Black & White Building Takes James Latham Back to the Future

James Latham plays pivotal role in the development of landmark mass timber commercial building, The Black & White Building, in Shoreditch, London

The Black & White Building, launched in January 2023 to universal acclaim from the UK architectural community, is the latest in flexible workspaces from leading co-working provider The Office Group (TOG).

A game-changing structure, designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects and Daytrip Studios, it showcases and celebrates the use of timber in contemporary urban architecture on every level.

Furthermore, at 17.8m, it’s the tallest mass-timber commercial building in Central London, the first for over 400 years, standing out amongst Shoreditch’s numerous concrete high-rises.

James Latham, one of the UK’s leading independent architectural materials distributors was initially approached by specialist façade contractor, Pacegrade Ltd, to provide timber for the building’s innovative high performance curtain walling system.

It was a supply role which would quickly evolve when it was discovered the new building’s site was originally occupied by James Latham’s first warehouse. The historic connection, coupled with the architects’ impressive vision, and the project’s holistic celebration of timber, led to the distributor providing further materials for the interiors, and becoming a lead partner for TOG’s ‘Makers & Mentors’ scheme.

Style, Strength & Sustainability

What makes The Black & White Building unique is its extensive use of timber through every aspect of the design and construction. The curtain wall façade is a particular highlight, with the architect keen to make as striking a visual first impression as possible.

Pacegrade realised they needed to use beautiful, sustainable wood with a stylish finish to meet the specifiers’ exacting brief. They immediately consulted with long-time distribution partner James Latham to identify the perfect timber. Following a consultation with their dedicated façade-specification team, they opted for PEFC-certified Holz Schiller European Spruce.

One of the most sustainably engineered woods on the market, the material met the project's low-carbon requirements and provided the strength and finish required within the design brief. Its use was aesthetic and functional, combining strength and elegance to frame the structure’s floor-to-ceiling glazing and enhance other features and finishes.

Viroc of Ages

James Latham’s involvement didn’t end there. When the project’s interior design specialists Daytrip Studios were looking for a suitable material for the feature skirting panels, they consulted with Debbie Northall of James Latham’s specification team, about a potential solution.

She recommended Viroc, a robust composite panel, manufactured from pine wood particles, bound in cement, suitable for internal and external applications. Perfect for busy, public environments like the Black & White Building, it possesses the design flexibility of wood with added strength and durability.

This resulted in the supply of 96 sheets of Grey, Ochre, and Red Viroc. Used in high traffic communal areas as hip-height skirting, its highly durable qualities meant it was also used for a large outdoor table on the building’s rooftop terrace. The specifiers and fabricators were particularly impressed with the board’s full-body colour, which has become increasingly sought-after in recent years.

A James Latham Landmark

The Black & White Building also holds deep, historic significance to James Latham, as the site occupies the location of its first drying shed and warehouse.

It was the establishment of this asset in 1850 which marked the starting point of James Latham’s ongoing aspiration to champion timber as a preferred architectural and joinery material, but also to make it as accessible as possible for its diverse audience of specifiers, fit-out professionals, and furniture manufacturers.

Since then, and after 48 years in that building, James Latham has grown significantly over the last 200 years to occupy 18 sites, becoming one of the nation’s most respected distributors of sustainable, technical timber.

Reaching Higher Ground

Finally, the project gave James Latham the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the next generation of timber designers. They became closely involved in TOG’s ‘Makers & Mentors’ scheme, a charitable initiative launched by TOG as part of its ongoing commitment to social responsibility.

The scheme saw TOG team up with social enterprise POoR Collective to launch a scheme to help design students bolster their expertise before heading into the industry. It took place under the expert guidance of three established design mentors (Sebastian Cox, Matteo Fogale, and Andu Masebo). A selected trio of students then developed a piece of furniture, accessory, or artwork which referenced the sustainable design principles that underpin The Black & White Building.

Approached by TOG, James Latham was keen to participate as the material partner and donated a wide variety of hardwoods and panel products for the participants to use. The resulting pieces of furniture included a bench, a rocking horse, and a side table, all of which will remain in The Black & White Building for occupants and visitors to use and enjoy.

A landmark achievement in timber specification, The Black & White Building represents a seminal moment in timber design and construction, perfectly exhibiting what gives this material such timeless appeal. This is further emphasised by the site’s longstanding association with timber, which has seen James Latham, its original occupant, return to play a part in its new incarnation as an ultra-stylish workspace.

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