Eisenhower Centre

1406_01_0103_Albert Place 3DProposed view along Alfred Place

In 2014, Studiodare entered a design competition that sought creative proposals to reimagine the Eisenhower Centre, a former deep-level shelter in Chenies Street, Central London. The bunker was the supposed ‘safe’ location for the American President during the Second World War.

The competition remains unjudged. However, during the design process, Studiodare became interested in addressing a more general lack of civic space in the area. In particular, we wanted to assess the benefit of almost entirely removing the Eisenhower Centre from the crescent in which it sits.

The crescent was originally planned at the start of the 19th Century by George Dance the Younger. It forms part of a larger geometric urban composition: two matching semi-circular open spaces bookending a singular connecting street, Alfred Place.

The overall layout remains essentially intact, although the Eisenhower Centre now occupies the centre of the North Crescent; in doing so, it obscures a small First World War memorial and conceals the buildings behind. Conversely, the South Crescent remains undeveloped and enjoys a varied cultural life; not least because the Building Centre, which faces it, often occupies the space for public events.

Proposals
Our proposals relocate the Eisenhower Centre, now a storage archive, to a new basement level, leaving only an entrance and ventilation shafts above ground. This creates a new civic space (to match the South Crescent) whilst also reinstating the original George Dance plan. The war memorial, which now also forms a focal point at the end of Alfred Place, takes on a new civic status and becomes a suitable place for remembrance services.

VIEW Chenies StreetProposed view along Chenies Place

The new ventilation shafts and entrance of the Eisenhower Centre are clad in polished stainless steel and reflect a cluster of metallic masts that are placed around them. The masts, which blur the perception of mass, both conceal the shafts and reveal the North Crescent in a shifting moiré pattern. At night the mast tips are illuminated creating an animated nocturnal sculpture.

By thinking of the urban composition as a whole, we began to think of Alfred Place as a public space in itself: a rus in urbe, connecting the two crescents. The new masts, acting as lighting bollards and banners, therefore continue through a new urban park between the crescents. This renewed public space should also stimulate economic activity in the buildings along the street, whose ground floor spaces currently appear lifeless.

We believe that public space should respond to the needs of people, not to the functional requirements of infrastructure services such as the existing deep level shelter. However, working in the infrastructure sector over the last 6 years, our experience tells us that a reversal of these priorities isn’t always easy. Nonetheless, it was thinking about people that allowed us to examine the removal of the Eisenhower Centre and reimagine Alfred Place as a genuine civic space (and forest!).

14 07 03_Axonometric close viewProposed aerial view

Stuart McKenzie, 2015

Life on the Streets

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In Death & Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs praises the humble pavement: its place in the city, she argues, is crucial to thriving urban life. Or, put another way, disregard for the cultural value of the pavement (and by extension the street) is profoundly damaging to cities.

That 20th Century urban planners looked to parkland as the ‘lungs of a city’ is to miss an oppertunity, she says, claiming that the isolation and often over-prescriptive design of a park does little to nurture ordinary city life. Given that many of us will be able to cite bleak urban parks, which often feel threatening to walk through, there is much in Jacobs’ argument to find convincing.

A recent trip to Porto attests to the fact that urban leisure and social exchange can successfully take place on the pavement. As one of the oldest cities in Europe, Porto is accordingly made up of small winding streets punctured by little informal squares or crossroads; the city is also built on the precipitous rocky banks of the Douro river estuary. Two factors that leave little opportunity for large public parks.

However, rather than discourage vibrant city life, these restrictions result in a city with intense civic culture, focussed on the pavement. Many factors influence this liveliness, not least the climate; however, it is worth remembering Danish cities such as Copenhagen or Aarhus demonstrate that cold weather does not necessarily discourage healthy street culture. So what other ingredients in Porto contribute its successful street life?

To begin with, Porto is relatively compact and dense: approximately 5200 inhabitants per kilometre. Physically, this is embodied in tightly packed streets with small shops at street level and apartments above. Street fronts are active, creating direct supervision of the street from the home, shop or café; and vice versa too of course.  What’s more, buildings generally house a diverse population: families, couples, the elderly, children, as well as tourists. This results in busy streets throughout any given day, which in turn makes what could otherwise be dark canyons, feel safe and inviting.

However, where feasible, pavements have been as generously sized as possible (especially when considered in relation to the city’s dense grain). Cafes and restaurants invariably extend into these pavements: at one end as grandiose and permanent fixtures and, at the other end, just as a few plastic chairs or a bench perhaps.

