Lynch Architects’ approach to The Zig Zag Building appealed to the client of this Victoria office development, writes Felix Mara
There’s no reason why the poetic imagination shouldn’t be practical,’ says Patrick Lynch of his studio’s Zig Zag Building, a 13-storey mixeduse development with speculative offices above two floors of retail units. ‘The more efficient the office, the less urban,’ he adds, going some way towards explaining why, as he observes, ‘good architects tend to turn their noses up at commercial projects and want to do art galleries’.
Lynch’s outlook is inquisitive and in certain ways more prone to accept and synthesise than to reject and segregate. The Zig Zag Building provides an opportunity to test his assertion. It’s one of five projects designed by Lynch Architects currently on site in London’s Victoria Street, comprising offices, flats, retail and a public library.
There’s a refreshing ethical dimension to Patrick Lynch’s thinking about urban office design, which sets him apart from the wide boys within the construction profession, with their commercial-speak of ‘footfall’, ‘uplifts’, ‘resi’ and, of course, the clipped multiplier ‘k’. For a start, he’s interested in the occupants of the offices, not just the ‘punters’ who commission them. ‘People spend a lot of their lives in these buildings,’ he empathises. The Zig Zag Building develops the idea of the facade as a threshold between the world of its occupants and the city beyond, exploring parts of buildings which users are able to occupy, relate to and interact with, for example by opening windows or stepping on toterraces.
In a reciprocal connection, facades have the potential to act as intermediate spaces, rather than opaque or refl ective boundary planes. ‘It’s the facade that speaks to the city,’ says Lynch. If people are able to look inside and are aware of occupants’ activities, the buildings will feel less oppressive. For Lynch, this is part of the ethics of enlightened patronage, which he traces back to golden ages in Renaissance Florence and the New York of Adler & Sullivan: ’They have a base and a top, and there’s a delicious pleasure in walking past these buildings because their lobbies are like urban rooms.’ The Zig Zag Building and Lynch Architects’ Kings Gate residential and retail development further up Victoria Street emulate their civic qualities with their colonnades and layered, crafted facades with intricate, shifting patterns of light and shade. At low level, there are active retail frontages, stepped in section. ’ The geometry of the plan creates a false perspective and this naturally draws you into the space between,’ Lynch explains.
Lynch is tuned in to the history of the site as well as offi ce building typologies. Victoria Street has a rich hinterland, especially to the south, with its Peabody estates, Westminster Cathedral, the mansion blocks built around it and its side streets. These feel more like high streets. Victoria Street itself is a canyon of fl ush, 2,000-workplace offi ce juggernauts, like a stunted, provincial version of New York’s Avenue of the Americas. There are also problems on the north side of Victoria Street, where the partly submerged District and Circle Lines has created a historic rift in the medieval fabric, which a new public space and park, designed as part of Lynch Architects’ proposals, are intended to heal. is will provide more permeability. ‘Offices tend to be serviced from the back, have windswept plazas and spill out warm air at you,’ Lynch observes. ‘But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be part of the background of the city.’
After a series of bold additions to the locale designed by EPR, Sheppard Robson and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects with Swanke Hayden Connell, which inject personality like a chorus of ‘way heys’, Lynch Architects’ approach introduces a spirit of careful sensitivity, without grovelling to the context. Lynch’s additions also take a long-term view. ‘Part of what we’re doing is extending the workable life of the building, which is ultimately sustainable,’ he explains. is has been done by designing responsive, attractive surroundings which won’t fall out of love with their occupants, helping tenants to retain staff.
The design life of The Zig Zag Building is an unusually long 60 years and Lynch argues that this strategy has been assisted by avoiding standard curtain wall ventilators. Instead solid, insulated opening panels, free of short-life components, have been inserted into a glass facade and recede behind layers of vertical fi ns, providing shading and privacy. Additional eco enhancements include capillary cooling pipes cast into the slabs.
A rich mix of uses and occupants will reinforce this strategy. ‘As soon as you get people living in an area, things change’, says Lynch. Pipelines which deliver varied offi ce accommodation sequentially will also promote richness and viability, he explains, especially if developments are able to attract TMTs, or Trendy Media Types, along with accompanying spin-off s such as bars and restaurants, which will make Victoria Street a less sleepy place.
Lynch’s philosophy of poetics plus practicality makes business sense, winning over planners and appealing to a client - Land Securities - that realises that quality and sustainable office space carry a premium. As Lynch explains: ‘Every time they knock a building down, they lose five years’ rent.