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FIRST LOOK

Inglis Badrashi Loddo completes expatriate community centre in London

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The centre is a new home for the charity Velehrad London, which provides support for Czech and Slovak emigrés

This new premises for Velehrad London by Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects is a retrofit of a 19th-century villa, Woolborough House in Barnes, where the charity moved in order to have larger premises to accommodate its growing series of activities. 

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 95

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 95

Source: David Grandorge

Velehrad London is named after a village that is a significant pilgrimage site in the Czech Republic and the charity was founded by the Catholic priest, human rights campaigner and dissident Father Jan Lang in 1958. Its mission was to provide educational, cultural, pastoral and social support to expatriates from Czechoslovakia, and more recently it has become a gathering place for Czechs and Slovaks living in and visiting London. 

Inglis Badrashi Loddo Architects was commissioned to refurbish and reconfigure the premises, in order to include spaces for functions, performances, meetings and other community events, as well as classrooms and prayer rooms. The brief was to make sense of a site that’s arranged around three distinct existing buildings – the original 1870s villa, an 1880s coach house and a single-storey 1930s studio. 

Woolborough House itself has been fully refurbished and upgraded to accommodate classrooms, reading rooms and a space for Catholic masses, incorporating a new lift to allow disabled access, stairs, handrails, painted panelling and rear balcony.

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 07

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 07

Source: David Grandorge

The coach house meanwhile has had poor-quality single-storey extensions to the north and west demolished, and its original façade restored. Plaster finishes have been stripped away and the spaces reconfigured, with new cloakrooms, a kitchen and an apartment above for visiting priests, while a new entrance space for community events has been added to the front.

In the studio block, the front façade and metal roof trusses were retained and a new function hall, opening out to the large garden beyond, was built on the same footprint.

In the grounds a sculpture of Jan Palach has been reinstalled as a focus of remembrance. Palach, a 20-year-old Czechoslovakian student, staged a one-man protest in Prague’s Wencelas Square in 1969, dousing himself in petrol and setting himself alight. It was an act that came to symbolise Czechoslovakian resistance to Soviet occupation.

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 58

IBLA Velehrad David Grandorge DG 58

Source: David Grandorge

Memorial to Jan Palach

Architect’s view

An important part of the brief was to provide a space for the future expansion and diversification of the charity’s programme of events. The former ballet studio on the ground floor was therefore allocated as a multi-purpose hall, which would house social functions, lectures, film screenings, musical and theatrical performances, as well as a host of other potential events.

To keep this space as flexible as possible, we suggested introducing a series of moveable timber screens along the eastern edge. Each measuring 2.7 metres wide by 2.4 metres tall, these can be moved independently along rows of floor-mounted tracks and be configured for multiple purposes.

The first screen is fixed in place. This provides guarding and visual screening to a staircase that leads to a green room in the basement. When the hall is used for performances or lectures, the screens can be arranged two at each end, serving as the wings to the central ‘stage’ area. Performers can then enter directly from the green room staircase.

In their fully deployed position, the screens become display boards for exhibitions: they are clad in Forbo Bulletin Board and equipped with discreet aluminium picture rails at the head. In this arrangement, the area behind the screens becomes storage space for the 100 or so stacking chairs that would be unused during an exhibition. During a function or film screening, the screens roll away into a compact stack at one end leaving the stored chairs easily accessible.

The screens are bottom supported with guiding head tracks designed to carefully integrate with the steel roof trusses, which were a retained feature of the original hall.

Jonathan Mole, project architect, Inglis Badrashi Loddo

1012 UG plan AJ

1012 UG plan AJ

Source: IBLA

Upper ground floor plan

Project data

Start on site May 2015
Completion September 2016
Gross internal floor area 752m²
Gross internal and external floor srea 854m²
Form of contract or procurement route Competitive Tender, JCT ICD 2011
Construction cost £2.25 million
Construction cost per m² £2,992
Architect Inglis Badrashi Loddo
Client Velehrad London
Structural engineer Price and Myers
M&E consultant Will Potter Partnership
QS Project 1201
Landscape consultant Bestique
CDM coordinator Goddard Consulting
Approved building inspector Quadrant AI
Main contractor Credibuild
CAD software used Vectorworks
Estimated annual CO2 emissions 30kg/m²

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