Monday 26 July 2021
Joanna van Heyningen words & photos
The Architecture Club member
The LSE quarter at the Aldwych has always been rather disappointing, because there was never any "there" there. That has all changed with the arrival of the Centre Building; at competition stage a big idea about place-making was key to Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners winning the job, as partner Tracy Meller explained. Tracy shared the hosting with Julian Robinson (LSE), and Lorna Edwards, and Jack Newton (RSHP).
It's rather extraordinary how this huge pair of interlocking building supports, rather than overwhelms, the rest of the site. If you arrive from the south and walk up Houghton Street with LSE's original stone buildings on your left, you now find this is echoed in stone cladding (not the pompous sort) set between steel stanchions on your right. The colour of stone is taken up throughout the exterior of the whole building, in the aluminium cladding and the vertical sun shading - (but turn round and look the other way and these vertical shades are yellow). The building's demeanour, inside and out, is calm. Apparently the founding partner would have liked to see more colour, but for my part I found the whole enterprise to be an immensely civilised compliment to its students and staff, and a great back-drop to academic life.
Inside the architects had used generous storey heights and created a buzzing sense of connectivity, by means of a long open wooden stair joining each level from bottom to top, and making orientation easy. Generous glazing is partnered with very clever vertical shading that maintains views out. There is a wonderful ambient air and acoustic quality. Wood is used extensively to soften what is otherwise a steel building, and discs are used overhead, as they are at Terminal 5, to focus your eye away from the concrete, pipes and wires world of the ceiling space. The discs (which provide acoustic absorbency) are red on the lower 3 student levels, and a particularly gorgeous blue for academics' levels above.
This is a mature and elegant building, pretty tough, with back-of-house treated with the same rigour as the rest. It can be used, straightforwardly, in a multitude of different ways by its occupants over the years to come. All this in the context of a huge hike in materials prices as a result of the Brexit vote, and some punishing value engineering exercises. One of these was, as Tracy said, had a very good outcome: there's no back-up air-conditioning for the natural ventilation used for the majority of the building. It's designed to function comfortably for the sort of heat we can expect in the future.
Afterwards we walked to the India Club, on the Strand, up a rickety staircase to the 2nd floor, and had a great time talking to old friends, not seen in the flesh for a year and half. Rowena did a tricky but successful job conciliating in the matter of whether people had stuck to their original choice of red or white wine, or beer. They hadn't.