Nicola Rutt of Hawkins\Brown on building London’s Olympic legacy - Here East

Nicola Rutt speaks with STIR about Here East – an adaptive reuse of a project built for the 2012 London Olympics, proving that architecture can provide solutions for games structures.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Apr 02, 2020

Here East is a project that was taken up by London-based architecture firm Hawkins\Brown in 2013 to transform the former Press and Broadcast Centre on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, built for the 2012 London Olympics, into a 1.2 million sq ft commercial space for London’s creative and digital industries. Spearheaded by ICity and Delancey, the project has won many awards having been led by Nicola Rutt, Head of Workplace at Hawkins\Brown alongside David Bickle. Rutt was also recognised for her work and shortlisted for the MJ Long Prize for the Here East London project at the recently conducted W Awards in March 2020.

External façade of the Here East project | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
External façade of the Here East project Image Credit: Rory Gardiner

The former Broadcast and Press Centre, along with an auditorium totalling over one million sqft of space was converted into flexible work areas, studios and retail spaces, an innovation hub, the yard for social and public activities and a 950-seat theatre. The Gantry, an intriguing experimental solution overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, has been fitted out with a series of studio-shed structures for artists, designers and craftsmen.

Nicola Rutt of Hawkins\Browns gives us an insight into the project - its intricacies, challenges and processes.

Meghna Mehta (MM): What was the initial vision and brief that you started with?

Nicola Rutt (NR): The vision for the project was to transform the Press and Broadcast Centres built for the 2012 Olympic Games in London into a tech campus where businesses, large and small, can be located alongside academia and cultural uses. The architectural brief given to Hawkins\Brown was to re-purpose the buildings and the spaces around them to support this. The scale of the project is huge in London terms, at 1.2 million sqft of floor area the biggest challenge was that a large percentage of this area was within the Broadcast Centre, which was a 280 metre-long, windowless shed.

  • Floor plans of Here East | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
    Floor plans of Here East Image Credit: Courtesy of Hawkins\Brown
  • Site plan showing the scale of the project in London, UK | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
    Site plan showing the scale of the project in London, UK Image Credit: Courtesy of Hawkins\Brown

MM: How did the firm deal with the huge scale of the project? What was your inspiration?

NR: Hawkins\Brown is an established architectural practice working across different sectors, so we didn’t approach this as an office project, we thought more broadly about how academia and business can come together and how we could design to encourage collaboration . The scale and nature of the Broadcast Centre also led us to take our inspiration from the industry and we looked to aircraft hangars, factories, the photography of Bernd and Hilla Becher and the work of Gordon Matta-Clark for inspiration.

Before and after – the façade of the Here East | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Before and after – the façade of Here East Image Credit: GGA Architects, Rory Gardiner

MM: How did you bring together industrial design, art and architecture? What was your design philosophy?

NR: We had to work quickly on this project and our instinct from the start was to make industrial scale interventions. We knew that the Broadcast Centre needed a bold treatment to its façades that would work at scale, so we used dazzle camouflage as a way of providing a strong visual image while disrupting the relentless, rectangular elevations.

The design philosophy was arrived at, simultaneously, by three different creative agencies, and it drove every aspect of the design, from the macro to the micro scale. Whilst we were developing the architectural approach to the building, POKE, a creative digital media company, was developing a narrative for Here East that focussed on the disruptive nature of digital technology on business. The third creative agency on the team was dn&co exploring disruption in the branding and placemaking story.

Before and after - dynamic industrial elements used in the Here East project in London | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Before and after - dynamic industrial elements used in the Here East project in London Image Credit: GGA Architects, Rory Gardiner

MM: What are the distinguishing features of this project?

NR: The scale is significant and certainly sets it apart from other projects in the UK. It is the scale that has allowed Here East to become an ecosystem for so many varied businesses and academic uses. The fact that it involved the re-use of an unremarkable industrial shed for this; there are some amazing projects that re-use characterful historic sheds, but that really wasn’t what we started with!

It's important to remember that this is an Olympic legacy project, and so great importance was placed on sustainability, positive social impact as well as health and fitness. We factored in all of these considerations into all the decisions we made during the design process.

Double height spaces in the interiors | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Double height spaces in the interiors Image Credit: Rory Gardiner

Finally, the gantry! This was a unique structure which presented the opportunity to do something truly experimental, taking it from being one of the greatest challenges to the greatest successes of the project.

Drawing of the Gantry | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Drawing of the Gantry Image Credit: Courtesy of Hawkins\Brown

MM: Could you briefly explain how the planning of the spaces was choreographed? Were there any challenges in particular areas and functions while the adaptive re-use approach was applied?

