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Orms riffs on the Art Deco spirit with retrofit of 1930s building

  • 1 Comment

Orms has completed the refurbishment and extension of Commonwealth House as a mixed-use scheme on behalf of TH Real Estate

Located at the juncture of New Oxford Street and High Holborn, Commonwealth House has been comprehensively refurbished and extended – but also reimagined by Orms – to create 8,800m² of Grade A office space and 1,140m² of retail space.

Orms drew on influences from the Art Deco and Art Moderne features of the original building, which was designed by architect and planner Henry Philip Cart de Lafontaine, as well as the architect’s original drawings and the 1939 marketing brochure for the building. 

A material palette of solus stone, brass, dark stained timber and ribbed glass has been used throughout. Externally, most strikingly, green hexagonal glazed tiles – sourced from Pyrolave in France – have been added to the façade of the prow Clock Tower and the oriel windows on New Oxford Street, a feature originally proposed by de Lafontaine, but not implemented.

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The refurbishment has created an additional 10,000 sq ft, including a new ninth floor rooftop extension. Internally new lifts and bridge decks have been inserted into the original courtyard, overlooking a full-height glazed atrium at the centre of the building. Sitting below this atrium is a double-height entrance and reception which opens up onto New Oxford Street.

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Architect’s view 

TH Real Estate has owned Commonwealth House for 30 years and undertaken light refurbishment works during this time. With major regeneration of the Holborn area being driven by the arrival of Crossrail, the client concluded that a complete overhaul of the building was needed. Our design has sought to transform the familiar mid-town London landmark into a distinctive and stylish building as first envisaged by Lafontaine.

John McRae, director, Orms

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Orms 1 new oxford st (c) timothy soar 027

Client’s view

Our brief was to create a carefully considered piece of architecture that is not merely a superficial refurbishment, but one that is in keeping with the spirit of the original design and will help to secure the building’s long-term future. In response Orms listened to us, listened to the building and through their research, uncovered documents and letters that informed our understanding of Lafontaine’s original ambitions for the building.

Geoff Harris, head of development, TH Real Estate

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Project data

Start on site 2015
Completion September 2017
Gross internal floor area 12,250 sq ft retail, 95,000 sq ft Grade A office space
Form of contract Design and Build with design team novated
Construction cost £38 million
Architect Orms
Client TH Real Estate and BA Pension Fund
Structural engineer AKT II
M&E consultant Long and Partners
QS Arcadis
Lighting consultant EQ2Light
Planning consultant  DP9
Landscape consultant Robert Myers Associates
Acoustic consultant Sandy Brown Associates LLP
Project manager Arcadis
CDM coordinator RLF London
Approved building inspector MLM Building Control
Main contractor Mace
CAD software used Microstation


  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Fantastic! Congrats to the whole team, including the client? This is why we do what we do? Will go to see next time we are there, possibly after and with the BDP oldies lunch at the Spaghetti House on Sicilian Avenue, and we bet responsibly with Betway 365, to supplement our pensions!!

    Message to the 40 year olds. Start a workplace pension NOW.

    Shades of No1 Poultry. Big Jim would be curious?! And the exotic name of the original architect is interesting too. Must Google to see what else he built.(other search engines are available, but all roads lead to Wikkipaedia?)

    See you in reception, to gaze up the staircase, and even beyond?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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