[STIRLING SHORTLIST IN DETAIL] : Theis+ Khan provide a characterful and original addition to the Shoreditch townscape
With the seemingly recession-proof pace of development in the City of London, it is surprising these days to find anything much below 14 storeys in the vicinity of the square mile, let alone a relatively modest five-storey building.
Theis + Khan’s Bateman’s Row, in the Shoreditch area of London just east of the City, is an intense project that knits together the seemingly disparate buildings around it. The stepped mass of the building was driven by right to light issues, yet its staggered form feels in keeping with the fragmented nature of the surrounding built environment, and is more intriguing than the typical arrangement of top floor inset behind a parapet.
The accommodation comprises a gallery, a modest office for Theis + Khan Architects, a large split-level penthouse for its founding directors Patrick Theis and Soraya Khan, and three flats. The studio flat, at approximately the same size as the master bedroom of the main dwelling, perhaps reflects the injustices that characterise this part of Shoreditch, which sits in the shadow of its more affluent neighbour.
The expression of Bateman’s Row draws on a period of heroic modernism
There are moments of humour. The white rendered pavilion perched on top, with its projecting roof, makes a passing nod to the formally similar fire escape on the adjacent building. The fully glazed third floor, which sits above perforated walls, is more deftly handled than the crassly commercial version of the same idea on the Crowne Plaza hotel at the end of the road.
The expression of Bateman’s Row draws on a period of heroic modernism; with its mathematical proportions, horizontal glazing and roof garden, it is reminiscent of a Le Corbusier villa. But this solidly grounded building has the plan of a medieval castle, with thick walls that house stairs, nooks and crannies.
Bateman’s Row is rich in texture, carefully considered and finely crafted
Internal spaces are carefully prescribed and make clever use of the deep plot. Where site constraints limit the active frontages to just two sides, the circulation – comprising a stair to the office, a spiral stair to the flats and a lift – is pushed deep into the rear corner. Adolf Loos’ Raumplan gives way to Le Corbusier’s plan libre as you rise up through the building.
Sitting confidently on a plinth of dark engineering brick, the building gradually gains more glazing as it approaches the sky. Flush glazing for fixed lights contrasts with carefully detailed, deep recesses for opening vents. Bateman’s Row is rich in texture, carefully considered and finely crafted.
Theis + Khan has packed a lot of ideas into such a small building: look-no-hands detailing, a cantilevered stair, one of those clever floating wood-burning stoves, vertical openings, horizontal openings, flush windows, recessed windows, corner glazing, a glass wall that disappears, window grilles that look like balustrades, balustrades that look like grilles.
This smorgasbord of architectural details and features is an excellent showcase for a practice that specialises in high-end private residential work. For me, as an architect who usually finds it hard to come up with one convincing, meaningful idea, it offers much food for thought. Bateman’s Row keeps its head when new buildings nearby in the city are losing theirs; it is a short essay in urbanism, form, composition and materiality.
Alex Ely, partner, Mæ
Q&A Patrick Theis and Soraya Khan, directors, Theis+Khan Architects
As a small practice, how does it feel to be nominated for the Stirling Prize alongside such big names?
We’re delighted with the nomination and we admire a process that allows the work of a small practice to be assessed equally with such established architects. We felt it vital to visit all shortlisted buildings in order to understand the nominations and develop an informed personal view.
How much of your design is a response to the urban context?
Visually, Bateman’s Row deliberately and positively assimilates the scale and material of the immediate urban context; it mends a broken city block. The plan responds directly to and fully utilises the corner site and south-west orientation. Beyond this, the building is a distillation and development of our ideas and experience of designing for living and working in the city, based on function, rationality, proportion and art.
Bateman’s Row includes an apartment and studio that you designed for yourselves. How difficult will it be to separate work from life?
It’s always seemed logical for us, as business partners and married partners, to live and work within the same building. The plan of Bateman’s Row ensures a complete physical separation between the two, by placing the entrances on opposing corners. The vertical separation and layering of different functions creates a minimal, but essential walk to work. The office at first floor encourages introspection and concentration; the apartment above promotes sociability and good living without a ‘rush hour’ in between.
How do you think Bateman’s Row will fare as the only commercial/private building on the shortlist?
The success of a design should transcend its category if strictly assessed using the core criteria set out by the awards body. Bateman’s Row will fare as well; it deserves to within this process.
How will it influence the future development of mixed-use buildings?
Bateman’s Row responds to the trend of people and, in particular, families wanting to live and work closely within cities. It strikes an even balance between residential and commercial units of varied sizes that enrich the experience of people using it. The success of the Bateman’s Row model stems from this mix, together with the enormous social and green benefits of 24-hour occupation, on a modest scale that is nevertheless self-funding. We hope it will strongly influence future mixed-use development.
Will a Stirling Prize win bring commissions and notoriety for Theis + Khan Architects?
More commissions hopefully; notoriety definitely!
Architects Theis + Khan Architects
Location London, UK
Floor area 865m2
Cost £1.6 million
Start on site October 2007
Contract duration 18 months
Gross internal floor area 865m2
Form of contract IFC 98
Total cost £1.6 million
Cost per m² Not supplied
Client Patrick Theis and Soraya Khan
Structural engineer FJ Samuely and Partners
Quantity surveyor Stephen Cuddy
CDM coordinator DPA
Main contractor Silver Interior Design
Lighting design George Sexton Associates
Planning consultant CMA Planning
Planting James Catoe Design
Annual CO2 emissions Not supplied