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Future Office charrette: drummond.lawlor

Future office opener 4
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drummond.lawlor suggested a one or two storey extension to provide extra office space and a public garden terrace


Drummond.lawlor’s original concept was a radical proposal to construct mini skyscrapers on top of The Crown Estate’s existing historic buildings. But at the charrette, the two-man team refined its idea to one that was more considerate of the historical setting. 

Comparing their proposal to Manhattan’s urban setting, the architects suggested retaining the Clydesdale Bank building’s historic façade while adding a distinctly new and elevated one-to-two-storey extension on top. This so-called ‘Crown’ would provide further office space, with the elevation allowing for a public garden terrace below it and daylight to flow down into the central atrium. 

Crownestatecharette 395

Crownestatecharette 395

‘We’ve been intentionally bold,’ drummond.lawlor’s Chris Drummond said of the extension. ‘We just thought if we’re going to do it, we can’t be apologetic about it.’ In this light, the pair proposed a building clad in crystalline mirrored glass with an ornately decorated soffit, which could be seen from Piccadilly Circus. 

Elsewhere, the team suggested carving an entirely new central atrium, which would provide space for public and private events, a café and a lecture theatre. Drummond described the theatre as a ‘flexible asset’, which could be used outside office hours. An art piece was also proposed for a corner on the outside of the building, fitting in with the existing framework.

Although Robert Davis expressed some concern over the new building’s impact on the views, John Lawlor of drummond.lawlor insisted that because it was set back it would only be visible from Piccadilly Circus and not going down Regent Street. Paul Finch praised the design precisely because it was ‘uncompromising and provocative’, while James Cooksey welcomed the team’s plans for the atrium. ‘The reason we have the light well is to create a building that’s got light and a soul and that people are happy to move around in,’ he said. ‘In that way you’ve really captured some of things we’ve been looking at.’

 drummond.lawlor Q+A 

Crownestatecharette 42

Crownestatecharette 42

Team: Chris Drummond, director; John Lawlor, director

Where did you begin with your Future Office concept? 
We started with the observation that over time and through continued subdivision, many historic office buildings in central London continue to look impressive from the street but can struggle to meet the requirements of a modern office. We noticed the stone façades that form the historic streetscape act as a base layer above which exists a more freeform skyline of mansard roofs, domes and spires. 

What did you learn as a practice?
We learned to stick to our guns. We found out at our interview that of the 79 entries, we were the only one who proposed to build upwards. 

What was it like to work without a computer?
It was a breath of fresh air, although we tend to do a mix of hand-sketching and computer modelling during the early days of a project.

What was the best part of the experience?
The view over Piccadilly Circus from the roof of the Clydesdale Bank building during the previous night’s site visit was very memorable. We also enjoyed presenting how we applied and adapted our shortlisted concept to this prominent site, and receiving very positive feedback.

What would you have done differently?
We would have asked in advance for the Crown Estate to have brought their impressive site model of St James to the charrette. We would then have made a model of our proposal.

What best describes your team’s approach: feverish scribbling, or slow and steady?
We were the smallest team and presented first but we were decisive and well prepared so we were pretty steady. We had worked through some sketch ideas the previous day regarding efficient cores, potential plan configurations, BCO guidance … so that we could concentrate on developing and describing the key architectural moves during the workshop. 

Would you do it again – and why?
Yes, it was fun. We enjoyed discussing ideas with The Crown Estate, the AJ’s journalists and architects we admire.

Do you have any regrets?

Do you have any good tales from the day?
Paul Finch is good with a headline, referring to our proposal as a ‘Cat A on a hot tin roof’.

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