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Tuesday29 July 2014

Drawing board

DSDHA’s proposals for a jeweller’s premises

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DSDHA is designing terracotta-clad premises to accommodate jeweller Alex Monroe’s expanding business. Deborah Saunt explains.

Where is the site and how are you using it?

DS: We’re building above a ground floor corner shop and basement on Snowsfields, tucked at the back of Guy’s Hospital and right on the edge of the London Bridge high-rise development zone. The triangular site is 9.3m long and tapers from 6.3m to 2m deep with a 15.8m high party wall.

Alex’s business has doubled in size – he sells well in Japan – and at the moment he doesn’t have his own showroom. This building will allow him to expand his operation. He’ll have five floors: a basement for heavier machinery; ground floor showroom; admin offices; workshop; and meeting room/roof terrace.

It’s due to start on site later this month and will take six months to complete.

How are you making the most of the small footprint?

DS: We’re cantilevering out. We thought it would give more strength and identity to the corner. We tried different angles on the end of the prow and have gone for an asymmetric cantilever that picks up the frontality of the curb and gives better views out. The planners had wanted alignment with the cornices [of the rest of the terrace]. But we felt it made sense architecturally, because it was an end building, to actually “stop” the building. Planning wasn’t straightforward – it took about 10 months. They were fine with the form, but the materiality took some time to agree.

What was the thinking behind using terracotta as rainscreen cladding and vertical batons?

DS: Whatever material we used had to have a longevity. We first thought about timber, then metal but Southwark really wanted terracotta in reference to the housing across the street. We felt we could only use it if we could layer it to clearly demonstrate a lightness appropriate to the structural timber construction. We decided on terracotta rainscreen panels overlaid with vertical battens known as “baguettes” in two depths: 45mm and 90mm (all by NBK) that run down the elevation and in places carry on over the windows. They are really precise and they’ll weather brilliantly. They have a dark finish that almost looks like metal. The terracotta doesn’t touch the cornice – we wanted it to be clear that it isn’t a structural enclosure but an applied skin.

What informed the irregular nature of the composition?

DS: We wanted something more dynamic than an even grid – the changes in depths of profile reflect the bespoke arrangement which responds to the site’s contextual horizons. The deeper battens start at the second floor level and wrap around the building before changing to 45mm deep around the back. We also break up the size of the rainscreen panels which are usually 300mm deep but are occasionally 400mm or 163mm. The structure is KLH cross-laminated solid timber with Schueco aluminium windows.

With the window composition, we wanted to echo the enormous windows at our studios in Iliffe Yard, where Alex Monroe is also based, but there were strong structural parameters in that we needed enough window-free structure to tie the new build back to the main elevation. It was a game of trial and error and we experimented with a lot of models. We decided to have the big, long opening down over the meeting room and studio, where people spend most of their time and need the biggest connection with the outside.

What will the interior be like?

DS: We’re refurbishing the basement and ground floor. In the studio, the KLH will be visible – apparently timber is the best material for a jewellers and there should definitely be no metal surfaces. The timber walls are oversized by 15mm for fire protection and whitened to take off the yellowness. The floor will be lino. Alex likes found objects so there will probably be some of those as well as new display cabinets. In the studio there’ll be timber workbenches contoured to suit the jewellers’ “skins” – hides slung to catch the filings of precious metal that break off as they work. We’ll restore the shopfront and the awnings as well as replacing the missing corbels.

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