What do people look for in a workplace? Make Architects’ design for 80 Charlotte Street, a mixed-use complex located in Fitzrovia, a multicultural neighborhood in the heart of London, seeks to answer this question. The project, which combines the renovation of existing buildings with the creation of new ones, places offices, 55 apartments, retail spaces, a café, a restaurant and a small public park, called Poets Park, next to each other. The complex occupies the entire block enclosed by Howland Street, Whitfield Street, Chitty Streets and Charlotte Street and a 1950s-era building next door called Asta House. There is 30,000 sq. m of office space and 4,200 sq. m of housing, including a quota of social housing.
The architectural concept was largely defined by the decision to conserve the original façades on Whitfield Street, which creates a dialogue between the existing brick and the new cement. On the other hand, maintaining the original façade meant that it was not possible to increase the inter-story height, which was only
3.3 m. Therefore, the structural columns were arranged according to a 6x9-m grid (instead of a 9x9 or a 9x10.5 one) to reduce the thickness of beams and foundations. This resulted in a floor-to-ceiling height of 3 m and allowed the total number of floors to increase from seven to ten. The additional levels are set back from the façade to create large outdoor terraces immediately overlooking Fitzrovia and the BT Tower, and further in the distance, the city and the Thames. Within the building, the steel structure, concrete slabs and ceiling fixtures have been left exposed, creating a neutral environment. Future tenants can take advantage of the flexible organization of spaces to creatively furnish the property.
The project is notable for its social and environmental sustainability features. The complex, which received a BREEAM Excellent and LEED Gold rating, is entirely electric, operating at net zero operational carbon. It boasts numerous green spaces and areas for socializing, and a ventilation system that combines natural aeration with automated air conditioning.
This mix of function and interaction between both historic and contemporary elements is present in another project of the studio: the restoration of The Exchange, a 1930s-era palace in Centenary Square in the center of Birmingham. Originally designed by Thomas Cecil Howitt, the neoclassical building had once hosted a bank headquarters but had been in a state of disrepair for 16 years. Today, it belongs to the University, and Make Architects’ redesign was part of a larger urban redevelopment plan. The building now contains areas reserved both students and professors, event spaces and places open to the public, such as the cafeteria on the ground floor. It is a shining example of adaptive reuse conceived in and developed for the city.
Founder, Make Architects
Sustainability and what could be called “structural honesty” are the cornerstones of your project for 80 Charlotte Street. What strategies have you adopted to achieve these objectives, considering that the complex is in the center of London?
The fundamental aspect of the project is the integration between old and new. It did not simply consist of demotion and reconstruction, nor just renovation. Since some of the original façades were maintained, we had to deal with an inter-story height that was rather small based on the standards established by the British Council for Offices (BCO) guidelines. It was precisely this limitation that forced us towards an innovative solution for this project that lasted over ten years, and which could have evolved in many different directions. To gain as much space as possible, we decided to refine the structural column grid to reduce the thickness of the horizontal partitions, allowing for three additional floors. We then moved the structural core to the center of the building to make the layout more efficient. This allowed us to carve out three adjacent atriums, that provide lighting and natural ventilation to the interior spaces and create a chimney effect for temperature control. Regarding energy efficiency, there are two other important things to notice: the building is completely electric, and the building envelope alternates between glass and opaque portions.
In addition to office space, the project includes 55 apartments, a café, a restaurant and Poets Park. For a mixed-use complex of these dimensions, what are the main benefits for its users and what are the challenges for the designers?
The mixture of residences, office and restaurant spaces and external terraces is a plus for the project. Multi-use buildings, like areas that feature a variety of functions on an urban scale, are much more lively: they are capable of attracting people. As a designer, I believe that we need to cross the boundaries between various areas of architecture: our work in the office space sector benefits from our experience in the hospitality field and vice versa. The main challenge exists in ensuring a certain level of adaptability and flexibility within the project, so that the building can evolve over time and support any potential changes, including changes of use. With regard to workplaces specifically, while there is currently a shift towards individual work done remotely with office presence necessary only for meetings, many people still value having their own desk. In the case of an architecture firm, for example, it is essential to have continual discussion between the various components of the project team, such that it becomes difficult to work from home. Today, as in every historical moment, what counts is to design spaces that are better than in the past.
This functional mix is also one of the defining traits of The Exchange, a protected building in the center of Birmingham that was restored as part of a larger urban regeneration project. What role did the relationship between public and private space and between historical and contemporary elements play in the project?
Birmingham is my hometown; I have memories from when I was a child of this historical building that once housed a bank. When it was acquired by the University, they decided to renovate it to maintain a presence in the city center, given that the campus is in a more suburban location. On the street-facing side, we restored the façade, which is in conversation with the surrounding buildings, like the library. On the back side, instead, we carried out a more contemporary extension in glass and steel, which faces a green courtyard. The result is a contrast and tension between the historical and modern façades. We sought to maintain the atmosphere of importance that enveloped the bank’s headquarters in the past, establishing common areas and spaces open to the public on the ground floor.
The rooms reserved for research activity are on the upper floors. A point of strength of the project is precisely this juxtaposition between these modern elements and the original ones, which date from the first half of the 20th century.
The mission of Make Architects is “to design the best places, spaces and buildings in the world”. How does this intent materialize in workplace design today?
We want to provide each client with the best possible design solutions while accounting for factors such as context, climate, budget and timeline. In 2022, we received two major international awards: 80 Charlotte Street was the winner of the Commercial Workplace category at the BCO National Awards, while Brookfield Place Sydney – a project that consists of an office tower, two restored historic buildings, retail space, and a new pedestrian walkway to Wynyard Station – won the Award for Excellence at the ULI Asia Pacific Awards. I think that these two projects show well the future of workplaces: sustainable buildings, with many more meeting spaces and entertainment activities in addition to the actual workstations.
Make Architects is among the curators of the Architecture Drawing Prize – the international prize celebrating the art of architectural drawing – along with Sir John Soane’s Museum and the World Architectural Festival (WAF). What role do hand-drawn and digitally developed drawings play in your firm’s daily activities?
I grew up with a pencil in my hand, and still to this day I am intent on sketching. Thinking is drawing by hand, and this aspect is lost by drawing at the computer, even if there are inherently other improved aspects: the two methods must be used side by side. Drawing goes straight to the roots of architecture. It is a fundamental tool for communicating an idea, which we intend to celebrate with this recognition. We are very happy about this partnership with the WAF and Sir John Soane’s Museum, also because John Soane (one of the most prominent architects of English neoclassicism, ed.) made wonderful drawings and had an enormous influence in this context.
Location: London, UK
Client: Derwent London
Gross Floor Area: 376,000 m2
Architect and Interior Designer: Make Architects
Executive Project: AFK
Project Manager: Avison Young
Fit Out: Perkins & Will, Arup Architecture
Main Contractor: Multiplex
Acoustics: Clarke Saunders Acoustics
Landscape: del Buono Gazerwitz Landscape Architects
Photography: Jack Hobhouse, courtesy of Make Architects
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