The morning of 2nd December was spectacular. The low sun blasted across the horizon and the air was crisp. Approaching the Kentish Town building recently adapted by Trevor Horne Architects for the photographer Rankin, I was struck by how crumbly and eclectic this part of London feels. The mixture of Victorian building stock gives way to industrial developments and 1960s estates. Initially it seems an odd location for a global fashion player to develop an existing building in which to live and work (as well as 11 apartments for sale), though it turns out there are local family ties. Then again, it reminded me of parts of New York – Brooklyn maybe – which are simultaneously peripheral and important.
As I come out of the shadow of a sooty brick railway arch, I catch a glimpse of a smooth and shiny facade – though initially I am more struck by the horribly mannered brick building next door. Annroy (the building is named after the owner’s parents), is sandwiched between a four-storey 1960s utilitarian slab block and the new-build apartments. Thus from the street the building is all about this single facade, not least because the planners were reluctant to countenance significant changes in the massing. The graphite render provides a plane onto which huge floor-to-ceiling windows appear to be stuck. All the blinds are down save for within the double-height gallery. A framed terrace on the newly-added third floor articulates the extension, while above the set-back penthouse is all but invisible.
The black and white cinematic reading continues within. An exhibition of photographs is presided over by a lonely receptionist and 1000 cardboard boxes. This space is open to the public, but no-one seemed overly worried that the stuff of real life was on display as well. Passing through a large door to the side, you arrive at the main studio. Two skinny chaps are painting the white backdrop and floor while moving props out of the way into the make-up room ready for a photo shoot. It is very serene, despite Queen being blasted through the sound system. I notice the cleverly capped off columns that have been adjusted to create the open-plan space. A sophisticated kitchen means even the tastes of the pickiest supermodel can be catered for. The black floor and white walls reinforce the film noire aesthetic.
From the reception a sculptural dog-leg stair leads to meeting rooms and open-plan offices. Here the raised metal floor glints in borrowed light diffused through the glazed partitions of the meeting room and boardroom. Around 20 staff tap away on keyboards in front of large monitors. In a section to the rear, which has no daylight, the detailed photographic retouching and printing goes on. It looks a fine place to work, not least because the acoustics are very good.
From here we take the lift, past the second- and third-floor apartments, to the rooftop penthouse. Here, the sense of light, the extraordinary views over London and the feeling of generosity are incredibly seductive. A white Parapan wall is top-lit and hides the flat screen above the fire, and is at right angles to a small glass winter garden offering glimpses into the master bedroom. The transparency achieved by the layering of glazed partitions mean that all the views are framed, which is fitting. A secret door reveals a more private zone with two further bedrooms, a gym and a bathroom. Beautifully made flush sliding doors open onto the main south-west-facing roof terrace, inhabited on my visit only by two recliners and a discreet pile of dog muck – not everything can be perfect.
In the end the success of this project resides in the experiences the architect has created. While the composition of the facade is refined, the spatial moves deft and the engineering intelligent, it is more than the sum of its parts. I welcome the simplicity and unpretentious use of materials. The narrative adds to the character and sense of place without being overwhelming. With considerable skill Horne has created an elegant, well-constructed proposition that maximises the potential of the site.
The architect told me he had been lucky to have a very sympathetic client. I am sure the feeling is mutual. This re-working of an existing building is a blueprint for how our cities could be transformed. Neither radical nor avant-garde, this is intelligent architecture in an age of uncertainty.
James Soane is a director of Project Orange, whose recent projects include mixed-use buildings in London, Sheffield and Manchester, and author of New Homes (Conran Octopus).
Architect: Trevor Horne Architects; design team: Trevor Horne, David Shaw (project architect), Sam Woodridge, Tim Francey, Kostas Elezis; contractor: Lampard & Partners; qs: Andrew Turner & Co; structural engineer: Techniker; m&e engineer: Michael Popper Associates; party wall consultant: Urban Building Surveyors.
Selected suppliers and subcontractors
Penthouse cladding: Marley Eternit; penthouse insulation: Kingspan Kooltherm K12; breather membrane: Permavent; render: Sto; roofing system: Bauder; windows: Sapa, Revo; sliding doors: Sunflex, SkyFrame; curtain wall: Glass Tech Facades; rooflights: Glazing Vision; floor tiles: Porcelanosa; sanitary appliances (penthouse): Duravit Vero washbasins, Duravit Starck 2 wc, Laufen II Bagno Alessi bath, Hans Grohe taps; glass balustrades and partitions: Arkoni, Planet Partitioning; internal blinds: Silent Gliss; lighting: Zumtobel, Erco, Concord Marlin, iGuzzini, Wever & Ducre, Glashutte Limburg.
AT204/January 2010 p28