf. In time it should also be possible to reach it via the other entrance to East Croydon station at the end of Caithness Walk, where there is a further triangle of public space complete with rocks, trees, table tennis tables and a single picnic table. This area looked a touch lonely when I visited but will no doubt be well used once the building is occupied, and might even attract the interest of occupants of the adjacent flats by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.

‘The steel exoskeleton is the most distinctive element, giving it a kind of post-industrial feel’

Inside, the double-height entrance lobby is adjoined by space that was originally allocated for a café, which would have softened the frontage and created a social space where the different occupants of the building would be able to interact. Those plans have changed, however, after the building was let in its entirety to HMRC on a 25-year lease. Renders and early press shots of the building showed a wholly open-plan interior with the floorplates only interrupted by a few thin steel columns. These were left exposed with the intention to maximise the amount of available space and also to bring the building’s industrial aesthetic to the interiors. The feel continues into lift lobbies, which are finished in fair-faced concrete.

One Ruskin Square by shedkm   5

When I toured the building, the fit-out for HMRC was well under way, with the steel columns disappointingly in the process of being enclosed in plasterboard, and the open plan space broken up by partition walls. It didn’t look, however, like there was any intention of installing a suspended ceiling, thus retaining at least one striking feature of the original interior by leaving all the ceiling services exposed. In the areas where the partitions had yet to go up, the additional height made for a far more expansive feel than you get with the standard ceiling height. Looking at the architects’ early renders, it is disappointing that their proposition for a radically open-plan way of working has been transformed into something more corporate.

On the plus side, it’s a huge vote of confidence in Croydon for HMRC to be renting 183,000 sq ft of high-quality office space on a longer-term lease. Yet the transformation of the building’s interior is symbolic of how, for all the transformative ambition in Croydon, it is still beholden to the realities of the wider economy. 

Typically, much of the investment in the centre of Croydon is being driven by housing and retail, with the old Whiftgift shopping centre soon to be replaced by the aforementioned Westfield. While the council’s PR team has done a sterling job in changing perceptions of the area, as we are seeing across London, these types of investments come with their own agendas that are hard to mould to the needs and character of local areas. However, having a strong and active approach to planning and urban redevelopment does allow the kind of choreography and holistic overview that is missing from other developments. Delivering a financial return for investors and creating good places are not mutually exclusive. And it’s only a matter of time before flats in Zodiac Court start commanding a premium.

One ruskin square by shedkm ground floor plan

One ruskin square by shedkm second floor plan

Architect’s view

One Ruskin Square has been created to provide an alternative offer in the commercial market, its design rigorously moving away from the standard vanilla interiors so often seen in contemporary office environments. Likened to a ‘refurbishment in new build form’, the building showcases exposed services, an exoskeleton frame, fair-faced concrete cores and an industrial aesthetic. The building is expressed as an external structural frame to the east, west and south. Encapsulated between the frames is a unitised envelope created from a series of fully glazed and solid cladding panels. The north elevation features a fully glazed façade, taking advantage of the orientation and views towards Canary Wharf and the immediate Ruskin Square masterplan. A ‘hands-on’ approach has been taken throughout the build of the project, enabling a high degree of control over the exposed services and intricate structural connections and co-ordination. 
Alex Flint, director, shedkm

One ruskin square by shedkm section a a

Client’s view

One Ruskin Square, together with the adjacent Vita residential building by AHMM, effectively establishes the ‘gateway’ to Foster + Partners’ masterplan site. Shedkm’s challenge was to design a highly efficient office to meet central London Grade A office expectations. Collaborating with Arup, shedkm’s design places strong emphasis on demonstrating engineering honesty: in the expression of the external steel frame and the internal structural concrete cores.

This theme is continued in the exposure of Category A services under office floor plate soffits. Such a raw aesthetic has not historically been popular with agents and tenants but, thanks to considerable attention to detail by the designers and M&E subcontractors, the resulting sense of volume and striking visual appearance has been very well received, while the reception creates a great relationship to the public realm designed by muf architecture/art with J&L Gibbons.
Adam Smith, project director, Stanhope

One ruskin square by shedkm section b b

Detail

The external mega-frame and the secondary grid originate as a response to the guidelines defined in the design code for the Ruskin Square Masterplan and acknowledges the diagram/grid of the adjacent scheme by AHMM, which was the first to be built.

This structural strategy minimises the number of columns within the office plate, which, on a typical floor, achieves a much higher than average 87 per cent net-to-gross efficiency. As a result, the lettable area is significantly increased and the internal space becomes more fluid and flexible, while providing uninterrupted panoramic views of Ruskin Square and beyond.

The unitised curtain wall provides floor-to-ceiling windows and integrated insulated aluminium composite wall and spandrel panels carefully set out in co-ordination with the external frame to achieve the required thermal performance and solar protection to each elevation.

The main challenge to the structural approach was resolving the thermal break within the internal floor structure and the external frame. 

The external stub connection is separated from the internal steel framework by an isolation pad. The connection is further protected as it sits within the aluminium cladding zone and is subtly emphasised by a perimeter flashing sleeve fixed to the stub beam, which protrudes slightly from the face of the spandrel panels, preventing water ingress while maintaining tolerance for the steel frame to move and deflect.

Francesc Cantarell, architect, shedkm

One ruskin square by shedkm detail

One ruskin square by shedkm © jack hobhouse 45

Project data

Start on site May 2015
Completion December 2016
Form of contract Design and Build
Gross internal floor area 17,811m²
Construction cost£47 million (total cost)
Construction cost per m²£2,010
Architect shedkm 
Client Schroders and Stanhope
Structural engineer Ove Arup & Partners
M&E consultan t Ove Arup & Partners
Quantity surveyor Aecom
Fire engineer Ove Arup & Partners
Landscape architect muf architecture/art with J&L Gibbons
Façade consultant FMDC
Security consultan t QCIC
BREEAM consultant Ove Arup & Partners
Project manager Real PM
CDM co-ordinator Lendlease
Approved building inspector Butler & Young
Main contractor Lendlease
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions 19.8 kg/m² (estimated)

One Ruskin Square by shedkm

 

The XYZ building was featured
in the Workplaces issue

 

000 cvr shopify 170511

 

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