Contemporising a nineties building
1 Snowden Street is at the centre of the trendified area now known as Broadgate Quarter. A building designed in the nineties, it had dated quickly and needed to be brought into line with the expectations of office tenants in today’s commercial market. Here we hear from the people responsible for upgrading the interior and remodelling the dated entrance and canopy.
David Magyar, Project Director at John Robertson Architects told us “The building was originally developed by US architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in the nineties and was very much of the fashion of that time. The building is behind Broadgate and the big development by Liverpool Street which used to be the epicentre of the financial world. The challenge to us was that the client wanted the building updated and repositioned within the market in a way that would attract more people as tenants from the less corporate, trendier, more relaxed side of town such as Shoreditch and Hackney but yet not alienate the more traditionalist city types. So it needed to be appealing to the new businesses springing up which are not purely financial services up such as FinTech. The objective was to upgrade the three floors including the lifts, lobbies and WCs and reposition the building reinventing the entrance as a special, vibrant useable space at the hub of the building as part of a gradual upgrade of the whole building.
The original specification of the entrance area was certainly high with plenty of marble and granite – a sort of Mercedes Benz of a reception – and was a large and generous space but was soulless in the way that so many nineties reception interiors were in creating an imposing entrance but without any other purpose or atmosphere.
An odd characteristic of the space was that although there was an atrium which was accessed from the first floor there was no access from the ground floor and no visual connection from the entrance area either. Hines asked us to make more of the entrance space so we updated the whole area and introduced a coffee lounge which has now become a feature of modern reception areas. It became a space where people could break out and have informal meetings, relax and have some respite from their office work environments upstairs. Instead of an inanimate, dead space it has become one where people are chatting, a relaxed environment with plenty of movement.
We created a media wall and a local artist, Gabby Shawcross, installed a motion picture showing a continually updated skyline view of Shoreditch and the City which is filmed from the roof of the building. The media wall also provides other information, not boring traffic announcements but more items that are more engaging. I am pleased to say that we did salvage one element of the original reception too – a black marble wall which when placed against its contemporary surroundings was nicely offset by our shimmering glass wall both of which are visible from the coffee lounge on the other side of the reception desk. However now, instead of the tomb-like mausoleum of the nineties, we have a truly vibrant space. We opened the connection between the ground floor and the atrium which created visual interest.
A sense of arrival
We really needed something to signal the entrance on Snowden street. The old canopy was a solid angled typical nineties style but it served to darken the entrance and we needed the opposite effect. We needed to give the front door a greater emphasis as the building’s street presence was bland and unimposing. Because of the detail of the original entrance there was no sightline into the building and our client wanted greater transparency for passers-by who could be prospective tenants. So the entrance became like a shop window in more ways than one – we opened up the frontage to a full-height glazing with inset full-height revolving doors. This meant that prospective tenants could see in to the lively reception area and think “That looks like our sort of building, let’s move in!
Our objective was to lighten the whole entrance up and make it as bright and welcoming as possible. We worked with Cundall lighting and also with John Desmond Ltd on the detailing for the canopy. We created a gridded glass soffit with LED insets which could be switched by the landlord as required during the darker hours or even during the day. Essentially it was like a very large light box.
The canopy certainly was a challenge as it needed to be a “Look, no hands” design with no conspicuous drainage despite the fact that it caught a considerable amount of rainwater so the aesthetic was paramount. Cantilevering it out over the space was challenging and we restricted the depth to achieve this. It has a simple stainless steel fascia and the proportions match those of the original aluminium fascia which runs around the building.
Hines original ambitions were to carry out a make over on the whole streetscape but in fact before any activity commenced they received an offer for 1 Broadgate Quarter from Blackstone and sold it.
We didn’t know John Desmond before this project and were introduced to them by ISG. They have a good reputation and I found them hands-on people ready to help with technical details and creating a beautifully put-together product.
Alex Pashouros Project Manager for John Desmond Ltd was in charge of the canopy design and installation.
Alex says “The original canopy was a wing-shaped one and was very dated. The new canopy is very modernistic but was no small challenge as it needed to look as if the light was coming through it at all times of day and look the same at night.
The canopy was basically cantilevered off the face of the existing building but because of its size and the weight of the glass, and with no upright supports, extra steel was needed to create the security for its cantilevering out. As the building was gutted thankfully it was straight-forward for us to take the structural steel beams all the way back into the building.
Another challenge was that there could be no obvious drainage so the glass on top of the canopy was raked from back to front and the downpipes were hidden in the stainless steel cladding. There was a frit pattern on the glass – a ceramic print – which hid all the steel work which was necessary to support the canopy.
The lighting design was crucial to the success of the overall canopy design and to ensure the right result on site, we built a mock up in our workshop and the lighting engineers, Cundalls, came to visit in order to calculate exactly how the light could fall in a certain way. They wanted the canopy to be washed with light in a particular direction so they needed to calculate the angles for the lighting.
As the canopy was to appear to be, as David said, “Look, no hands” there were no visible fixings from the glass to the underside – instead the glass was bonded to the frames and pinned from above so there is no mechanical fixing at all to the glass as you can see if you Google Earth it! So all fixings were hidden within the cladding.
There was an additional complication, we welded a gutter on site as an expansion joint was needed – aT-Pren expansion joint for guttering which has a centre section of Neoprene to allow for expansion. It was a precision operation as the drainage linked in to the drainage for the restaurant next door the frontage of which we had to finish flush with for asesthetic reasons. However, the end result is a very neat and stylish canopy, despite its large size, with the impressive look that the architects and the client were aiming for.