By Nina Tory-Henderson
The Corner House, by DSDHA in collaboration with Derwent London redefines a corner block in central London’s Fitzrovia. The mixed-use building is part of a larger rejuvenation project to restore and redefine the neighbourhood’s character. Derwent London have played a prominent role in the sensitive redevelopment of the area, with DSDHA also previously contributing through the conversion of Suffolk House in 2014. The Corner House is a thoughtful and refined addition to the neighbourhood by the experienced client-architect pair.
Accommodating 11 apartments (9 private, 2 affordable) and commercial space on the ground floor, the Corner House has a monumental yet discreet presence in the streetscape. It’s crafted charcoal brick façade gives the building a weighty and firm presence, strongly articulating the corner block. It is distinctly modern and yet sits familiarly within its historic urban fabric, by drawing on local context and history.
|Corner House strives to introduce a new type of contemporary beauty, one which is less ostentatious yet captivating, building on the qualities of its location.”|
|/Deborah Saunt, Director DSDHA|
In replacing the existing 60s modern block, the Corner House references the original occupation of the site – a series of three distinct buildings which it alludes to in its three stepped forms, each responding to the hierarchy of the surrounding streets. The forms are differentiated in height and the colour of the brick, but form a singular mass on the site, consolidated by the repetitive, continuous façade. This façade is a contemporary reinterpretation of the typical Fitzrovian terrace of masonry construction, with an emphasis on verticality, strong horizontal lines and large window apertures.
The seemingly simple exterior masonry construction required a high level of craftsmanship and research in its creation. The stepped reveals in the window bays that add a sense of depth, layering and texture to the façade reveal the craftsmanship of masonry construction. Their form is the result of an extended process of experimentation, including full scale mock-ups to deal with the complexities of the handmade, bespoke bricks in the coordination of construction. Unlike most modern masonry, the Corner House façade is self-supporting, reducing the amount of concrete needed in the structure and foundations and reducing the building’s embodied energy.
Beyond the façade the interior is spacious and flooded with natural light, lined simply with white walls and light oak timber floors. All apartments boast high ceilings and large windows (on at least two sides, granted by the corner block location) and provide generous views.
The solid, modest and repetitive masonry exterior is contrasted with the faceted, zinc-clad forms of the roofscape, sculpting themselves to capture views and maintain natural light access to the surrounding apartments. These jewel-like pavilions perched on the rooftop remain a secret to the pedestrian, preserving the repetitive patterning of the urban fabric, but provide an unexpected element to the rooftop voyeur or the Google-map browser. Deborah Saunt describes the playful roof plane as the building’s ‘fifth elevation’, offering an alternative dimension from which to appreciate a building:
|Drone photography, satellite views and new forms of mapping technologies have changed the way we understand and navigate the urban landscape. We are now accustomed to visualise the latter mainly from above, with the consequence that the roof has become a relevant fifth elevation.”|
The additional residential floor area gained by the rooftop pavilions allowed DSDHA and Derwent London to provide two affordable apartments to the scheme, as well as increase the budget for the façade, which gives back to the Fitzrovia neighbourhood.
The Corner House is the recipient of the RIBA London Award (2016), The RIBA National Award (2016) and the NLA Award – Best Built Housing Scheme (2016).