Creating a Timber Alliance: 81-87 Weston Street

Looking up at 81-87 Weston Street, it is hard to believe it was a former warehouse. This impressive Modernist-style refurbishment is now a mixed-use building comprising eight spacious, multi-level apartments and ground floor office space.

Gallery

Standing in the heart of Bermondsey, South London, the external appearance of the new building aims to reflect Southwark’s historical fabric whilst asserting the building’s unique spatial arrangement.

The mix of wood and concrete is sympathetic to the local area and its new developments such as The Shard, constructed among more ubiquitous mid-rise Victorian warehouse buildings.

Mixing it up

The decision to refurbish rather than knock down the building was a positive step in the building’s journey to becoming a sustainable project. Though timber is a more environmentally-friendly building material, in this case, it was more sustainable to preserve the existing structural concrete shell.

The result is a tessellating ‘Brutalist’ look. The sharp angles and industrial combination of concrete and brickwork is softened by timber, which features heavily throughout the interior.

This hybrid construction approach allowed for an innovative arrangement of eight apartments in two staggered blocks. The office space occupies the ground floor of the building and is accessed via a separate entrance.

There are three apartments in one block and five in the other, ranging between two and three bedrooms, with a stair and lift core running up the middle of each cluster. This intelligent design, created by award-winning architect practice AHMM, ensures that all the apartments have a split section, are dual aspect and benefit from both north and south light.

Let there be light

The mass of the building steps up and away from the adjacent buildings on Weston Street to preserve the neighbours’ rights to light. In keeping with the diverse architecture of the neighbourhood, the block is also given variation by way of the fenestration with large L- or T-shaped window openings that permit glimpses of the split-level spaces within. The windows are internally oak framed and set into deep reveals. Further surface relief is given by terraces set into the stepped roofline and by the large pre-cast balconies which cantilever out from the elevation.

Inside, the apartments are all unique, while demonstrating the same approach. They are split across several floors and centred around an open-plan, double-height space which contains the internal circulation and forms the main heart of the home. Each multi-level apartment is flooded with light from either a large full-height window or, in the case of the apartments in the centre of the two blocks, by rooflights.

Work, eat and live

The social spaces – living, kitchen, dining and study areas – are placed in this fluid central volume, separated by stairs and not doors, with more cellular bedrooms located above, below or adjacent. This design is influenced by the client, Solidspace’s, philosophy of ‘work, eat and live.’ Through this design and the variation in levels, each apartment feels open, airy and spacious. The combination of exposed concrete surfaces and timber linings provides warmth and texture to the internal spaces.

The stair cores have a smooth matt concrete finish with expressed joints. In contrast, the apartment and office interiors incorporate timber and self-finished materials to complement the concrete, and give a warm, hand-crafted feel.

Workspace desks, bedroom storage, library shelving and timber linings to the internal stairs are finished in either oak or walnut. Solid oak parquet flooring features throughout.

The high-quality joinery is a feature in each room of these high-end apartments, injecting a luxurious feel to an industrial shell.

Facilities including the bike shed, the sensitive refurbishment of the building and the use of renewable building materials, such as timber, resulted in 81-87 Weston Street achieving a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ status.

Since its completion, the building has won a number of awards, most notably the RIBA London Award and RIBA National Award in 2018.

Fusion spaces

Wood is used extensively in construction yet sometimes it’s necessary to combine wood with other materials such as steel or concrete; creating a hybrid structure such as 81-87 Weston Street.

Many buildings do not suit the ‘one size fits all’ criteria, and this applies to building materials too. The use of timber for this project has resulted in an aesthetically pleasing and sustainable building.

Hybrid structures achieve structural efficiency and often a reduction in carbon footprint. They are an economical, architectural, sustainable and structurally feasible alternative.

Hybrid construction takes the best qualities from each material, and in the case of 81-87 Weston Street, the concrete provides additional structural support. Moreover, re-using the existing concrete shell was the most sustainable option for this building.

Healthier, happier homes

In addition to its aesthetic qualities, timber can help create a healthier home environment. The need to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted more than ever the need for healthier and flexible homes, which is what AHMM and Solidspace have achieved with this building.

The space is flexible, and as proven in numerous studies, the presence of timber in a home can help to improve emotional state, reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress and improve sleep patterns.

81-87 Weston Street is an exemplar of how wood can help create homes that will stand the test of time, and testing situations.

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