London, Buildings, Stone.

As inspiration / information for our ‘Paper Clouds’ project, on our most recent study visit to London, we looked at several new buildings in the Kings Cross area, visited the British Library, the RIBA – where we looked at the Presidents Medals exhibition; then by Underground went across to the City of London to see several new office buildings, and visit St Mary Woolnoth, by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

A long tour, it was just after 5 when we walked through Smithfield to Clerkenwell Green; turning left, past ‘The Crown Tavern’ (apparently Lenin’s favourite pub) up round Clerkenwell Close, past The Three Kings and St James Church, toward our final destination, a new office / apartment building by Groupwork and Amin Taha. This is a surprisingly provocative building. It seems wrong, or perhaps is unfinished? Limestone is used as load-bearing structure; not as decorative cladding – typically stuck to a hidden steel or concrete frame. Stone is taken raw from the quarry. Surfaces are left rough, or as it might be seen placed in the wrong position. There appears to be little attempt to organise or control the building faƧade. You find yourself thinking – is this a deliberate questioning of architecture; is it innovation, or just a project that’s gone badly wrong? It’s right at the edge. It demands a reaction. But what could be more appropriate for the office and home of an architect. Think of the Soane Museum! Think of Scarpa’s approach to material and detail. Think of Hawksmoor – three hundred years ago, working with loadbearing limestone but with his own unique provocative interpretation of architecture.

Amin Taha was formally a Brighton design tutor at Brighton, and the Groupwork office employs many former Brighton students. Last year their Barrett’s Grove building was nominated for the Stirling Prize. This year, with their new building in Clerkenwell, they could win?