NR: Being a huge space, it might be difficult to get into the details but primarily, there are three buildings on the site. The Broadcast Centre is the biggest space; the Press Centre is about a third of the size; and a smaller building sits at the apex of these two goliaths, the Theatre.

Section | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Site Section Image Credit: Courtesy of Hawkins\Brown

The Broadcast Centre was the most challenging building to transform as it was a two-story shed with solid facades. We conceived of this building as having a ‘core’, which is the dark studio space in the heart of the building, and a ‘crust’, which is the area of existing floor space around the perimeter of the building that could be naturally lit if we glazed the façades. As the structural grid was eight metres, we designed the ‘crust’ to be 16m from the facades. There is then a solid wall to the dark studio areas behind (the core). Because the floor-to-floor height was 10 metres we were able to add two new floors round the perimeter, adding 100,000 sqft of leasable floor space. The result is a very rational, robust building that can be adapted over time to accommodate a range of uses at different scales.

The most exciting aspect of the project is the gantry. This is a gargantuan three-story external steel frame running the full height and length of the Broadcast Centre, originally constructed to house all the air conditioning units for the broadcast studios during the Games. At the start of the project the plan was for this structure to be removed, but we collectively decided to keep it and turn it into what we described as a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ for the 21st century. This involved 23 individual artists’ studios being located along the steel platforms, like objects on huge steel shelves.

The external façade overlooking the public spaces of Here East in London | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
The external façade overlooking the public spaces of Here East in London Image Credit: Rory Gardiner

The Press Centre was designed as an efficient office building by UK-based architects Allies and Morrison for the Olympic Games. One of its long façades faces the Broadcast Centre and the other faces west, along a canal. Our design for the Press Centre involved transforming the ground floor facing the canal to a terraced row of independent cafés, bars, restaurants and shops which has since become a popular destination called ‘canalside’. The ground floor facing the Broadcast Centre is much more generous in height, with more flexibility to add mezzanine levels. This area now accommodates the main reception area with flexible workspace, the marketing and management suite for Here East and Plexal, an innovation centre based on the idea of a mini-city for tech start-ups and scale-ups.

The Theatre is a 900-person capacity conference space, booked for a variety of conferences and product launches. It is also used for important London events such as the Mayoral hustings.

Elevation of the Here East project showing dynamism of spaces | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Elevation of the Here East project showing dynamism of spaces Image Credit: Courtesy of Hawkins\Brown

MM: What are the unique designs, patterns or methodologies applied here?

NR: The ‘dazzle pattern’ facades of the Broadcast Centre are unique with over eight million dots digitally printed onto the curtain walling. Using software coding and solar analysis that we developed with Arup, the density of the frit was carefully tuned to the required thermal performance of the building’s interior spaces, also helping to reduce glare.

The artists’ studios on the gantry units were designed and constructed using the Wikihouse system, developed by Architecture 00, with whom we collaborated. Wikihouse is an open source design and construction toolkit that uses a standardised kit of parts but enables a high degree of customisation in size, shape, openings, cladding, plug and play equipment. We then clad each of these units with a playful mix of materials as a nod to some of the industries that once thrived in this part of Hackney, East London.

Double height work and studio spaces | Here East London | Hawkins\Brown | STIRworld
Double height work and studio spaces Image Credit: Rory Gardiner

MM: Looking back, is there anything that you would like to change or do differently?

NR: It would have been great to do more with the theatre building, but at the time it was not clear whether an operator would come forward to take that on.

I would not change anything else; Here East is constantly evolving; the tenant mix could not have been predicted at the start of the project and as it reaches full capacity there’s a real vibrancy to the place. We had a great team working on this project who have become good friends - I think one still gets a sense of that collaborative spirit when one goes there.

Project Details

Name: Here East
Location: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London, UK
Client: Delancey and iCity
Architecture and interior design: Hawkins\Brown
Start date: May 2013
Construction period: October 2014 to July 2016
The gantry was run under a separate contract at a later date.
Structural Engineers: Buro Happold/ Arup
M&E Engineers: Cundall/ Arup
Cost Consultants: Gardiner and Theobald
Project Manager: Colliers
Planning Consultant: Deloitte
Landscape Architects: LDA Design
Main Contractor: Laing O’Rourke
Design for artists’ studios to the gantry: Architecture 00
Creative digital media agency: POKE
Brand Collaborators: DN&Co.
Visual images: CGI’s produced by The Neighbourhood

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