Printer Friendly

Wellcome home: redeploying their pioneering lightness of touch, Hopkins Architects' most recent building balances mass, solidity and transparency.

As Britain's first bypass, the 'New Road' (constructed in the mid-eighteenth century as a fast route into the City and now Euston Road/Marylebone Road) has always been a place of passage. The buildings lining it, so varied in scale, style and quality, are more often than not glimpsed fleetingly from a car or bus. Making an impact in this context is quite a challenge--one to which Hopkins Architects' Wellcome Trust headquarters makes a vigorous response. Alongside the adjacent PFI-funded University College Hospital tower (designed by Llewelyn Davis) and within sight of the overbearing Euston Tower, the Gibbs Building (named after a former chairman of the Trust) stands out as the model of rational order and elegant detail that one expects from Hopkins Architects.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This is essentially a high-quality bespoke office building, with 22 000sqm of workspace housing 550 staff--the short-list of practices invited to compete for the commission back in 1999 (It included Foster and Partners, Sheppard Robson and EPR) suggests that the Trust had a fairly clear image of the sort of building it wanted. Work began on site in 2001 and the Trust moved in last autumn, vacating a number of buildings it previously occupied in the area. The new building, which incorporates the principal entrance to Euston Square Underground station, connects directly to the Trust's former headquarters at 183 Euston Road, its neighbour to the east. Hopkins Architects is reconfiguring the latter as a public venue incorporating lecture theatres, exhibition spaces, cafe, conference centre and bookshop, as well as the famous Wellcome Library due to open next year. If there is a distinctly Kahnian influence at work in the Hopkins building, the old headquarters, completed in 1932 to designs by Septimus Warwick, is a typical example of the American-inspired 'Neo-Grec' of the interwar years. Warwick's early career was dominated by town hall projects and this could easily be a municipal monument. To the south, across Gower Place (for long a drab back street), the Wellcome site adjoins University College's central campus and is addressed by another formal Classical composition, F. M. Simpson's Kathleen Lonsdale Building of 1912-13. New landscaping, planting and traffic-calming measures have civilized Gower Place from where there are views into the transparent (though essentially private) ground floor of the Gibbs Building. Containing a cafe as well as reception, conference and meeting spaces, it is a great place for a party, and a stunning installation by artist Thomas Heatherwick provides an appropriate focal point (as well as masking views of the hospital tower).

The Wellcome Trust is, by any standards, a wealthy organization--it funds an estimated 20 per cent of all medical research worldwide and has given its name to research facilities in many British universities. Educating the public about medical and scientific issues is one of its priorities, hence the ambitious plans for number 183. The Trust was established with the huge fortune left by the American-born pharmaceutical manufacturer Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936)--archaeologist, collector and bibliophile as well as businessman. It currently hands out over [pounds sterling]400 million annually in research grants.

As Hopkins' partner in charge Andrew Barnett insists, however, 'this was not an extravagant project'. It compares favourably in cost terms, he claims, with a high-quality spec development such as Richard Rogers' 88 Wood Street (AR February 2001). Spread around a number of buildings, the Wellcome Trust's administration was highly compartmentalized--the classic pursuit of 'a new culture of working' is cited as one of the driving forces behind the building project. But the client wanted value for money as well as quality.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Kahnian theme, a persistent one in the work of the Hopkins studio, emerges clearly in the diagram of the building, with prominent staircase cores and recessed bays containing double-height 'mini atria'--intended as spaces for informal meetings--serving to break up the Euston Road frontage into five distinct 'towers'. An earlier version of the scheme provided for a more literal tower, 17 storeys high, at the Gower Street junction, squaring up to the new hospital block. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) backed the proposal but Camden councillors vetoed it. As constructed, the building rises to ten storeys on Euston Road, stepping down to five at the rear on Gower Place. The scale seems right, mediating between the UCH tower and the old Wellcome HQ, the Classical base of which establishes the proportions of the Hopkins building's lofty ground floor.

The diagram of the building is very simple: two blocks, 18m wide to the north, 9m wide to the south, with a 9m central street/atrium joining them. The sweeping roof is fully glazed over the atrium and south block (which is topped by the staff restaurant), with solar blinds and fritted glass reducing direct sunlight. By eschewing 'wallpaper' (as Andrew Barnett describes it), Hopkins has created an internal space of great elegance where what you see is what you get. The architecture is formed by the exposed steel frame (with concrete-filled columns) and slender cross-bracing. The use of timber cladding on internal service cores is another Kahnian touch. Offices up to fourth floor level are open to the central void, though with moveable screens to provide privacy where desired. On the south elevation, away from the traffic, there is access to external balconies.

Although the client is now planning to let some of the office space, space provision is extremely generous. This underlines the essentially non-commercial nature of the project and reflects Wellcome's aim to create outstanding working conditions--the building is very much a meeting place for the scientific and medical community. Barnett and colleagues' aim was to create 'an inspiring, comfortable and socially dynamic workplace' and feedback from users suggests that they have succeeded. (No standing in the rain for Wellcome employees, incidentally, a sealed smokers' lounge is provided.) But the building is equally successful as an urban intervention. Terry Farrell has argued convincingly that the 'New Road' has a future as a boulevard lined with trees and cafes, rather than an urban freeway. Hopkins' civilized glass palazzo could become a worthy component in this radical process of transformation.
COPYRIGHT 2005 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Powell, Kenneth
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:1036
Previous Article:Urban cubism: signposted by a glass cube, this museum complex revives a Stuttgart square.
Next Article:Crystals in the land: this addition to a private girls' school on a lush rural site is organized around a series of glass lightwells that form a...
Topics:


Related Articles
Hungarian ghost.
Light house news: Richard MacCormac explains his approach to creating a new glass building next to a well-loved stone one.
Light touch: a new addition to St Thomas's Hospital, the Evelina Children's Hospital exploits space, light and colour.
Cliff hanger: with land at a premium price, creative architects and daring clients need to lead the way. Shuhei Endo edges ahead in Kobe.
Shipshape and Bristol fashion.
RIBA Gold Medallist: Toyo Ito.
New order.
The art of transparency: the latest phase in the evolution of the Museum of Modern Art refocuses, refines and adds to a historic urban complex.
Great countries embrace the world.
Top architects talking green at 7 WTC lecture series.

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