Sutherland Lyall talks to Robert Adam of Robert Adam Architects about the practice's soon-to-be completed addition to London's Piccadilly.
Robert Adam Architects is currently building an office block across the alley immediately to the east of St James's Church, Piccadilly.
Butted up on the other side is Joseph Emberton's 1935 Simpson's department store, now a Waterstone's. The new Adam building fronts both Piccadilly on the north and Jermyn Street on the south.
It has three office oors sitting on a great cornice, supported by a giant quasi-rusticated order which surrounds the high-ceilinged ground oor and a mezzanine. At eaves level above the upper cornice are three big pedimented dormers in a sloping roof; above this is a temple-like two-storey structure mostly in aluminium with steel columns. Over the corner is a more conventional rotunda.
Round the corner and on the Jermyn Street facades the expression of oor levels is continued, but in a stripped Classical mode.
Altogether there are eight oors of offices, totalling more than 11,000m 2 gross. Total cost for shell and core and excluding the fit-out by MAKE will be around ú20 million.
FOIL FOR MODERNISM Adam says: 'There was an earlier [Modernist] scheme which got dumped. Paradoxically it undermined the Modern Movement Simpson's building next door. You have to have something traditional to make the modern stand out. We came in and got permission first time round.
In a sideways comment on Classical fundamentalists, Adam says: 'We wanted it to be clearly one building. This is an office building. All office buildings do is wrap space and this is a wrapping. When you wrap the building you provide an identity and you're responding to the urban setting. Piccadilly has a columnar display, and so our columnar elevation; Jermyn Street is very restrained, and so the wrapping on that side responds.'
The choice of panelised masonry was an economic decision. Adam says: 'The planners were good until it got to the design department. Opposite the [brick St James'] church the cladding material changes from stone to brick. The planning department said fistonefl.' Adam would have none of this and the planning officers recommended refusal. He says: 'I did a presentation to the committee and they put it through.'
The practice came up against the 'expert' advice of the letting agents, who currently favour glass-walled buildings.
Adam says: 'It was unbelievably frustrating - there was an assumption that because we hadn't done it before we didn't know anything.'
CONTRACT This was a two-stage JCT 98 contract. In the interviews the potential contractors had to go through the cost plan.
Adam says: 'We chose McAlpines and then worked through all the complicated set of packages with them. In practice McAlpines was determined to go with the firm it thought the most reliable.
'It had its problems. But in my opinion it was quite successful in working with the contractor refining the packages as we went through. For example, we value-engineered the facade and saved ú400,000 - not a great idea because it reduced our fee.'
CYBERSPACE BOND One binding element between everybody involved was the use of project-integration software 4Projects. Like ASite, BIW and BuildOnline, it involves an internet-based central repository for each building project. Everyone involved has access to the information using Internet Explorer. Information access and all revisions are logged so there is a complete audit trail. Everything can be viewed in a variety of file formats, including AutoCAD's lightweight format DWF. Adam, whose office uses ArchiCAD and some AutoCAD, says: 'It was excellent, and McAlpines rented an office nearby to work from.'
McAlpines is currently using 4Projects on 20 projects, totalling several billion pounds, and is pushing its more extensive use. Originally devised by Taylor Woodrow, it is owned by the Leyton Group and some architects have taken it on board.
You might expect a project with a Classical facade to be subject to skills problems. Adam admits that although there were difficulties bringing people round to the idea, there were no serious technical problems. This is probably because those firms which do work with traditional materials such as stone and cast metals have always been in demand and consequently have a solid client base.
Adam says of the selection of subcontractors: 'They come out of our own and the contractor's research. There are not a lot of buildings like this and at first I don't think anybody understood what it was about, so a lot had to be done from scratch.
'The skills are all there. Where the real difference came was that we had to detail everything. The opportunities for cocking things up are legion.' And so in some cases they had to send out patterns rather than drawings. He says: 'We had to have a full-size half-pattern sent to China for the grey granite cornices.
Their tops are polished to eliminate ashing. For the egg-and-dart strings we did some rough sketches and the local contractors did the eggs - this was where a genuine understanding and an ability to interpret was essential.
'The columns in the rotunda are grey granite. And the urns have bronze tops and bottoms, and are in figured French limestone. We discovered the sandstone and limestone would react badly with each other. So we have different types of granite: one a deep-red Chinese for rustications; the grey on the aedicular windows and warmer grey elsewhere.'
CLASSICAL PREFAB Because Adam was comfortable with the idea of wrapping space - in this case putting a traditional skin around a steel frame and concrete oors - the idea of using prefabricated stone cladding came easily enough. One construction advantage was that there would be no need for scaffolding above the mezzanine level.
Adam says: We went to two firms for the walling, and Marble Mosaics was the one which was most helpful; it has come up with the goods and the panels do fit together.'
