by Zohra KhanSep 07, 2022
It is not very often that architects may be able to claim the design language of an architecture - spread across the internal and external forms of the building, from its macro to the micro scaled elements - as their own. However, this unique intervention in the Aldgate East neighbourhood of London brings together the architectural, interior design, and even furniture design talents of the New York-based architecture studio Grzywinski+Pons in creating a holistically designed structure, remarkably linked despite somewhat distinct design influences in each of the elements listed above. It is, in fact, completely to the studios' credit that the building emerges as a veritable fusion of styles, while acting as an arbiter in its dense but varied urban milieu: a tempest of tales in each crevice, corner, and fold of the structure.
The most noteworthy of elements in the design of this mixed-use structure is perhaps its facade, conceived in careful detail, and seeming almost in constant conversation with its immediate crowded context. The architects describe this response as both a challenge and an influence, as the project’s site lay amid a vastly variable setting, comprising both low-rise heritage buildings and high-rise contemporary structures. In that, the role of the Buckle Street Studios' building as an "architectural intermediary, both in mass and articulation" was rather predetermined by the architects. "Cognizant of our responsibility to consider the larger urban context of our site, we specified materials and defined our formal language to temper the architectonic jump from the smaller historic buildings to more recent tall developments," state Matthew Grzywinski and Amador Pons, principals at the eponymous US-based architectural and design firm.
A focused two-point perspective is formed at the active intersection where the building finds its footing, with the curved facade lending energy and character to the junction while making it sit rather softly at the corner. This is at once a contrast and reflection - a contrast to the mostly orthogonal structures surrounding it, and a reflection of the building located right across the street, displaying a filleted facade with a larger radius. Much of the scheme's structural load is transferred to an expressionistic double-height parabolic arch, inspired from round headed windows, arched cornices and rounded quoins of heritage buildings on neighbouring streets.
Apart from the corner-curving form, the building's urban edifice transforms into a screen for dramatic but ordered shifts in the facade design’s materiality, formation, and composition, mimicking the structural assemblage of an ornate column. "This tiered approach also allows the building to become more light and transparent as it rises," state the architects on the intent of these striations. The building’s public front - the ‘base’ - is composed of rusticated, nickel finished metal panels on a progressive scale, displaying an almost mathematical machination in its composition and division of visual mass. Above this linear interpretation of a pediment, the architects use warm grey hand-laid waterstruck brick laid out in soldier courses, a miniaturisation of sorts of the same ordered striation visible in the facade. The brick imbues the central portion of the building, also its most voluminous, with a rich texture and depth, along with minimally interpreted ornamentation in brick.
The building’s crown, designed to be equal in proportion to the base, is diaphanously clad completely in glass blocks, a conclusion to the reductive visual mass of the building from bottom to the top. The crown's envelope is designed as a twin wall assembly, with the outer skin acting as both spandrel and parapet, the latter raised to conceal the equipment on the roof. Apart from its insulation and thermal efficiency, the fabric like translucence of the material lends the crown a sense of constant animation through interior light and the activities of inhabitants, as the transition from solid to glass bricks marks another layer of kineticism. "The volume feels solid and ephemeral all at the same time,” according to the architects. Furthermore, the same nickel finish from the base adorns fenestrations on all three levels as a unifying element, while the coffered panels serve as spandrel covers and artful ventilation grilles.
The spatial program of the building, comprising 103 compact apartments, a mezzanine co-working space, coffee shop, meeting rooms and a concept store, lent the building and the architects to work on definitive visual and stylistic entities for each of them, manifested in the eclectic interior design scheme for Buckle Street Studios. On the lower floors - the more public zones of the building - the architects and designers acknowledge the need for an integration of the markedly inside and outside spheres of the building, with a hope that passersby are invited in and choose comfortable enough to explore and stay, especially for the concept store. In this, the primary organising element - also the linkage - is the parabolic arch, visible from the expansive glazing on the base's facade. While the arch supports and defines the mezzanine floor inside to form an expansive double height space at the entrance, it also consolidates the structural load of the front half of the building above. This language of structural expressionism is complemented by timber balustrades, fluted paneling, clay plaster finishes, dress curtains, soft furnishings, and brick claddings for floors and skirtings.
Within the multipurpose space - equal parts gallery, lounge, coffee shop, retail concept and living room - and treated as an extension of the street itself, the designers scatter porcelain and glass vitrines made of rhombic volumes around the curated display and merchandise of the concept store. These displays are complemented and surrounded by curved banquettes, sofas, and soft stools that promote lingering. The stylistically approached gallery-like interiors of the space further the designers' pedagogy of this space lying at the crossroads of art and commerce.
Higher up, in the apartments in the crown, the interiors benefit massively from swathes of natural lighting washing over the space through the glass blocks. Here, the interior scheme adopts the motif of balance as its defining element, weighing the lightness of the glass blocks against prodigious billowing curtains, clay plaster walls, cross sawn timber floors, ultrasuede upholstery in pop colours, and lush bedding, in a meeting of comfortable and iconic. The residential spaces are further lined with bespoke furniture and utilitarian storage elements, including shallow linear shelves and hanging timber trays, in a palette composed of blush tinted clay, sage, timber, jute, creamy stone and velvety neutrals, accelerating an intended shift in definition from apartments to studios and spaces for respite and creative expression.
"For us, as architects, and our client, this project also furthers the equally urban and personal interrogation between public and private, residents and visitors. This blend is the very stuff of so many of the most successful and vital communities in London. An enigmatic yet alluring public space anchoring co-working spaces and aparthotel rooms create an inclusive and inviting context from which the community and visitors can interact with and inspire one another,” conclude Matthew Grzywinski and Amador Pons on the urban aspirations and subtle ethos of the project.