Roz Barr has sensitively reconfigured a Victorian Building in London’s Hatton Garden into flats and commercial space, writes Catherine Slessor
Photography by John Maclean
Frequented by fretful fiancés blowing a month’s salary on engagement rings, Hatton Garden is the historic home of London’s diamond and jewellery trade, and an enduring example of an urban monoculture. Jewellery is an odd business, transacted through spangly shops and grungy workshops, and Hatton Garden caters for all tastes, from diamond merchants to cash-for-gold outlets who are doing very nicely out of austerity.
With such a tempting barrage of baubles on show, the area has a slightly jittery feel, evidenced by an abundance of CCTV cameras and loitering security men. Such precautions have doubtless been ratcheted up since the infamous Hatton Garden heist last Easter when a gang of superannuated Pink Panthers cracked a subterranean safe deposit and made off with an estimated £200 million worth of loot.
Inevitably, because of its central London proximity, Hatton Garden’s homogeneity is being diluted by ‘creative’ industries and, increasingly, high-end apartments, which tend to be carved out of existing structures with varying degrees of sensitivity. In this respect, Roz Barr’s recently completed scheme on Hatton Wall is an encouraging exemplar, reconfiguring a Victorian building into five flats with commercial space at ground and basement levels.
Tactful easing into a cramped milieu gives the flats a Rear Window-style snoopiness
Hatton Wall itself is a charming potted history of London architecture, with contributions spanning assorted eras from Georgian to the 60s, all studiously ignoring each other like guests at a cocktail party. The object of Barr’s attention is around 150 years old and would have originally been a warehouse. Handsomely ornate and endowed with a heroic Victorian muscularity, it provides formal and material cues for the new work. The roof is capped by a zinc-clad extension and the building is extended to the rear, fully infiltrating its compact site.
This tactful easing into an already cramped milieu gives the flats a Rear Window-style snoopiness, though some might find the intimacy occasionally intrusive. ‘There’s a guy who comes on to a fire escape to smoke, and he’s just feet from one of the bedroom windows,’ says Barr. ‘But it’s just how things are in this locale, with everybody on top of one another.’ Framed glimpses of Hatton Garden’s grimy underbelly of workshops and back alleys strategically intrude into the pristine apartment interiors. You half expect a gamine Audrey Hepburn trilling Moon River to join the smoker on the fire escape.
This is not the first time Barr has worked with the developer PPR Estates, which specialises in converting historic, small-scale building stock, and there seems a palpable synergy between client and architect. Flats are generously proportioned with high ceilings and full-height windows set in deep reveals. White walls and timber floors evoke default luxurious neutrality that won’t frighten prospective purchasers, yet the scheme is far from anodyne. The facade has been scrupulously repaired and restored to bring out the slightly fruity character of the original brickwork details, and a set-piece steel staircase links the ground and basement.
The facade has been scrupulously restored to bring out the original’s slightly fruity character
A new glazed frontage creates a large street-level vitrine and the ground floor is partly pulled away to let in light through it. Here the complexity of the original timber floor structure is exposed, emphasising the building’s historic character and the deftly judged reciprocity between old and new. The zinc-clad box of the roof extension is set back behind a high parapet, which terminates the brick facade with an elaborately beetle-browed cornice.
As it happens, the neighbouring building is totally identical but clearly unloved, and you can’t help feeling it would benefit from Barr’s ministrations. The Victorians churned out spec warehouses by the yard, so presumably there were others in a similar vein on Hatton Wall, now lost to bombing and the vagaries of style wars. (In fact during the course of construction work an unexploded bomb was found on the site.) For now, however, the pair resemble a pre and post makeover tableau, showing the potential of architecture as a form of enlightened and highly skilful plastic surgery.
Hatton Wall by Roz Barr Architects
Source: John Maclean
Architect Roz Barr Architects
Client PPR Estates
Structural engineer Cambell Brown Engineers
M&E consultant GDM Partnership
Quantity surveyor Exigere
Main contractor ACS Constration
Form of contract JCT traditional standard building contract
Start on site March 2014
Completed August 2015
Gross internal floor area Commercial 235m²; residential 417m²
Form of contract or procurement JCT Standard Building Contract Without Quantities, 2011 Edition
Construction cost £1.65 millon