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Behind the Scenes: Black & White Building

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Behind the Scenes: Black & White Building
Photo © Ed Reeve

Andy Gollifer words and photos
Member of The Architecture Club

On a rainy night in Shoreditch, Club Members gathered for a guided tour around the Black & White Building in Rivington Street. Andrew Waugh and Anthony Thistleton of Waugh Thistleton Architects were introduced by Sarah Featherstone (a former partner in crime of the wonderfully named ASAP Architects) and we were taken through the building floor by floor in great detail - this is a team who are keen to share their knowledge and spread the word about wood.

Behind the Scenes: Black & White Building

Walking into a timber building feels different. The sound is different and there is a warmth that you don’t find in other buildings. That may explain why - according to Anthony - the Office Group have found the building is attracting more ‘members’ to the flexible working club than its other sites. And of course they have succeeded in securing Ocado as their main permanent tenant. There is still a premium to be paid for timber construction - partly through insurance costs - but for this client the equation looks to be working in their favour.

It must be an increasingly important factor in a market where home working, coffee shop working and all the other options mean the office is no longer the only place to work from and places to work from need to draw tenants to them. As someone recently said - the office now needs to work as a magnet.

While The Black & White building clearly works well from this point of view, Andrew and Anthony’s message on the night was really about the the use of engineered timber to provide the framework for a sustainable way of building and if its not too sweeping a statement - hope for the future and way forward towards net zero.

Much of their time and effort has gone into self funded timber research both for this building and also for their ‘New Model Building’ series of publications which provides a blueprint for timber construction for residential buildings and is aimed at overcoming the post Grenfell uncertainties that have affected timber construction.

Behind the Scenes: Black & White Building

Compared to more traditional methods of construction - even steel and concrete construction - this is a relatively new discipline which requires a rethink of first principles from the choice of the structural grid to the basics of waterproofing and moisture control. Hence the need to build this knowledge.

The Black & White building uses Laminated veneer lumber (LVL) for its structural frame which is visible through its glass cladding - which in turn is shaded by vertical fins of tulip wood from the eastern US. It is refined, layered, and beautifully put together. Its six storeys fits well into the context. And what could be more appropriate than a building helping to redefine timber construction emerging from the site of an old timber yard in an area once know for its timber and furniture trade...

As Anthony was at pains to point out all we need now is a more joined up timber manufacturing industry in the uk - CLT manufacturing capability which would, in turn, encourage reforestation, and which in turn would make the choice of timber construction a more natural option without the economic penalty.

Thanks to Club for organising the visit and to Andrew and Anthony for their willingness to share their knowledge and further the cause, for being great hosts and for stories of Shoreditch (post visit, The Barley Mow) - in which the Black & White building starts a new chapter.