There are echoes of the idealism and optimism of the early Moderns in Grace Architects' treatment of the building for the Kaleidoscope Project, a Christian-run learning centre and detox unit for drug users, itself an idealistic and optimistic venture.
A new building, functionally it is an extension to Kaleidoscope's existing presence on the site: a residential block, currently accommodating asylum seekers, a large drop-in café and a church. Built in the 1980s in red brick, the Baptist church particularly is a quiet hidden treasure, a period piece of modest means creating atmospheric space.
The project is an act of faith, instigated in the belief that funds would be found. The top-floor residential detoxification unit of this three-storey building is yet to start running. But funding will come. On the lower floors are the reception, teaching and training rooms (with IT), a web production unit, recording studio, art studio, meeting rooms and a small exhibition/performance space. This is a responsive mix of facilities, geared to its clients, there to help them build their futures. Most clients live at home and come to the centre by day, often on long-term methadone programmes.
This is a remarkably integrated building, especially given both the heterogeneous functional mix, which will change with time, and the variety of architectural influences the architect has embraced. James Bryson of Grace Architects takes from early Modernism its spare language of unadorned surface and volume for the exterior. (This Scot would have preferred stone rather than render, but the budget wouldn't stretch that far. ) The interior is more complex. Here, Bryson draws on 'the great houses of the 18th century', with their 'grand and lofty spaces', giving a message about the self-worth of the clients in the generosity of the building.
Taking this spaciousness, but not the formality of those houses, the layout turns to 'the free style of the Arts and Crafts of the 19th and 20th century', responding locally to function, making something more approachable but with enough invention to feel a bit quirky, not too straight.
After a secure entrance you reach a twostorey hall, though the precious floorspace is appropriated for use rather than ceremonial.
It is largely windowless at ground level onto the busy three-lane trunk road outside to the north, but there are windows to the east and west. These provide views parallel to the road. Light and spaciousness also come from the surrounding spaces, which have windows onto the hall as well as to the quiet garden to the south (awaiting landscaping), looking out to the backs of terraced housing beyond.
Colour articulates the spatial mix and cuts into the abstraction that would have come from all-white. The hall, with its first-floor hall 'landing', provides ready legibility to the whole two floors. This interconnecting of space also facilitates the custom-built natural ventilation system developed with Atelier Ten, which draws air from surrounding spaces into bulkhead ducts at the first-floor ceiling of the hall. The air is then pulled through with the aid of rooftop chimneys.
This ducting, rather than open chimneys in the ceiling, is a product of having the separated residential detox unit on the floor above.
The unit is organised simply, with communal spaces to the north and individual rooms to the south. It is accessed via a separate lift and stair, a problem in itself for the architect. This project was begun once before, when a new stair tower was built on the end of the 1980s residential block, the tower's landings reflecting the shallow floor-to-floor heights that existed. The new building shares this tower.
But with more expansive, varied floor heights in the new building, some ingenuity has been needed, as well as a double-sided lift to interconnect levels in the two buildings.
The buildings have lived through the liquidation of the first contractor, replaced by R Durtnell & Sons, said to be the UK's oldest building firm, having been founded in 1591.
Generally, it looks well and robustly made.
Leaning over the balustrade on the landing of the hall, you are struck by the building's interconnectedness - sometimes direct, sometimes more private. It is a clever making of space, in atmosphere as much as in form, at once workmanlike, not precious but dignified.