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BUILDING STUDY; LUX BUILDING, HOXTON SQUARE

Architect's account

RICHARD LAVINGTON

Maccreanor Lavington

Hoxton Square has a unique character not typical of London's squares. From its beginnings as an early Georgian residential square, a heterogeneous mix of uses and buildings from every period has evolved. Today, a primary school, a church, warehouses, workshops, a night club, a cafe, a small 1970s curtain-walled office building, and a house enclose the square. Within this context, difference and mix are important and it is this diversity that gives the square its character. The site for the Lux building was a derelict collection of buildings from an earlier timber yard on the west side of the square.

The Lux building represents three separate commissions for Maccreanor Lavington: the shell and core building for the developer Glasshouse Investments, a gallery for electronic art and new media on the first floor for London Electronic Arts, and the fit-out of administration and production and education facilities for London Electronic Arts (lea) and the London Filmmakers Co-op (lfmc) on the first and second floors. Later we were also commissioned to design the ground-floor cafe/bar by Blue Note Clubs. This project has not yet been realised. Within the building there are also fit-outs by other architects, including the Lux Cinema by Burrell Foley Fischer, unit 6 by Sproson Barable, and unit 9 which will be by Munkenbeck + Marshall.

The building is conceived as part of the fabric of the city, where the quality of urbanism is more important than the image of the building as an independent object. The new building asserts links with the past and its context, existing as an independent coherent statement, while sharing the formal and spatial sensibilities of its neighbours and predecessors.

In the earliest stages of the project the developer was approached by the London Film and Video Development Agency (lfvda) to provide a new home for the lea and the lfmc. As a result these organisations made an agreement to take a lease on parts of the building. The design of the shell building was then developed to accommodate the requirements of these tenants, most particularly space for a cinema and a galley.

The programme is organised on a deep site. The circulation and services are in a central strip between two areas of accommodation. This division in the plan is expressed in the facade, relating to other buildings within the square where pairs or buildings act together with shared circulation.

The design of the facade is based on the potentially contradictory qualities of weight and transparency. Weight relates the building to the industrial character of the area. The transparency allows a direct and immediate relationship between the interior and the garden square, the facade becoming a frame for the activities within.

The use of precise blue engineering brickwork and the recession of the window plane by 325mm enhances the impression of weight. The proportion of solid to void in the facade is pushed to an extreme where the wall almost becomes a frame. To achieve this monolithic character to the facade it was important to avoid any visible mastic joints, and this has been achieved by the particular structural system adopted for the facades. The facade possesses an ambiguous character, between residential and industrial, that is more specific to place and character than to any particular function. The balconies and French windows are not a specific functional requirement of the spaces behind, but have gained use through their existence.

The stair was planned within minimal space and has been designed to be vertically transparent beneath a fully glazed roof, the light level reducing as you descend to the lower floors. The daylight-controlled artificial lighting is from below, shining up through the stairs and landings. Internal spaces are designed to be individually fitted out to tenants' requirements. They can accommodate raised floors, and have the possibility of night- time ventilation through fan lights in the facade.

The gallery has a very direct visual relationship with the square - one can see clearly into the first exhibition room, and within the space the trees of the square are always present. At night, rear projection screens roll down behind these windows to be used for site-specific projections to be viewed from the square.

The shell and core client's requirement for absolute cost certainty led to the use of a form of design and build procurement better known as detail and construct. The contract documentation and drawings were prepared to give a high level of control over the appearance of the external envelope and the main core. The construction period was 12 months and was followed by interior fit-outs. The developer received grant funding for the shell and core building from Dalston City Challenge and a fund guarantee from English Partnerships. The fit-outs of the lfmc and lea spaces were funded through the European Regional Development Fund and the Arts Council Lottery and the Foundation for Sports and Arts. Throughout the project we were supported by a committed team of consultants and enlightened and interested clients.

Structural engineer's account

GRAHAM LING

The Greig Ling Project

The Lux Building Project reunited a team and client who had worked on the refurbishment and extension of the adjacent Victorian warehouses. This commission, however, represented the largest project for both us and the client. Because of the complex negotiations required to fund the project, a large proportion of design work was carried out before full funding was in place. This was done under the assumption that a traditional contract was in operation. However, towards the end of detail design, in order to minimise his financial risk, the client changed the contract to design and build. Therefore, by the time we reached the tender stage we issued far more detailed documents than would be usual. There was very little scope for contractor-initiated design.

Design constraints included the need to avoid mechanical ventilation and to provide a soffit suitable for direct decoration by the tenants. We proposed a proprietary system of precast planks with integral polystyrene blocks to reduce the weight of the slab. A ribbed slab was used over the cinema for acoustic reasons. Vertical structure and stability are provided by a combination of in situ reinforced concrete columns/shear walls and blockwork shear walls adjacent to the existing party walls. The building is founded on large-diameter flight augured piles into the London clay. Front and rear facades are brick-clad precast concrete beam and column elements, supported by the first floor and restrained horizontally at each floor above. Only one vertical movement joint is required on the front elevation where there is a significant change in building height.

