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Behind the Scenes | Arding & Hobbs

Event Review | Alun Jones

Sunday 10 March 2024

Arding & Hobbs is a south London institution; a department store that served local residents for over a century. However, the decline in its fortunes over the past two decades were plain for all to see; changes in ownership and rebranding merely papered over the cracks, until it finally succumbed to the pandemic lockdown.

Behind the Scenes | Arding & Hobbs

The building has recently emerged from behind scaffold, its former splendour reinstated, a gleaming brass rooftop extension announcing a new chapter in the life of this venerable old building.

As a local resident, and with my office literally just around the corner, it was with great delight that I saw the events email from The Architecture Club arrive in my in-box, inviting us to visit the building and to see the splendid restoration work by our chairman and his team at Stiff and Trevillion.

Arding & Hobbs started life in 1876 as the Falcon Road Drapery Store, named after the Falcon Brook, one of London’s ‘lost rivers’ which flows beneath the street on which the building is located. The original store was destroyed by fire in 1909, which saw 30 people hospitalised and killed eight. Such was the devastation the fire was reported as far afield as the Sydney Herald. The repercussions of the conflagration were significant as they lead to a new regime of fire safety regulations that sought to control fire spread in large buildings.

Arding & Hobbs was rebuilt and reopened for business in 1910, designed by Gibson, Skipwith and Gordon in the Edwardian Baroque style. It is a fine building. The prominent corner site is articulated with an elaborate cupola that makes a sophisticated formal gesture to its pivotal corner site on one of South London’s main junctions. The lower two floors are characterised by elaborate dark steel windows with an arch motif, above which are a further two floors of red brick with stone aperture detailing, pilasters and cornicing, culminating in the corner stone and glass cupola.

The work by Stiff and Trevillion refurbishes the building and adds two additional roof stories. It repurposes the building as work space above retail, and reactivates the street which for many years had been a rather depressing sight.

Behind the Scenes | Arding & Hobbs

The design picks up on the principal architectural motifs of the existing building and cleverly combines them with ideas of pleating and stitching from the building’s former life as a drapery. The arch motif from the metal windows is reworked as a filigree timber frame that lines the central atrium which connects all floors of the building with a grandescalator, itself reminiscent of the departments stores of yesteryear. The finely detailed glass and ash screen is used as a counterpoint to the ‘as-found’ roughness and the historic fragments of the existing building. The atrium is rooflit and drops light into the heart of the new building and structures the new entrance sequence.

The new rooftop addition presents as a two storey brass-clad crown-like structure that takes the recumbent curve of the cupola and modifies it into the profile of the main elevation. This wall is itself pleated in plan to provide a satisfying three-dimensionality to the facade. This breaks-up the mass of the rooftop when seen from the streets below, making the addition less formally dominant; and also makes the crown-like appearance of this brass structure more beguiling when seen from the trains that slide into Clapham Junction, one storey above street level.

The new roof structure is a deep glue-lam diagrid, rotated through 45 degrees to the plan. This grid shift enables the pleated facade to simply follow the serrated perimeter edge of the grid and removes the need for a hefty perimeter beam that would have disrupted the pleats - all very satisfyingly well thought-through.

The intermediate floors have been refurbished in a very direct manner; old fragments of wall and column have been retained and patched in a way that allows the character of the existing materials to contrast with the new. This is most accentuated when you ride the escalator up through the building and the juxtaposition of old and new, rough and smooth, is revealed.

Behind the Scenes | Arding & Hobbs

The new main entrance is lined with felt curtains of graded hues, again reflecting the draper’s shop origin of the building, and provides informal breakout space for the work space. It also contains one of the original huge steel fire doors, made by Crittal, and now painted bright yellow, which was one of the main regulation changes that the 1909 fire precipitated.

After the tour, expertly conducted by the design team, we repaired to the Botanica Hall, the cocktail bar that occupies the ground floor corner unit of the building, for wood-fired sour dough pizza and drinks. It was a great evening and a very enjoyable event.

Congratulations to Mike and his team for such a great project.