Whalebone with Sequins: 10 Hills Place in Central London
Architects: Amanda Levete Architects, London
Future Systems, the architectural super-brand, has passed away. From the core of the old office a new practice has emerged: Amanda Levete Architects, a firm that seeks to establish its reputation with its recently completed first project, 10 Hills Place.
The site comprised an undistinguished seven-storey building fronting Oxford Street, with a two-storey retail space of little consequence behind it. The client commissioned Future Systems to add several more office floors in the back, connecting through to the Oxford Street building.
Hills Place is a short cul-de-sac that gets little light. The design response to this was not a glass facade, but rather a series of elaborate skylights. These were created by slashing the plane of the facade at each floor level, allowing it to open out like a pocket.
Along the top of each pocket is self-cleaning bonded glazing with an elegantly concealed gutter detail. The effect inside is surprising, as sunlight enters the space in an entirely unexpected way.
Boat-building technology was required in the construction of the sweeping curves of the facade. Aluminium extrusions formed as planks were pre-curved in a simple but ingenious process that allows for some springback. The planks are joined together a bit like horizontal tongue and groove boards. Between the planks, gaskets create hermetic seals. The jointing lines suggest the warp of a fine satin.
Around the pockets, shaped cantilevered steel fins – a sort of architectural whalebone – project from the superstructure to support the facade, while the flat areas are supported by a more traditional sub-frame. Before delivery to the site, the facade was test-assembled in its entirety.
Internally, the linings around the pockets consist of an egg-crate construction formed from CNC-cut ply. In the areas where the curves were tightest, the form was hand-sculpted, much like the final fitting of a bespoke garment. The finished appearance is flawless, with perfect tangency between flat and curved areas.
The aluminium facade terminates at the first floor. The glazing along the street is a laminated structure of fine mesh and dichromatic film designed to obscure the retail box it covers. As one walks by, a coloured shimmer appears to follow alongside. At night a sequin-like twinkle, intended to lend the illusion of depth, is achieved with fibre-optic lighting.
Christopher C. Hill