Clerkenwell-based architecture practice WilkinsonEyre has won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ prestigious Stirling Prize twice for creating outstanding public spaces.
Key to its success is its approach to every new project — co-founder Jim Eyre asks the simple question: “Would I enjoy being there?”
Across London this fundamental way of thinking has been used to inject moments of delight into the daily lives of Londoners.
Whether that’s a glimpse up at the glazed and twisting aluminum spinal aerial walkway for ballerinas that links two Royal Ballet School buildings; the gentle, indirect arc of Canary Wharf South Quay bridge, or the experience of sitting in the shell-like forms of soon-to be-completed spectator stands at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
The recently opened £24 million overhaul of the Science Museum’s free Wellcome Galleries, not only provides a space for 3,000 objects showing the a history of medicine from voodoo to today’s magical technology, but creates an absorbing, entertaining, mildly theatrical spectacle of lighting, seamless glass walls and heaps of interactivity and buttons to press.
Liverpool Street’s futuristic new Crossrail station is still under wraps
WilkinsonEyre has had a long-standing relationship with the Science Museum but its new Liverpool Street station promises to be the practice’s longest-running project, thanks to Crossrail’s tortuous delays.
The subterranean “mined platforms” link the 230 metres between Moorgate and Broadgate stations and are spanned by a decorative faceted ribbed concrete ceiling — all under wraps until Crossrail’s eventual opening, promised for next year.
Liverpool Street’s new Crossrail station (Matthew Gibbs)
Battersea Power Station: a London landmark reborn
The firm relishes any opportunity to give new life to a London landmark that has lost its way and is currently working on creating a centrepiece for Battersea Power Station and its 2,500 new homes.
The vast Art Deco turbine halls of the power station are being converted into a high-end shopping centre, topped by Apple’s headquarters and ﬂanked by 253 apartments, where prices start at £865,000.
To top it all off, WilkinsonEyre is creating a new visitor attraction in the form of a glass viewing pod that will rise through one of the power station’s four chimneys to give unparalleled 360-degree vistas of London.
An extension to the Northern line launching in autumn next year will open up Battersea and the neighbouring redevelopment taking place in Nine Elms in Vauxhall.
Eyre says: “To make a mixed development work, part of the key to it is providing an amazing public space.”
A six-acre park by LDA Design will run down from the front of the power station to the edge of the Thames, opening up a south bank walk for the first time, while a network of elevated walkways will connect with the Tube and a private rooftop will host secluded gardens for residents.
“The days of the big vacant plaza have gone,” says Eyre. “Much more thought goes into public space now. Now it seems unthinkable that you wouldn’t put as much effort into your public space as you do into the buildings.”
WilkinsonEyre’s plans for Battersea Power Station
Enveloped in grandeur: The Gasholders at King’s Cross
At King’s Cross the architects converted a trio of defunct gasholders on the edge of Regent’s Canal into 145 luxury flats, preserving the cast-iron structures as an important reference to the area’s industrial past.
In an area of enormous landscape-changing regeneration, the gasholders are also a way-ﬁnding marker.
The apartments are housed in cylindrical volumes that mimic the gas drums which once stood within.
New life for a landmark: at King’s Cross, Gasholders London provides 145 luxury flats within the preserved cast-iron structure of the three Victorian gasholders (John Sturrock)
Careful landscaping of roof and ground-level gardens around the foot of the towers has created a pocket of uplifting greenery.
The plants were all chosen for their air-purifying qualities, explains WilkinsonEyre director Yasmin Al-Ani Spence. “London has always had its garden squares,” she says.
The greenery runs on to the towpath and an adjoining park created inside another gasholder by Bell Phillips Architects.
Eyre and Al-Ani Spence credit “good developers” — naming Argent, British Land and Land Securities — for realising that such green spaces are vital to our wellbeing, enticing us out at lunchtime to eat in the park or walk by the canal.
“More developers understand that you need to do more than just keep building up to get a building to really work,” says Eyre.
“You’ve got to change the nature of the place, do something special.”