Architect: Niall McLaughlin Architects
Main contractor: Volker Fitzpatrick
Schueco systems/products: FW 50+ curtain walling, AWS 75 BS.HI windows, ADS 64 doors
Photos: Nick Kane
Niall McLaughlin Architects was appointed in 2004 to carry out a light-touch refurbishment of the former Royal Ballet School buildings to allow LAMDA to take over the site. This was the beginning of a decade-long project to create a new home for London’s oldest drama school and bring all its facilities onto one site. Despite being within a Conservation Area, the setting presents considerable problems for a teaching environment. Sandwiched between a six-lane arterial road and a railway line, it suffers from noise and pollution yet, at the same time, it is a high-profile location with great visibility.
LAMDA had said it would have liked to take over an old warehouse, a place with a history and no self-conscious architecture to pre-empt its creative inhabitation of the space. Niall McLaughlin Architects’ proposal picks up on this, relishing the gritty urban qualities of its location and producing a robust, calm ‘shed’ for learning. A three-storey teaching block and a four-storey theatre volume have been added to LAMDA’s enfilade of existing buildings. The teaching block contains studios, tutorial rooms and offices and is bisected by a top-lit circulation route. Due to the constrained site, back-of-house facilities were placed below the theatre, lifting the stage two floors above entrance level. The foyer, carved from a narrow space between the teaching block and theatre, is designed around the vertical journey from the box office to the auditorium. A tough and economical material palette of blockwork and concrete is leavened by timber and brass.
Externally the building is a simple factory-like container, composed of ribbed metal boxes placed on a brick plinth. The plinth frames inviting openings for pedestrians to look into the inner world of the school. The ribbed boxes provide rhythm to a facade experienced predominantly at an oblique angle, moving past at speed by car or train.
The ribbed metal box construction above the brick plinth is formed of a combination of Schueco FW 50+ curtain walling and an aluminium rainscreen cladding system. The animation of the facade is achieved using 300mm-deep rectangular profile extruded aluminium cover caps on the curtain wall mullions and major transoms. The anodised projecting caps finish flush with the brickwork below, so that the glazing appears deeply recessed within the facade. The same projecting cover caps are used to cover joints in the rainscreen cladding so that the entire facade appears to be formed of the same construction with a variety of solid and glazed infill panels. Schueco AWS 75 BS Hi windows were used for their narrow sightlines to form opening lights in the curtain wall, and ADS 65 doors frame the main entrance to the theatre block.