Printer Friendly

Skin craft: by peeling back the layers, Allies and Morrison reveal how to use restraint when faced with the opportunity to design their own office building.

The question that leaps to mind when visiting Allies and Morrison's new offices in Southwark, is why does this not look like an Allies and Morrison building? When faced with the unadorned surfaces of glass and in-situ concrete many questions arise; where are the familiar slipping planes, relief panels and delaminated material layers within the facade? (like at the British Embassy [AR April 1996], Nunnery Square and Newnham College). Where are the embracing armatures that articulate the building's entrance? And where are filigreed pieces of architectural metalwork? Have Allies and Morrison conceded that less is more? Or, is this leaner, meaner building evidence of the inevitable evolution that a previously tight-knit partnership has experienced through the influence of an increasingly broad group of design associates? When considering these questions, and noting their restraint when facing the tempting freedom of expression that designing their own building has given them, the reduced, sleek, boiled-down aesthetic of this 1800[m.sup.2] office building can be seen as both a response to the unique physical context of the site, and the evolving context of Allies and Morrison's work.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

No 71-77 Southwark Street is, to use corporate jargon, Allies and Morrison's new flagship office, built to house 170 staff and, one may assume, demonstrate their un-compromised design aspirations. So, mindful of the constraints of a development that had to stack up as a commercially lettable venture, and no doubt anticipating the scrutiny of competitors and future clients, what architectural aspirations have been prioritized? And how have Allies and Morrison demonstrated that creativity begins at home?

While the physical outcome of this building may initially appear to be a new departure, closer analysis reveals that its strategic and detailed intentions are consistent with much of their earlier work. Using a more succinct and straight talking language, this building continues their urban exploration of the ambiguity between inside and outside, and their detailed exploration of how to clarify intention over mechanics (ie what a detail needs to be rather than how a detail is made). With, for example, the idiosyncratic rear facade echoing characteristics of the Clove Building (AR March 1991, coincidentally sited less than a mile away, east along London's gritty South Bank), and the front facade reapplying the same sleek clarity seen at their glazed screen at Tate Britain (AR August 2002). But, on this complex site, what exactly is front, and what is rear?

Recalling the consequential derivation of flat iron buildings, 71-77 Southwark Street actually has two addresses, occupying a narrow plot that faces south onto Farnham Place; a physical given, that along with orientation, rights of light and accessibility, somehow make this highly particular response satisfyingly inevitable. Broken masses, with holes punched through simple rendered walls, respond to the scale and mass of the pre-Victorian south side, while a contemporary curtain wall provides a physically and notionally silent facade to the busy Southwark Street bypass.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This facade represents the most significant shift for Allies and Morrison, where instead of clarifying the nature of the facade through layers revealed in elevation, it is the cross section that derives its form from the specific obligations of the inner and outer surfaces. While glass acts as a simple screen, optimizing north light and eliminating noise and fumes, a concrete frame--shifted out of phase--defines the interior spaces between fairfaced columns and soffits; spaces that are further modulated by hinged butterfly screens that act as a veil to provide privacy, reduce glare and re-proportion the apertures to a more domestic scale.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The building's sectional duality is also reflected in plan, with an orthogonal studio floorplate along Southwark Street being flanked by two tapering wings of space, largely given over to ancillary, service and circulation purposes. By contrast, these spaces have southerly windows set deliberately low to give seated occupants intriguing diagonal views back into the building, to and from the sunlit triple-height atrium.

The crank in plan is most profoundly expressed on ground level, where a fracture in the accommodation forms a new publicly accessible passage between the two streets. Sheltering an entrance into their ground floor reception gallery, and into a small retail unit that will soon become a self-managed cafe, this new route allows pedestrians to escape the hostile nature of Southwark Street--and it is hoped will eventually help establish a link between Southwark and the riverside area round Tate Modern.

Internally, a similar economy is evident, with only a few details being articulated against the backdrop of fine concrete and white plaster. An atrium balustrade, a spiral stair and the butterfly screens all function as simple elements, which having been through a process of refinement, abstraction and simplification, never shout out for attention. Instead each reinforce the context in which they are set, and in performing their own specific roles (ie what they need to be) add to a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. Balustrades comprise glass to see through and metal to lean on, and butterfly screens discretely fold away to become part of the window mullions.

At every level this is a building that Allies and Morrison can be proud of, demonstrating more restraint than most clients would be comfortable with. They certainly would have found it virtually impossible to convince any client to take on the responsibility for a public route across their site; a responsive and responsible decision, prioritizing public realm over private gain in a move that will certainly see Farnham Place much improved. Perhaps with their new home, the same will now be said of Allies and Morrison?

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 2004 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Gregory, Rob
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:952
Previous Article:The city as theatre: this theatre complex has a rich, eclectic spirit that reflects the vitality of the city.
Next Article:Touching heaven: this proposed new residential tower in Vancouver forms part of a strategy to reconfigure the city skyline.
Topics:


Related Articles
Hot property.
Concrete and clay.
An Irish solution.
Indigo Girls Complement Atlanta Dancers.
Townsend transfused: an extension to one of London's best loved smaller museums respects the architecture of the original, and makes sense of...
Lunchtime facials.
Tropical mission: new offices for the British Council in Lagos both respond to and challenge local conditions.
Perfect skin: the creative and commercial quest to redefine the building skin continues to enthral.
Utopia regained: these bold government offices help the American workplace to reconnect with a sense of civitas.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters