A central London office building by Emrys Architects evokes the local history of garment making
The form and material character of Emrys Architects’ recently completed Thirty Broadwick are strongly influenced by the building’s immediate context in the Soho Conservation Area, on the corner of Broadwick and Poland Streets in central London. “We sought to expose hidden gems set within the building’s context of fine historic terraces and twentieth-century buildings of varying degrees of quality, and the mews-like Livonia Street which leads to a charming hidden courtyard which few ever get to experience’, says the architect.
The main facades are articulated as distinct pieces that reflect the design of neighbouring buildings. A neighbouring Grade-II-listed Georgian terrace is echoed in the strong vertical lines of the Broadwick Street elevation, and influenced the rhythm of the fenestration and the massing of the building, which is constrained by a protected view from Primrose Hill. The top three floors step back progressively to create deep terraces.
Emrys Architects was keen to avoid the “bulkiness” of a 1980s red-brick building that had previously stood on the site, and has endeavoured to manifest the finer grain of older plot sizes in the composition of the facades. A building constructed at the eastern end of the site in the 1950s inspired the incorporation of a petrol-black faience-clad bay there, “which reads as a separate element and provides a strong visual contrast within the principal Broadwick Street elevation”, suggests the architect. In further contrast, the Poland Street facade is finished in white glazed brick with green glazed brick piers.
On the Broadwick Street facade, Roman brick predominates, and the brickwork piers are ‘folded’ to give a pleated effect that recalls the local importance of the garment industry. The pleating theme recurs in the fluted form of the faience, in the decorative bronze louvres to the shopfronts, and in the building’s foyer, where a long wall of illuminated ‘dart motif’ bronze panels sits behind the reception desks, and five large wall-hung Portland stone carvings provide a centrepiece for the space.
These were made to a design by artist Sasha Holzer, who was also commissioned to sculpt a series of spandrel panels on the Broadwick Street elevation. His designs were carved by hand in oak, scanned in three dimensions, rough-cut in stone at twice the size of the original last, and then hand-finished. “The scanning allowed some of the pieces to be handed and rotated as Sasha wanted them to work as a triptych”, explains the architect.
The spandrels are carefully illuminated at night, and by day their carved surfaces are animated by the play of shadows. “Sasha’s work was selected because of its very three-dimensional form, sharp edges and patterning”, says the architect, “which we knew would work very well on a south-facing facade where it would change as the sun moved around the building”.
Heyne Tillet Steel
Great Portland Estates