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Coherent conversion

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The small ‘Heals Building’ sign and understated canopy (galvanised metal, neon-free) sum up architect Trehearne & Norman’s no-nonsense approach to this refurbishment. The Heal’s Building, off Tottenham Court Road, central London, was originally a collection of buildings, dating from 1916 to 1926, which were used by Heal’s, the department store, as storage and workshops. Recently sold to Threadneedle Property Fund, the complex has been converted by t&n into 13,500m2 of shell-and-core office space; 95 per cent of which has already been let, mostly to tenants working in design or the media.

Before refurbishment, the new reception lobby on Torrington Place was an open vehicle entrance leading into a goods yard, with a small office to one side. t&n has merged these two openings behind a glazed screen, fitted into an existing black granite surround.

In the reception area, the delicate balance between warehouse aesthetic and up-to-the minute office entrance is instantly felt: desk semi-circular, with glass top and flowers, but in place of a veneered or stainless steel front, chunky galvanised metal sheeting and bolted uprights (the joiners took some persuading that this really was the desired effect). The flooring in the entrance is Blanc de Bierge slabs and paviors. Another departure from luxurious City office entrances lies in the ceiling treatment - suspended panels of plywood, secured at the corners by wing-nuts, with holes cut out for pendant lights and sprinklers, a device that has been used throughout the scheme.

The old vehicle entrance was several feet lower than the lift lobby and main stairs; t&n has linked the two levels by means of a small flight of stairs (with subtly integrated wheelchair lift) rising to an infill platform which spans the width of the original opening. A new-build glazed conservatory extends from this platform into the space between the two rear wings of the buildings and contains a simple but elegant dog-leg galvanised steel stairway, with treads in 38mm laminated sandblasted glass; the stairway leading to the offices of architect rtkl. The delivery yard at the back of the building, overlooked by large Crittall windows, is already shaping into an attractive courtyard, with views back through the glass stair enclosure and reception to Torrington Place.

t&n stripped down unoccupied offices, preserving parquet floors where they existed and installing new timber floors where necessary. Redundant but useable radiators were re-fitted in public areas and a ventilation plant installed in the basement.

Shared corridors, which also serve as escape routes, are narrow, and only at the ground-floor level (in the absence of wcs) was it possible to create a generous and interesting display area by inserting a sweeping curved stud wall with wedges cut through to existing external windows and brightly coloured reveals. On the floors above, t&n has built new curved walls to the wcs - to diversify routine corridor runs - and replaced existing sanitaryware (the cubicles are Armitage Shanks’ special design for prisons). To meet the constraints of a £250,000 budget, finishes throughout are economical, cheerful and effective: brick walls in shared areas are painted white, while bright colours signal circulation/escape routes.

The Heal’s Building refurbishment has a winning vivacity and honesty. Its warehouse character has been successfully preserved, while the glazed extension and stairway between ground and first floor addan unexpected innovative note of lightness and transparency.

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