Street life is also encouraged at municipal level. The surface finish of most large pavements is treated as one might a building’s elevation: that is, with careful consideration for material and detail. And in implying such respect, the status of the pavement is raised to that of a genuine civic environment.

But what of transferability to the UK? Ultimately it is hard to reverse prevailing trends and policy. Central government, for example, is currently driving the creation of suburban ‘garden cities’; and in many major cities there is a move towards privatised ‘quarters’ and ‘villages’, be they covered (as in Westfield) or open air (as in Liverpool One). Ultimately, a regressive move evoking the zoning principals of 20th Century urban planning.

Neither of these moves is likely to encourage unplanned social activities or facilitate the passive supervision that the occupants of a street in Porto might naturally provide. Nor are the owners of malls likely to look favourably on the unauthorised ownership of streets by little plastic chairs. Shame really – it’s our loss.

Stuart McKenzie 2014

Pop Art Design at the Barbican

As part of our festive celebrations, Studiodare visited Pop Art Design at the Barbican. The exhibition brings together (for the first time apparently) the artists of Pop Art, who mostly responded to and depicted mass production, with the industrial designers who actually contributed to it: the artificial versus the actual.

Barbican Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein In the Car (1964) & Front cover from 75 Years of DC Comics (2010) Taschen

Perversely, it is where art and mass production are dissociated that Pop Art’s most iconic imagery can be found. Where the quotidian is represented under great labour, such as Roy Lichetenstein’s beautiful In the Car (1964), painted by hand but inspired by throwaway comic books. In this exhibition though, Lichtenstein is hung with agreeable paradox alongside four wall-mounted Eames fibreglass chairs, themselves undergoing something of a production/function identity crisis.

Barbican Eames
Charles and Ray Eames Wall mounted Case Study Fiberglass Low Rod Chairs

The grouping of industrial design with the purely visual (and in fact mostly whimsical) doesn’t seem entirely resolved, although the comparison is interesting and the effect is of a strong image of post-war America. Of particular intrigue though are the educational videos of Charles and Ray Eames, which combine the aesthetic with the informative and, pleasingly, a new art form with education.

Much of what we see as contemporary visual language is present in the exhibition too. The mural Alexander Girard designed as part of his branding for the La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960) is particularly prescient and could easily be mistaken for a  proposed pop-up or hipster restaurant.  Conversely, a video of the Smithson’s House of the Future (Ideal Home Show 1956) is so wide of the mark as to be a gem of comedy.

Barbican Alexander Girard
Alexander Girard wall mural at La Fonda del Sol restaurant (1960)

Another curio in the exhibition is a series of photos that depict various Pop Art collectors in their homes. Most striking is an image of the Scull family (controversial patrons and latterly scoundrels of the art world) sitting at their decorative 19th Century dining table, the picture of domesticity completed by plastic seat protectors and a serving maid, all presided over by a gaudy room-sized pop art mural. A cheap shot perhaps, but an apt metaphor for the art itself.

Barbican AOC
AOC Architects Pop Art Design exhibition installation

The design of the exhibition itself by AOC provides a brave colourful contrast to the cavernous space of the Barbican gallery, and builds on previous successful exhibitions there such as the Surreal House, designed by Carmody Groarke. Catch it while you can!

Stuart McKenzie Jan 2014

Britain’s Future Home 2013

Sunday Times Competition Shortlisted Project

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Studiodare’s sustainable concept design, Triptech House, has been shortlisted for the British Homes Awards, organised by the Sunday Times.

As the name suggests, Triptech House is split into three elements: a large atrium exploiting daylight and adding visual drama; a central core containing all the building’s services; and adaptable living spaces, which can be customised easily by the building occupant.

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Flexibility has been placed at the heart of our design. In particular, we are conscious that people’s needs change and that their house should be able to do so too. Therefore, without altering its exterior, this house can be a large family home, be converted into smaller apartments, or even include a separate office.

studiodare-triptech house8

The winning design will be chosen by the public. http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/british_homes_awards/

Northern Line Extension to Battersea

ViewNine Elms2

As lead architect on a Halcrow led multi-disciplinary team, Studiodare Architects has completed designs for two new underground stations and two mid-line ventilation shafts on the extension of the Northern Line to Battersea.

