Thursday, 24 March 2011

St Giles International, Southampton Row, WC1

Most work undertaken by us tends to be small domestic and commercial properties outside central London, or at the very least in zone 1 & 2, (with exception of the Hut at Spa Fields, 2006, which was our first public project) so when an opportunity arose to survey an historic mixed use building in the heart of Bloomsbury we jumped with paralytic enthusiasm.

Hailing a cab near Old Street close to our offices in Shoreditch, we made it to St Giles International English School in WC1 in no time at all. Venture northwest between Holborn and Russell Square, Southampton Row is a busy trajectory connecting some of the most notable scholarly institutions in London, from the British Museum to the southwest to University College London at the juncture between Bloomsbury and Euston. As like many busy thoroughfares, Southampton Row is graced with a variety of buildings that reflect the capital’s evolving fashion, wealth and architectural pattern during good and bad economic times.

St Giles College, Front Elevation. Note the cantilevered clock above the grand entrance

Incorporated into the façade of the building is a clock - something that is less common in new buildings - but the norm in older buildings providing a point of reference for departures and arrivals. Nowadays mobile handsets are the source of time keeping for many students it is still great to see that this handsome feature is still working.

St Giles College door surround and worms eye view of the clock

Whereas some building are Post War, plain fronted and utilitarian with simple fenestration housing budget accommodation, others are earlier building typologies, such as grand Edwardian red brick buildings embellished with stone quoins, ornate window surrounds and magnificent entrance fronts. Those travellers who have a keen eye will notice on the approach to the junction with Russell Square at the north side of the street a fine looking clock between the ornate bay windows projecting at second storey level. Directly underneath the clock a broken pediment draws the eye to the entrance of this distinguished building.

The main entrance shows a well combined mix of proportions with different scales

To the rear of the façade the Edwardian interior leads into a post war extension housing a series of rooms that are less generous in proportion than those at the front. It is not known if this is a simple extension hacked onto the rear of the Edwardian building or whether the rear part of the old building sustained damage and perhaps removed either in part or whole. Either way the location of the main stairs at the rear of the Edwardian section of the building seems odd for a building of this size, as a more centrally placed stairs would generate better circulation and impression for a building of this character.

Compared with the Edwardian Baroque of the earlier building facing Southampton Row, the later
rear Mansard extension is comprised of a utilitarian aesthetic and asymmetrically arranged services

In any case on plan the concept or notion of this building is a typology comprised of two parts with the Edwardian section plugged into its later cousin and the stairs acting as the fusion between each architectural component.
The nature of the post war extension up against the rear elevation of the existing building
has created a series of odd shaped rooms which are ideal for storage

Formerly the home to St Giles Secretarial College where young ladies learnt the etiquette and business of office PA, the EFL college St Giles International commissioned us to survey the 3rd floor for legal purposes. The survey will inform a Planning Application and subsequent works to convert floors 3 & 4 from student accommodation to new classrooms. Divided into two extremes – the old building populated with pupils attending class, and the later building entirely vacant for refurbishment – the atmosphere was strange, reverberating between hustle and bustle on one hand yet eerily quiet on the other. Although surveying the later section of the college was straightforward: unrestricted access and empty rooms, some new areas of the 3rd floor functioning as study rooms had to be surveyed as and when pupils finished their class or took a break for coffee.

St Giles College, London WC1 - Our initial Layout Plan of the 3rd Floor

The project reverts the upper floors back to their original typologies. Ladies who attended St Giles in the 1950s boarded upstairs and attended classes on the 1st and 2nd floors. However the design will be in contrast to the dark stained timber panelling and leather upholstery furnishing the Reception and Director’s suites. The new classrooms will reflect the efficiency, quality and ethos that St Giles International College is built on as well as meeting the professional aspirations of the students who will once again occupy the upper floors at tree level and gain inspiration from all that lies beneath.

Seemingly endless windows look out onto another seemingly endless fenestration.
We wonder how many windows there are in London?

At the rear of St Giles College the courtyard gives way to a budget hotel.
We like this view and enjoy the rhythm between the fenestration and grain of the masonry

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