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Two become one

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buildings - A budget conversion of two adjoining warehouses from the 1900s and 1980s into one building of speculative offices was a challenge for Wells Mackereth Architects

A consortium of four property lawyers based at SJ Berwin is the unusual client for this speculative scheme. The consortium is led by John Eldridge, who turned to Wells Mackereth after seeing its conversion and renovation of a warehouse into the Smiths of Smithfield restaurant and bar in London's Smithfield Meat Market area. There, the warehouse was grander, with enormous timber floor beams and castiron columns.

At Goodwin Road in Ravenscourt Park, west London, the starting point was less inspiring. An early 1900s two-storey warehouse, and a single-storey one, more meanly built in the 1980s, stood next to each other.

Despite solid walls on three sides of each one, and plan depths ranging up to 20m, the client saw potential for a conversion to office use.

As large units are not readily marketed in this area, the combined 770m 2 has been converted into three units - a two-storey unit in the 1980s building and two single-storey units in the 1900s building, with its larger footprint.

However, soft spots have been left in the party construction should purchasers wish to take on and interconnect more than one unit.

Upgrading and integrating the frontage was a key challenge. In the 1900s building, existing upper-floor window sills were at eye height inside and have been dropped during refenestration; the window proportions are continued into the new two-storey glazing of the 1980s building, replacing the crude, wirecut brick facade with nondescript windows. As to the 1900s facade masonry, it was not possible to obtain further glazed bricks for repair and the facade has been rendered and painted white, an early Modern evocation enhanced by the sweeping door heads. Existing railings in front of the 1980s building have been replicated for the rest of the frontage. Externally, the overall composition now reads as if it were a new addition meeting an established building;

'unified but separate', is architect James Wells' description.

This refenestration goes some way to providing daylight, natural ventilation and outdoor visual connection in these deep, originally single-aspect volumes. (The upper 1900s unit also has refurbished rooflights. ) To help further, the architect has created a new courtyard at the centre-rear of this landlocked site.

All floors now have full-height fixed windows on to the courtyard, plus opening casements for ventilation. Because of differing floor levels between the 1900s and '80s buildings, only the ground-floor 1900s unit has access to the courtyard, through glazed doors.

Floor?to-ceiling height is particularly tight in the 1900s building. On the upper level there is room for a 60mm-gap raised floor. On the lower level, screed plus chipboard both finish and help level the floor; cabling will have to be run from the perimeter and columns.

In this low-budget job (£500,000), where possible existing materials have merely been repaired and cleaned, sometimes with a coat of paint. Surface cables in galvanised trunking and wall-mounted electric panel radiators make up a robust interior shell in keeping with the industrial quality of the original.

One surprise is the custom light fittings, providing spot downlight, fluorescent or both, zoned for the front, middle and back of each floor. Wells Mackereth's typically small jobs often involve fit-outs for bars and arts projects, and the architect has built up a relationship with manufacturer Lightform in developing short runs of custom light fittings. So the trust was there to work to time and budget, creating these fittings at a unit cost of about £180.

'Directness and integrity, ' was the view of John Eldridge on Smiths of Smithfield, an approach Wells Mackereth followed through at Goodwin Road. In a sense it is a shell scheme, but one with enough sympathetic attention to the existing fabric that many organisations may see it as almost ready to use.

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