The designs have now been incorporated in a Transport and Works Act Order and submitted for approval to the Secretary of State for Transport.
View1 Battersea
This significant milestone builds on Studiodare’s ongoing role as lead architect on the Northern line Extension, which began with the original Feasibility Study in 2008.GRNLEB-SDA-ST-XX-DR-ARC-41211-02-01

New York Trip

The Fire Escape:
The prevalence of the fire escape in New York has made it an intrinsic part of the architecture of the street. They exist to evacuate residents in an emergency, their very presence borne out of city regulations and safety concerns. Despite this, they provide something more enduring and special, enjoyed by tourists and occupants.

House in Buffalo:
House built to accommodate workers from the now long since abandoned steel factories, it is still standing and occupied though much of the surrounding landscape has been flattened.

text and drawings by Stuart McKenzie

Beaumont Road: Building Completion

The seven residential units we designed at Beaumont Road in Chiswick have just been completed and are on the market – open viewing days are now taking place.

The client is very happy with the project, particularly Studiodare’s ability to make the most of this landlocked site.

The Site & Design:
Like many urban sites, because of the potential for overlooking, windows were not permitted on three edges of the site. The design, therefore, had to find creative solutions to allow as much light into the houses as possible. To achieve this, we carefully positioned rooflights in each of the houses, letting light deep into the plans. In the single-aspect houses at the rear of the site, a full width lightwell was also placed along the back wall.

Contrary to many developer housing projects, we also placed emphasis on maximizing the opportunities for storage throughout, avoiding any redundant space. Cupboards, shelves and bookcases are built into walls, also reducing the need for additional furniture.

Stuart McKenzie

Southern India, Part 1: ‘A Cup of Tea’

Last month I was lucky to enough to embark on a journey to Southern India. The journey unveiled stunning landscapes. Thousand of year old ancient temples sit among the array of banana, king coconut and jackfruit trees.

Kerala is known to locals as “God’s Own Country” and it is easy to see why. The lush green mountains are carpeted with tea plants and almost no space is left uncovered. Hindu temples, churches and colourful modest houses sprawling within these valleys occasionally break this sea of tea.

The process of making tea

The tea-pickers, an array of colourfully dressed women set out in the early hours of the morning down the winding lanes to pluck fresh leaves. They would then walk to the tea factory, which is equipped with machines imported from Belfast and Birmingham, since all the first tea plantations were owned by the British.

The women place their loads onto large dryers, which blow out warm air. Once the fresh green leaves are withered and browned, they travel down a shoot for a process called CCT, crushing, curling and tearing. This is when the start of the tea process really begins. Once the CCT process is complete, the end product resembles coarse soil.

The next step is fermentation. After fermentation the tea is dried again at 195F. This is the final step before the tea is packed, ready for the auction houses.

by Trisha Chauhan

Reflections


Much of London has been patently affected by the economic recession: boarded up high streets and part-finished building sites are constant reminders of this phenomenon.  However, turning west along the canal at Westbourne Park, a long forgotten industrial hinterland is an even more poignant reminder of a different kind of prosperity long neglected.

Abandoned industrial buildings address the water’s edge. The oldest, built to accommodate the unloading of freight barges, are now long-since obsolete by centuries of merciless change. Firstly, the creation of the railway network and then high-speed motorways; now just simply by an unsympathetic post-industrial society.


Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine that today’s portal-framed distribution centres, built efficiently out of metallic sheets at the slip roads of motorways, would present such a poetic backdrop to an afternoon walk.

Stuart McKenzie

Beaumont Road: Building Progress

Project:
Work is progressing well at 20-24 Beaumont Road, a 7 residential private development we’ve been working on for some time. The project is arranged in two blocks: one which maintains the street edge and a smaller block at the rear consistent with some smaller industrial buildings previously on the site.

A brief glimpse:
The demolition of the existing buildings exposed long covered-up perimeter walls; years of piecemeal extensions had concealed a tapestry of locally made bricks, cast iron frames and neglected service routes.


The proposals:
A blonde stock brick has been chosen as the external finish in our proposals. It is being laid in both stretcher bond and English-garden bond, the latter being the prevailing brick pattern in the area. The areas of bond are strategically mixed, subtly setting out each elevation.

Also, we have designed ‘projecting’ headers, arranged in large rectangles above the front doors of the rear houses. Casting soft shadows across the elevation, they add a rhythm to the elevation within the same material.

Stuart McKenzie