Deep, Crisp and Even

Order and relief articulate a large prefabricated facade designed by Maccreanor Lavington for a Bloomsbury student hall of residence


Tim Crocker

The deep, heavily modelled facade designed by Maccreanor Lavington for the University of London’s Garden Halls responds to three challenging conditions: the building sits within Bloomsbury’s Conservation Area and faces a listed crescent of Georgian houses; the facade itself totals 4,500 square metres but the repetitive programme of small cellular rooms did not itself generate articulation or variety; and a tight schedule limited time on site. The architects’ response entailed a bold approach to scale, order and relief, and the use of large-scale prefabricated brick and precast concrete panels.

Working alongside executive architect TP Bennett, Maccreanor Lavington designed both the new principal nine-storey facade facing Cartwright Gardens and a seven-storey building at the corner of the site. The design takes cues from Victorian and Edwardian additions to Bloomsbury. The main facade is highly articulated, with crisp detailing. A buff water-struck Petersen brick is offset by white reconstituted stone and glazed terracotta cills, and a two-storey mansard.

The upper five storeys are expressed as a series of stepped brick piers and frames over window openings that are gathered together to form a vertical order across the facade.The ground and first floor form a single base to the building, with brickwork piers being rusticated by recessing every fifth course.

The facade of the corner building is a pair of simple punched brick elevations, with a darker water-struck brick used to match the soot-coloured elevations of neighbours. White reconstituted stone surrounds to the windows recall the 1930s buildings that previously occupied the site.

The entire facade was manufactured offsite as brick-faced precast concrete panels, with stepped brickwork that evokes the detailing of traditional masonry. The facade’s depth allowed it to be constructed from large loadbearing units, requiring fewer movement joints than site-laid brick cladding. It also reduced the need for on-site labour and lends a ‘traditional’ monolithic character.

“Our approach embraces the repetition inherent in student halls”, says director Richard Lavington. “The depth of the facade allows a modelling of light and shade appropriate to a building of this scale. The brick combines references to the warm pale hues of Portland stone and the texture of the surrounding Georgian brickwork, over which the shadows of the grand London Plane trees within the garden can play.”

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