Conceptual drawings by Peter Ahrends shed light on the creative process within the celebrated office of Ahrends Burton Koralek
‘Stream of Sketches’ (Right Angle Publishing, 160pp, £20) comprises drawings and commentaries by Peter Ahrends illustrating some of the ideas behind 60 projects from the office of Ahrends Burton Koralek. Intended neither as presentation drawings nor artworks, the sketches serve to illuminate how initial thoughts are conceived, explored and tested through the physical act of drawing.
Many of the featured projects remained unbuilt, including that for Paternoster Square, immediately north of St Paul’s Cathedral in London (shown here). These proposals, from the mid-1980s, predate the Prince Charles-approved masterplan that was implemented, and consider both partial and wholesale demolition of the 1960s’ William Holford and Trehearne Norman Preston & Partners-designed office precinct.
Peter Ahrends takes up the story:
“In the early 1960s, when ABK’s team numbered six to eight people, then working on the early design stages of Trinity College Library (later the Berkeley Library) and Chichester Theological College, we opened our first ‘real’ office on the top floor of a former ‘sweatshop’ in Carter Lane, no more than a long stone’s throw from St Paul’s Cathedral. Why there? Cheap rent, at the time. The raised-deck development for the adjacent bomb-damaged Paternoster area was under construction. Not a beauty, but William Holford’s scheme tied into the City of London’s ‘of-it’s-time’ planning vision of raised pedestrian ‘pedways’ and traffic-segregated decks that was also implemented further north at the Barbican. Later, in the site arrangement of our unbuilt 1970s’ scheme for the Post Office headquarters offices on Newgate Street, we had planned to subvert this policy.
In 1986 Standard Life commissioned us to design a replacement office building on Shaftesbury Avenue. For funding reasons this came to nothing, but the client then asked us to suggest radical improvements to all of its buildings at Paternoster. These sketches touch on our substantial interventions, which envisaged a very different formal and spatial world on top of the 1960s deck. Working on the project, however, I came to think that this approach wasn’t radical enough, and that the deck itself should be opened up. With the enthusiastic support of our client, we began to consider the potential demolition of the whole site in order to make a fresh start. Instead an international competition was set up, but this foundered when Prince Charles saw another opportunity to intervene, wrecking the outcome after the winner was announced.”