Understatement in Wandsworth

This is a 1930’s paint factory refurbished and extended to provide a mixed use development comprising apartments, a health centre and light industrial units. Located behind a large shopping centre and on a small river that leads into the Thames, the mixed-use development is a refreshing addition to the area and comes from architects excited by (the potentially paradoxical notion of) architectural ‘everydayness’, who describe their work as “so quiet you could almost walk past it, and yet it becomes more interesting the longer you observe it”. This sounds very English. The adopted stance is given as ‘natural’ and always understated: a feigned, born-to-the-poise tradition of sound and cultured good taste that knows of no necessity to self-consciously contrive and project a pose. Blatant egotism is repugnant. As an inter-personal value this suggests a self-confident ease of communication suggesting authentic attentiveness and considerateness — the kind of charming relationship lower classes like to have with ostensible betters who are perceived to strike an aspirational bench-mark. And, architecturally, it can work — proffering a relief from ‘customary’ fashionability and base creaturely concerns. But one’s experience is always contextural and whether an entire city area possessing such qualities would be hugely soothing or deeply irritating is a moot point. We have learned appetites for spectacle and those architects who don’t provide it for their clients walk a precarious career path. Whatever: this work at Garrat Lane nevertheless exhibits a bald note of pure quality and is worth experiencing for that simple reason as an exceptional voice midst London’s architectural cacophony.

Parallels can be drawn with the work of Caruso St. John; the contrast is the likes of BedZed and Alsop’s work.

The Putney Bridge Restaurant building (Embankment, Lower Richmond Road, SW15) is byPaskin Kyriakides (1997) and is a welcome addition to the riverside scenery around here (a good place to go at Boat Race time). Opposite — on the east side of the bridge — is an example of extensive remodelling to a former office building by Patel & Taylor (see right).

Putney Wharf, on the east side of Putney 23 Bridge, is the extensive refurbishment,

re-cladding, etc. of an old ‘shoe-box’ office building past its sell-by date, but deemed suitable for the contemporary residential market. (You have to use your imagination.) The architects were Patel & Taylor, 2004 (who also did the architectural work at the Thames Barrier Park).

The following buildings are all slightly further out from the centre, but still readily accessible.

Another one to dislike because of its theatricality 24 — as if most architecture wasn’t by nature

theatrical. The reality is some 10,000 sq. m.. of contemporary offices arranged as a complex of small buildings — but are most office blocks a mere external dressing upon a facility manager’s conventionalised equation? Within a more ‘pop’/Ron Herron / Hollywood tradition (and among lay people) these buildings are admired for their cleverness and reassurances. Perhaps the project’s real crime is a denial of the modernist Zeitgeist? And who last gave that much thought? Ah, ‘progress’.. .? OK, I understand: if you’re an architect, you still hate them because they also deny a spirit of challenge that dares to fracture conventions rather than endorse them… We could go on and on with this one. (Hill Street / Bridge Street, Richmond; Erith & Terry, 1986­88; Tube: Richmond).

The Charles Cryer Studio Theatre by Edward 25 Cullinan (1991), in the High Street, Carshalton, should have been a celebrated building, but it had an unfortunate project history that dragged it out and got bogged down in changes. But you just have to look at the engaging way Cullinan has handled the problem of adapting an old theatre and transforming it into a new work of architecture to get a feel for just how well things might have worked out. It is a ‘might have been’, but well worth a look if you’re this far south.

There are two buildings to see at this office 26 park designed as a set of blocks around a square that might be in Holborn (New Square, Bedfont Lakes, Staines Road (A30), south west corner of Heathrow Airport; Michael Hopkins & Partners, 1992): Ted Cullinan’s somewhat less attractive venture into speculative offices; and Sir Michael Hopkins’ more than successful exercises for IBM (with, one suspects, a nod toward the 1960’s YRM black, steel-framed Cargo Agent’s building on the Southern Perimeter Road).

The interior of the Compass Centre (North Perimeter Road, Heathrow Airport; Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, 1994) serves air crews 24 hours a day, seven days a week; a facility where operators track planes around the world whilst disoriented crews refresh themselves and get their briefings. The

deep interiors (45m face to face, including small atria) feel tight and effective – one of the few buildings where the life of the inhabitants is truly demanding and dynamic, well served by the two accommodation wings either side of a central atrium space. The peculiar fagade is meant to diminish the building’s radar ‘shadow’, but the form is similar to another building by Grimshaw and one is suspicious of such a rationale. The interior fit-out, serving 850 employees and about 200 flight crews passing through each day, was byAuckett.

Updated: 5th November 2014 — 8:20 am