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FIRST LOOK

Studio 54 Architecture converts Art Deco Camden substation into flats

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Retaining three of the original façades, this retrofit provides 21 new housing units

Originally constructed as a substation, the building on Arlington Road, which dates from the 1930s, was left redundant for many years. It was bought by Camden Council in 1979 to be converted into a leisure centre. In 2012, the site was sold to housing provider A2Dominion, without the benefit of planning approval but with a letter supporting the idea of a change of use to residential.

The building is in the Camden Town Conservation Area and was identified as a ‘positive building’ that was worthy of retention. The Arlington Road frontage is the principal elevation, with Art Deco stylings such as large brick pilasters and a deep corniced parapet, with windows opening onto the original turbine hall. The other elevations, it being a substation, were blank and windowless.

A range of development options was considered, with demolition dismissed at an early stage due to the sensitivity of the heritage and conservation issues. Following extensive pre-application discussions, a planning application was submitted in 2013, which was refused in September subsequently overturned at an appeal in 2014.

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Arlington Road by Studio 54 Architecture

Source: Studio 54 Architecture

Development sequence

The resulting approach has been to retain the front and side façades but rebuild the rear façade and add a higher set-back floor rising above the level of the existing parapet. The lift, stairs and corridors sit at the middle of the plan and the surrounding apartments are a mixture of flats and duplex units, some single and some dual-aspect. The window openings onto Arlington Road have been lowered and an entrance formed on the front axis of the building, with floor heights adjusted to suit. The windows themselves have been replaced in a style intended to reflect the character of the retained facade. 

On the newly added third floor, apartments are set back to create terraces, clad in dark grey zinc to contrast with the original structure’s brick. At the back of the building onto Stanmore Place, the existing corner bay is retained, but the rest of the façade has been replaced by a new stepped plan and section. Coors and window openings are generously sized, and the recessed plan is clad in white brick mitred to a stock brick which forms the outer façade. 

Affordable accommodation is in the larger units located with access onto Stanmore Place. For-sale units are located on the ground and upper floors with access from the entrance on Arlington Road.

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Arlington Road by Studio 54 Architecture

Architect’s view

The project celebrates and enhances the historic Neo-Classical industrial architecture of the 1930s while juxtaposing a contextual contemporary architecture. We hope that the project demonstrates sensitivity to the original architecture while promoting an overtly bespoke design language that is functional and disciplined as well as being optimistic, informal and mildly irreverent.

We believe that the project will enhance the conservation area and bring life and activity to a corner of Camden that has been ignored and abused for decades. The fact that the project has evolved from a decision to refuse a planning application has added to the sense of achievement. The design team, the client and the contractor have been exceptionally committed and uncompromising in delivering the project as designed and detailed.

Studio 54 Architecture

Project data

Start on site October 2015
Completion June 2018
Gross internal floor area 1,990m²
Units 21 (five affordable)
Form of contract Design & Build
Architect Studio 54 Architecture
Client A2Dominion/Fabrica
Main contractor Kingsbury Construction
Heritage and conservation consultant Woodhall
Structural engineer Ellis & Moore
M&E consultant Silver EMS
Sustainability consultant Silver EMS
Quantity surveyor Silver DDC
Employer’s agent Silver DDC
Approved building inspector Camden Council
Interior design Darling Associates/Gravity
Estimated annual CO2 emissions 47kg/m²

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