Buckle Street Studios establishes a dialogue with its context through its tiered facade

Designed from the ground up by Grzywinski+Pons, the thirteen storey mixed-use structure serves as an architectural intermediary between heritage and contemporary.

by Anmol AhujaPublished on : May 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 Buckle Street Studios building aspires to be an architectural intermediary between the heritage and contemporary structures in its vicinity | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The Buckle Street Studios building aspires to be an architectural intermediary between the heritage and contemporary structures in its vicinity Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The building sits softly on its site with its radiused edges | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The building sits softly on its site with its radiused edges Image: Nicholas Worley

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.

  • The structure's base and subsequent fenestrations are composed of rusticated nickel finished metal | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The structure's base and subsequent fenestrations are composed of rusticated nickel finished metal Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The curved facade activates the public juncture on which the building lies | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The curved facade activates the public juncture on which the building lies Image: Nicholas Worley

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.

  • The facade features ordered striation, rising to thirteen storeys amid low rise heritage buildings | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The facade features ordered striation, rising to thirteen storeys amid low rise heritage buildings Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The building's crown is composed of porous glass block | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The building's crown is composed of porous glass block Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The contrast at the junction marking a shift in materiality adds another layer of kineticism to the building | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The contrast at the junction marking a shift in materiality adds another layer of kineticism to the building Image: Nicholas Worley

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 composition in nickel and the arrangement of fenestrations follows a near mathematical machination | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The composition in nickel and the arrangement of fenestrations follows a near mathematical machination Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The diaphanous crown of the building is animated by light and movement in the interiors | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The diaphanous crown of the building is animated by light and movement in the interiors Image: Nicholas Worley

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 interior scheme on the lower, public levels of the building emerges out of a need to integrate the outside and inside, and to entice passersby to venture inside | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The interior scheme on the lower, public levels of the building emerges out of a need to integrate the outside and inside, and to entice passersby to venture inside Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The designers pepper the merchandise at the concept store with soft stools, sofa, and other furniture to promote lingering around those | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The designers pepper the merchandise at the concept store with soft stools, sofa, and other furniture to promote lingering around those Image: Nicholas Worley

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.

  • A melange of colours and glass-porcelain vitrines animate the interiors of the multipurpose space | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    A melange of colours and glass-porcelain vitrines animate the interiors of the multipurpose space Image: Nicholas Worley
  • View of the co-working space, utilising a relatively subtle palette | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    View of the co-working space, utilising a relatively subtle palette Image: Nicholas Worley

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.

  • The glass blocks in the crown wash the interior spaces of the residences with natural light | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The glass blocks in the crown wash the interior spaces of the residences with natural light Image: Nicholas Worley
  • Bespoke furniture and utilitarian albeit stylish storage units earmark every space inside the residences | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    Bespoke furniture and utilitarian albeit stylish storage units earmark every space inside the residences Image: Nicholas Worley
  • The lightness of the setting is complemented by a visual richness and depth in materials used in the interiors of the studio apartments | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The lightness of the setting is complemented by a visual richness and depth in materials used in the interiors of the studio apartments Image: Nicholas Worley

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.

  • The glass blocks in the crown wash the interior spaces of the residences with natural light | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    The glass blocks in the crown wash the interior spaces of the residences with natural light Image: Nicholas Worley
  • Visual moodboard for the building's external appearance and interior elements complementing that | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    Visual moodboard for the building's external appearance and interior elements complementing that Image: Courtesy of Grzywinski + Pons
  • Visual moodboard for other interior elements and spaces | Buckle Street Studios | Grzywinski + Pons | STIRworld
    Visual moodboard for other interior elements and spaces Image: Courtesy of Grzywinski + Pons

"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.

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