Material values

Material values – design of a flat built on the first floor of an old London warehouse

Penny McGuire

The design of a flat, occupying the first floor of an old London warehouse, exploits the grain and texture of old and new materials to create sensual richness without disturbing the intrinsic character of the Victorian building.

The flat by Patel Taylor occupies the first floor of a two-storey Victorian warehouse in Battersea, standing at the southern end of a narrow dock and looking north to the Thames. On the ground floor is a brasserie with a terrace onto the water; and above on :he roof there is a glass and steel penthouse designed by the same practice.

Measuring 322[m.sup.2] in plan, the shell was 4.5m high, with cast iron columns, brick walls and rough concrete floor. The programme required three bedrooms, accompanying bathrooms, and utility space inserted into the volume without destroying the character of the place. The client also asked that the view of the dock be improved.

Since setting up in practice about a decade ago, Pankaj Patel and Andrew Taylor have demonstrated a supple architectural intelligence. They are as much fascinated by the essential qualities of materials – grain and texture – and how they can be used to define space, as they are concerned with the nature of space itself and spatial juxtaposition. The sensuality expressed in the early design of an arts centre in north Wales (AR October 1991) is much in evidence in Battersea.

You enter the flat from a utilitarian stairway, shared with an architect’s office and with the penthouse above. Opening the door you enter a small lobby facing 4m high doors strapped in metal. Pushed open, they frame a view of the flat from which you get a sense of scale of the place. On plan, the shell was irregular with three external walls on north, west and south, and a wildly eccentric party wall on the east. In general, elements of the scheme have been conceived as freestanding pieces of furniture. The enclosed rooms for sleeping, washing and storage form a block enclosed around the northern corner by a concrete wall. The block steps down from entrance, on the east, to kitchen in the south-west corner of the building. Cool white bedrooms ranged along the south side take advantage of windows onto the street while bathrooms, long cupboards and the utility room run inwards from the party wall.

The rest of the volume has been kept as open as possible, flooded with light from windows on south and west. To the north, the line of the wall has been retracted inside the building envelope and made into a full-height glass screen to create a loggia and curved balcony over the dock. Walls and ceilings of the flat are generally plastered and painted white with the brick of external walls left exposed. Spaces for living, dining and cooking flow one into another, the separate areas being expressed in subtly different ways – by floating ceilings, screens and ledges, and changes in flooring materials.

Under a floating ceiling of wooden slats, (which conceals services), the dining area is paved with randomly laid strips of limestone. It is bordered on one side by a smooth grey concrete wall, on the other by a hovering plaster screen edged in steel. Around it the floors consist of wide expanses of oak boards. These change in width from 275mm in larger spaces to 75mm in the more intimate areas. If materials are a constant source of pleasure in this fiat, so are the architects’ games with scale. Big stone slabs and tall glass screens appear opulent in relatively confined bathrooms, while the smooth solidity of the concrete wall is opposed to the close texture of rough brick walls.

Throughout, small details, like the tactile leather straps to door handles, are a constant delight – as are larger components like the austere fireplace and minimal glass balustrading outside the windows. Specially designed shutters folding across windows are each composed of 16 rectangular pieces of wood that increase in scale from bottom to top. They are held loosely within a metal frame and can be swivelled individually. Even when closed the shutters cast luminous patterns across the floor so that light becomes an active element of architecture.

Architect

Patel Taylor Architects

Projects architects

Pankaj Patel, Andrew Taylor, Michael Kaner, Adam Penton, Emma Robinson

Structural engineer

Alan Conisbee and Associates

Mechanical engineer

Ove Arup and Partners

Photographs

Chris Gascoigne/VIEW, except no 6 by the architects

COPYRIGHT 1999 EMAP Architecture

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group