A seamless blend of refurbished original Crittall steel windows and doors, and their 21st century equivalents, have been combined in a breathlessly impressive South London headquarters building for architectural practice Squire & Partners.
Located in what was the dilapidated shell of an Edwardian department store the building has been transformed into a masterclass of architectural re-use and recycling.
The structure, which is now known as The Department Store, was indeed iconic in its heyday. Built in 1906 it was an annex to the 1876 Bon Marche store built by a local entrepreneur, James Smith, who won the money needed to start the business thanks to a phenomenally good day at the races in Newmarket. It became the unrivalled shopping destination in Brixton.
Multi-award winning architects Squire & Partners decided, in moving their head offices from Kings Cross, to strip the sad Brixton building back to its raw original condition and, in so doing, reveal the decaying grandeur of its original construction and fittings. These features would be re-used where practicable and highlighted.
“We retained the original Crittall windows, repainting, reglazing and providing new ironmongery where necessary,” explains Squire & Partners director Tim Must. “The windows were in reasonable condition given their age. However they do not function ‘as new’ but we were willing to accept this compromise as retaining the character of the building was important to us.”
The first floor front elevation windows in particular are noteworthy, with their circular glazing bars within rectangular frames. Also discovered, refurbished and retained, were interior Crittall firedoors.
New bespoke Crittall profiles – MW40 and W20 windows, and cold form doors – came into play in other areas of the building, such as the groundfloor ‘shop front’ windows and doors, some incorporating curved glass, that recreated the appearance of a large store at street level.
“Externally we used new Crittall for the ground floor shopfronts, windows to the new extensions and the fourth floor external glazing,” says Tim Must. “Internally we used Crittall for the glazed screens within the reception. All these items were bespoke manufactured using Crittall’s standard sections.” He adds: “We chose Crittall as the original building utilised Crittall windows and sliding fire doors, and we like the idea of the continuity of suppliers.”
Also resonating with the building’s transformation is the fact that James Smith’s original department store was the first steel-framed building in the UK, lending weight to the desire to incorporate steel components within the re-furbished 1906 structure.
The re-born Department Store now offers more than 6,000 square metres of space spread over four floors incorporating open plan offices, breakout areas, meeting rooms, exhibition spaces, a model-making workshops, a café, bar, roof terrace and a record shop. Clumsy later additions and extensions were removed in the restoration and its original wooden floors, brickwork, marble, terracotta and, of course, steel windows, have all contributed to a truly back-to-the-future design.