The walling is Portland stone. Adam explains his choice of real stone over cast stone for the facades: 'Cast stone is either concrete with a fine stone aggregate in either a wet-poured mix or a dry mix where you press the stuff into a mould. The trouble is that although they are both consistent, cast stone gets worse as it weathers, whereas stone gets better. So cast stone is no good as a walling material, but it is good for details. What they do is lay the stone face-down in a mould, pour in concrete and fix insulation [and fixings] behind it.' The panels are then trucked in and fixed to the frame like any other cladding. 'That was a bit of a struggle, ' Adam continues. 'We solved it around the window openings, where we carried a drip around the jams of the windows vertically as well as horizontally - it is a detail which helps to deal with the thin stone.'
GRITTY JOINTS Adam says: 'The key [to the prefabricated cladding panels] is to make the joints correspond with something architectural, because joints are always the problem. There are sort of false voussoirs and we have made the joint on the outer side of a relieving arch and put a false joint on the other side. And where the joints are on reveals sometimes we have created grooves for shedding water'.
The grooves also have to do with the thickness of the stone.
Adam says: 'What we have done with the jointing is sort of pioneered blowing fine stone grit into the mastic joints during the first 20 minutes [while the mastic is still sticky].' The grit adheres to the mastic so that the joint has a rough surface. Adam says: 'You have a joint surface which is coarse - not shiny plastic - and it comes in whatever colour you want. It will be a great match on day one but we have some hope that [long term] the contrast won't be too great.'
COURAGE AND COMPASSION The four giant bronze heads range along the attic storey and, with similar, smaller capitals around the back are the work of Inverness artist Alexander Stoddart. Adam says: 'We have had a long connection with one of the few genuine Neo-Classical artists. We went to him and he developed an iconographic scheme.
The really big heads represent Courage - wearing the lion's pelt of Heracles - and the smaller one Clemency. We gave him the dimensions and he modelled them up in clay and they went off for casting.' A specialist skill? 'No, ' says Adam, 'any competent skilled metalworker can cast them.'
Adam sums up: 'We did have a problem at the later stages in making sure that people understood our design philosophy about such things as the way the building turns the corner and the materials - that it was not arbitrary approval; not fiI fancy this or that materialfl. I can explain why every single thing is where it is.'
ROBERT ADAM ARCHITECTS: 198-202 PICCADILLY SPECIFICATION SHEET REASONS FOR FINAL CHOICE PRODUCT AND WHERE USED MANUFACTURER ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED Facade - precast stone concretefaced cladding Marble Mosaic Co Hand-set stone Speed of erection Wall stone - Portland stone Perryfield Whitbed Stone Firms French limestone: Anstrude Cost, programme and consistent quality Rustication to columns - red granite Realstone Bronze Granite in character with surrounding area Pilaster shafts - French limestone Rocomat Granite Figuring of stone essential Column capitals and artwork - bronze Artist: Alexander Stoddart.
Foundry: Black Isle Bronze None Good design Brick walling - Farnham Red and Horsham Red Multi Charnwood Forest Brick None Complements historic brickwork on St James's Church Weathering copings above windows - grey granite Realstone Portland stone Provides a cleaner profile and obviates the need for secondary flashings Urns - bronze base and top with French limestone Savonnieres Champ Maillot to shaft Rocomat/Black Isle Bronze Cast stone or granite French limestone relates to pilasters below Windows - Reynaers CS 68 Renaissance. Polyester powdercoated bronze Reynaers Aluminium Alcover or Sch³co Window profile provides a distinct break between the frame and the casement Roof - long-strip standing-seam copper roofing NDM None Good design Flat roof - Permaquick 6100 system Radmat Building Products Asphalt Durability, self-healing properties and buildability Rooftop building external walling - natural lime render The Lime Centre Portland Stone Same colour and weathering qualities as stone.
Appropriate for different lightweight character of rooftop building Curtain walling - Reynaers Aluminium. CW50 with Ipasol 52/29 glass to outer pane Reynaers Aluminium Sch³co Requirement to achieve thermal comfort and control solar gain Office entrance - bronze-framed glazing with bronze columns and canopy DML Architectural Systems Black Isle Bronze Experience and expertise in their field Credits Client Standard Life Investments Architect Robert Adam Architects: Robert Adam, Paul Hanvey, Stuart Bloese, Robin White, Hanan Hussain Main contractor Robert McAlpine Quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald Structural engineer Whitby Bird Services engineer Roger Preston & Partners Other specialist consultants The Marble Mosaic Company Form of contract JCT 98 Gross external floor area 11, 340m 2Total cost Shell and core ú20 million Start on site Feb 2005 Completion March 2007 CAD Packages used ArchiCAD