Venue: London School of Economics, London WC2B 4RR, UK.
AAI Site Visit to the new Students’ Centre at the London School of Economics, by O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects, who were selected following a two-stage international design competition in June 2009. The New Student Centre building is located at the corner of Sheffield Street and Portsmouth Street, just east of Kingsway, on the London School of Economics’ main urban campus: Site Location Map. It is a short walk south down the side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields from Holborn Station on the Central/Piccadilly Underground Line, or northward from Temple Station on the District and Circle Lines. The meeting point will be the south west corner of Lincoln’s Inn Fields on the park side, where there should be ample room to gather, and hopefully still some shelter under the trees: Meeting Point Location. Wheelchair access will unfortunately not be possible at the time of the site visit. £5 entry for all and £5 structured CPD (RIAI & RIBA).
Street Life – within and without the building
The site is located at the knuckle-point convergence of the network of narrow streets that characterise the LSE city centre campus. The public space at the threshold of the Student Union on axis with St Clement’s Lane, creates a place of exchange; a spatial bowtie that intertwines circulation routes, splices visual connections between internal and external movement, and pulls pedestrian street life into and up the building. We have developed a site specific sculptural concept for the architectural design. The folded, chamfered, canted and faceted façade operates with respect to the Rights of Light Envelope and is tailored in response to specific lines of sight along approaching vistas and from street corner perspectives. The surface of the brick skin is cut out along fold lines to form large areas of transparent glazing framing views in and out from street to room. Like a Japanese puzzle, our design is carefully assembled to make one coherent volume from a complex set of interdependent component parts. Our analysis of the context has uniquely influenced the first principles of the design approach.
Embodiment – Life in the Lively Form
The building is designed to embody the dynamic character of a contemporary Student Union. The complex geometries of the site provided a starting point for an unconventional arrangement of irregular floor plates, each one particular to its function and each working into the next by an intricate system of trapezoidal spatial configuration. Space flows freely in horizontal plan and vertical section, with stairs gently twisting and slowly turning to create a variety of diagonal break-out spaces at landings and crossings throughout the building.
Brick Basket – New into Old
London is a city of bricks. The existing buildings on and adjacent to the site are built in brick of varied and lively hue. Our design relates to the resilient characteristic of the city’s architecture with familiar materials made strange. The exterior walls are clad with bricks, used in a new way, with each brick offset from the next in an open work pattern, wrapping the walls in a permeable blanket that will create dappled daylight in particular spaces and, at night, when all the lights are on inside, the building is seen from the streets like a glowing lattice lantern.
Lived In Warehouse – Material, Colour and Atmosphere
Our design refers to the robust adaptability-in-use of a lived-in warehouse. Open work steel trusses or ribbed concrete slabs cross the big spaces with solid wooden floors underfoot. Lightweight partitions made of clear and coloured glass and timber have sliding screens for flexibility in use. Circular steel columns prop office floors between the large span volumes and punctuate the open floor plan of the café. Stairs are made of terrazzo and plate steel. Concrete ceilings contribute thermal mass with acoustic clouds suspended to soften the sound. Every landing has a bench or built-in couch. There are no closed-in corridors. Every hallway has daylight and views in at least one direction. Every office workspace has views to the outside world. The basement floor area is lit from clerestory windows and roof lights to allow for daytime use. This building does not feel like a hotel, an office, or an academic institution. It is fresh and airy, heavy and light, open and clear, sculptural and social.