Appraisal

RICHARD PARTINGTON

Nicholas Hare Architects

Maccreanor Lavington's Lux Building fills a gap between a turn-of-the- century building with a glazed brick base and two rather more routine warehouses. The building has a 1970s-style muscularity; it is considerably larger than its surroundings and positively dwarfs the two remaining domestic properties on the opposite side, but it is respectful enough to its neighbours. By not succumbing to the usual conservation pressures of matching brick colours and observing eaves lines, it manages to be uncompromising and self-contained, simultaneously part of the (residual) terrace and distinct from it.

The front elevation is divided into seven approximately equal bays with a further subdivision (expressed as a recessed joint) dividing the building into unequal halves, one of six storeys and the other five. This division relates to the original plot widths of the square and also the internal organisation of the plan, which is divided by a core zone, kept back from the front face to maximise the benefit of natural lighting to the internal space.

The variety of uses behind the heavily articulated framework is barely discernible from the outside, at least architecturally. The gallery and studios seem to struggle to assert their presence and are differentiated only by a subtle change in the design of the glazing and by a small modification to the floor-to-ceiling heights. This is quite intentional as the architects conceived the facade as a neutral enclosure, again alluding to the warehouse whose repetitive rhythm of solid and void masks a variety of possible uses from workshop to loft apartment. The irony of building new warehouse space for conversion because the supply of existing space has dried up is not lost on the designers.

The facade is an environmental filter providing high levels of daylight into and views outwards from the deep plan, but is also an interface or mediator with the public space - the square and its buildings. The full- height French windows (or are they loading doors?) with their shallow steel balconies, suggest a Parisian-style urbanity, and provide the ideal place for the mid-morning coffee or cigarette break.

In terms of construction, not all is as it appears. From a distance the piers and beams provide a strongly articulated framework and, although their face dimension is small, a large reveal is expressed to give the impression of mass and weight. There is an elegant balance between the solidity of the brickwork and the generosity of the lighter infill. At the ground floor the visual harmony is interrupted and the line of the piers does not continue downwards to bear on the ground as would be expected. Instead, each pier terminates at the first floor, on what reads as a brick beam but which, by virtue of its thinness and stretcher bond, cannot be supporting the facade above. It turns out that this is a truer representation of the structure behind than one might imagine, because each of the piers above the first-floor level is actually a brick-clad precast element supported by the first- floor slab. In fact the whole facade is assembled from a combination of precast and in situ elements with no deliberate articulation of either - the joints between the precast elements are invisibly stitched together with in-situ brickwork to provide a homogeneous whole.

Internally, the connections between concrete, glass-block landing, stair balustrade and stringer are extremely refined; the position of cut bricks and tolerances in the wall are carefully controlled and unsightly movement joints are studiously avoided or concealed. This is not, however, an architecture of structural honesty or exactitude, nor is construction a means to an end, for Maccreanor Lavington allows 'integrity' to be subverted when textual or thematic ideas are more important. Hence the recessed entrance with its brickwork soffit is intended to read as if it had been 'carved out' from a solid block.

On the whole these ambiguities enliven rather than detract from the building's admirably straightforward and practical quality. Its interiors are workmanlike and direct, and those which have been completed by Maccreanor Lavington (plastered finishes, painted mdf cupboards, linoleum-faced floor tiles are the order of the day) are enlivened with moments of delightful invention - the luminous corridor in the lfmc space or the obsessive but enjoyable preciousness of the gallery reception desk.

There are two sadnesses, however. One is that the minimal core and staircase, with its extremely hard acoustic and industrial feel, fails to provide the building with any social focus of its own. Though each tenant will no doubt have a meeting space within their domain, there is no obvious setting for casual exchange or unexpected meetings within the inhospitable common areas (unless one counts the 'intimate' and rather erratically behaved lift). This may be exaggerated by the partial completeness and occupation of the building and hopefully will be redressed when the cafe is open and the building has a more public aspect.

The second sadness is that Maccreanor Lavington was not entrusted, apparently because of lack of technical experience, with the fit-out of the cinema and its ancillary spaces. The cinema foyer has the predictable, throwaway combination of garish colours, false plasterboard columns and video-age gimmickry - the ticket queue forms over a series of tv sets 'set' in the floor. This all contrasts jarringly with the cool sophistication of the gallery (unmistakably by Maccreanor Lavington) with its reception counter which appears to be hewn from a solid block of aluminium. This is only a minor irritation, however, and the overall composure of the building is unlikely to be upset by different interpretations or interventions from future occupiers.

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