First kiss

Heather­wick Stu­dio’s all-em­brac­ing de­sign for a new re­tail hub, Coal Drops Yard in Lon­don’s King’s Cross

Wallpaper - - Contents - WRITER: EL­LIE STATHAKI

Heather­wick Stu­dio brings re­tail curve ap­peal to Lon­don’s King’s Cross

It’s un­usual to be of­fered choco­late first thing in the morn­ing, es­pe­cially on an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally hot sum­mer day in Lon­don. Yet to­day, vis­i­tors to Thomas Heather­wick’s HQ are greeted by an ar­ray of de­li­cious-look­ing co­coa mod­els of Coal Drops Yard – his stu­dio’s lat­est project – vac­uum-formed from 3D prints. ‘When I first saw the site’s ex­ist­ing build­ings I thought they were like those Kitkat fin­gers, with a bite taken out of one, so it is shorter,’ Heather­wick of­fers in ex­pla­na­tion. He is re­fer­ring to the pair of long, 19th-cen­tury build­ings in which coal was sorted as it ar­rived by train at Lon­don’s King’s Cross sta­tion from the north of Eng­land. Now Heather­wick Stu­dio has trans­formed this piece of Vic­to­rian in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing into a new re­tail hub.

Heather­wick, whose stu­dio has been based in King’s Cross since 2002, has seen the area grow from a bud­ding re­gen­er­a­tion hotspot into a thriv­ing – and still de­vel­op­ing – com­mu­nity that is of­ten used as an ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful ur­ban plan­ning. De­vel­oper Ar­gent has in­vested time, thought, en­ergy and mas­sive funds to re­ju­ve­nate the quar­ter. ‘They turned it into a great thing,’ says Heather­wick. ‘King’s Cross is this per­fect storm of lo­ca­tion, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and beau­ti­ful place-mak­ing, with both mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture and his­toric fab­ric that cre­ates a sense of place,’ says Craig White, Ar­gent’s se­nior project di­rec­tor for re­tail. ‘It’s like a mi­cro­cosm of the West End, fused with the el­e­men­tal – wa­ter and sky.’

Coal Drops Yard is only one of Heather­wick’s projects for this vast site – his Google HQ, de­signed to­gether with BIG, is still a work in progress – but it holds a spe­cial place in his heart. ‘Of the whole of this area, this is the point that is the most ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple, and it is also the last her­itage site to be de­vel­oped,’ he says.

When Ar­gent ap­proached Heather­wick, the de­vel­oper’s plans fea­tured two bridges and a viaduct level to con­nect the two build­ings. Draw­ing on their own ex­pe­ri­ence in re­tail with Hong Kong’s Pa­cific Place, team Heather­wick de­cided to make some changes. ‘Flow is ab­so­lutely key in this type of project,’ Heather­wick ex­plains. ‘You want some­one to move al­most un­think­ingly through the space, so find­ing the right shapes and con­nec­tions was cru­cial.’ The ex­ist­ing build­ings’ lin­ear­ity was down to their old func­tion, and the brief was ad­justed to fit the new use.

‘We needed a third el­e­ment to bring to­gether the ex­ist­ing build­ings as a new, sin­gle and co­her­ent whole,’ con­tin­ues Heather­wick. ‘We knew the roof needed re­build­ing any­way, so we thought, could we use the roof to unite ev­ery­thing? English Her­itage was very sup­port­ive of the so­lu­tion.’ By de­sign­ing a third level un­der two ‘kiss­ing’ roofs, he killed two birds with one stone. The two struc­tures were brought to­gether, cre­at­ing the all-im­por­tant re­tail-friendly flow, while also main­tain­ing the site’s du­al­ity.

The de­sign of­fered a strong, sig­na­ture shape that quickly be­came the project’s vis­ual short­hand. Both

the de­vel­oper and ten­ants were ex­cited by the plan. ‘When the re­tail­ers sent us their in­te­rior de­signs, we didn’t have a sin­gle com­ment to make, they were all per­fect right from the start,’ re­calls White. ‘The fact that it was a Heather­wick build­ing re­ally in­spired ev­ery­body and pushed them to raise the bar and fol­low the project’s in­her­ent sense of place.’

The ar­chi­tects kept in­ter­ven­tions to the ex­ist­ing struc­tures to a min­i­mum, re­tain­ing as much of the orig­i­nal brick-arched fab­ric as pos­si­ble. The new level sits lightly on the old parts: ‘The engi­neers have in­ter­laced the new roof struc­ture with the old in such a way that, if you wanted, you could take it all off and re­vert to the old sit­u­a­tion,’ says Heather­wick.

The sweep­ing roofs of the new con­struc­tion brought a sense of fun to the site even be­fore com­ple­tion. ‘We needed left-handed roofers to work on the one side and right-handed ones for the other, as we needed to work on both sides at the same time,’ says the project leader, ar­chi­tect Tam­sin Green. ‘There was a cer­tain friendly ri­valry among the slaters about which team did the best job.’ (Ap­par­ently, the right-handed team won.)

The com­plex in­cludes four large units, which oc­cupy the long build­ings’ ends, and sev­eral smaller vaulted spa­ces in-be­tween. On the Gra­nary Square side, small arched shops re­call lit­tle souk streets, and give way to a gen­er­ous cen­tral pi­azza at the heart of the de­vel­op­ment. The scheme houses a va­ri­ety of care­fully se­lected re­tail­ers, in­clud­ing Paul Smith, Tom Dixon and Mar­garet How­ell – as well as restau­rants and bars. Sam­sung oc­cu­pies the show­stop­ping space un­der the roof, promis­ing a ‘cre­ative and dig­i­tal play­ground’.

As a re­tail desti­na­tion, ‘Coal Drops Yard is not just about the prod­uct’, says White. ‘It is about the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, and Thomas un­der­stands this and has done an out­stand­ing job.’ The stu­dio’s at­ten­tion to de­tail went right down to fit­tings such as lift but­tons. Seven dis­tinct sets of door han­dles were com­mis­sioned, all es­pe­cially de­signed to in­vite ‘in­ci­den­tal touch ac­cu­mu­la­tion’, says Heather­wick.

The de­sign­ers also wanted to en­sure that Coal Drops Yard be an ac­ces­si­ble space 24/7 and as wel­com­ing as the nearby Gra­nary Square and Lewis Cu­bitt Park, which are flooded with vis­i­tors as soon as the sun comes out. This suited the client per­fectly. As White points out, the am­bi­tion is for this unique com­plex to be­come one of Lon­don’s most vi­brant new des­ti­na­tions, what­ever the time of day.

above and op­po­site, the gabled roof above each of two ex­ist­ing build­ings rises up and stretches to­wards the other, meet­ing to form a new, sin­gle up­per storey that gives the project a cen­tral fo­cus. the glazed space pro­vides a view­point over the de­vel­op­ment and the city

Above, clad in Welsh slate, the top-floor Ad­di­tion sits As lightly As pos­si­ble on the two 1850 struc­tures

below, one of the stor­age spa­ces into Which coal WAS once dropped from Wag­ons on rail­way tracks Above. the brick And cast-iron Arches Will soon re­open, oc­cu­pied by shops, cafés And restau­rants

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