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_The Kings Cross Regeneration Scheme
One of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe
The Kings Cross Regeneration Scheme is one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe and bearing in mind that two of the other largest projects were the London Olympics Arena and Crossrail, it gives a fairly accurate overview of the current buoyancy of the London construction sector. The whole project is the largest mixed use development in single ownership to be master planned and developed in central London for well over 150 years.
The project marries cutting edge new buildings, providing commercial and residential space, with sympathetic restoration of the existing Victorian train sheds and storage buildings. The developers, Argent LLP, have engaged some of the UK’s leading architects including Stanton Williams, David Chipperfield, Allies & Morrison, Bennetts Associates, Eric Parry Architects, Niall McLaughlin Architects and Wilkinson Eyre to name just a few of the 24 architectural practices involved thus far.
Whilst each of the buildings on the 67 acre site presented their own specific challenge, the conversion of the existing railway buildings has been one of the most problematic. The project around the Granary Building involved a great deal of initial planning from Weedon Architects which was further developed by Stanton Williams. The huge doorways and arches required for railway and road transport in the 19th century had to be converted to meet the more modern 21st century requirements without compromising the aesthetics of the original dwellings. The mythical precision of Victorian craftsmen has been somewhat dispelled in finding that many of the openings were up to 75mm out of plumb, often in both planes. Then again they couldn’t possibly envisage that 150 years after their construction these rather austere commercial buildings would eventually become Hi-Tech offices and education facilities, let alone shops and restaurants.
The project architects, Stanton Williams, did not let such trivialities deflect them from their aesthetic aspirations and the main contractors BAM have also gone to great lengths in rebuilding arches using the correct bricks and soot wash to disguise any remedial work. It is testament to the craftsmanship of those involved that these modifications cannot be picked up by the naked eye or in the plethora of photographic images that have recorded the projects progress.
The conversion of the numerous brickwork arches within the Eastern Goods Yard and Western Transit Sheds into retail space has followed on from the transformation of the Eastern Goods Yard into the Central St Martin’s College of Art campus. The campus, which is part of the UAL (University of Arts London) network now contains over 5,000 students and staff securing a number of prestigious design awards from such luminaries as The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors,(RICS) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The interior has been transformed to provide a light and airy atrium together with a mix of learning zones and social spaces using a range of glazing solutions with large window areas complimented by glass balustrades and internal glazed areas.
The exterior arches presented a number of challenges in adapting these spaces requiring highly precision installation of bespoke metalwork in addition to specialist glazing capabilities. MERO-SCHMIDLIN’s track record in the earlier Central St Martin’s project, where they undertook no less than 10 individual specialist steel and glazing packages, stood them in great stead for securing a similar specialist instruction for the W.T.S. conversion. The original conundrum faced by the architects, clients and principal contractors was do we employ a specialist glazing contractor and trust them with the steelwork? or perhaps a specialist steelwork contractor and hope they can accommodate the glazing. In MERO- SCHMIDLIN (UK) PLC they secured a specialist contractor with a long pedigree in both disciplines and were more than able to excel on both fronts. The concerns over the need for precision and experience was certainly well founded as the project threw up a whole host of potential problems which MSUK have taken in their stride. One of the first implementations was at the initial engagement stage. MSUK had one of the members of their experienced design team sit in, almost permanently, with the main contractor’s (BAM) project team at design and installation stages. This contribution of very specialist knowledge allowed the team to identify any potential problems prior to material procurement and delivery. With so much of the products being bespoke it was very important that the process was ‘right first time’. Having everything made to measure resulted from almost continuous site surveys from the MSUK site teams as whilst the arches may have looked similar, each of them had their own peculiarities and although the design allowed for some ‘adjustment’ on site, the tolerance being worked to were in most cases only a few millimetres. MSUK’s response to this particular challenge was to produce a bespoke outer framework which would accept a range of standard inner components to arrive at a cost- effective solution. The result however had to offer a balance between aesthetics, without compromising the performance of the components involved. For example whilst it may have looked fine to install the glazing slightly off upright to disguise the imperfections within the columns, this may have lead to water ingress at a later date and contravene warranties. These are the practicalities involved with this types of project where the aesthetic aspirations sometimes have to be over-ruled by the installers or principal contractors. MSUK developed a range of specialist installation components to suit both aluminium, steel and stainless steel profiles which were required to facilitate the installation of a diverse range of double glazed, heat strengthened, laminated, low-E coated and clear float glass options.
The exterior framework challenge was not just limited to installation within Victorian columns. The colour scheme preferred by the client was probable best described as an ‘Antique Bronze’. This was neither a BS or RAL Colour so the process involved an element of trial and error before a suitable, colour, gloss level and durability could be achieved, bearing in mind that consistency was required across the whole site over a time-span which could be 5 years plus, with other buildings still to be re- developed. The eventual PPC coating had to fully comply with BS6496 and for practical purposes was required to offer exactly the same consistency of colour and finish regardless of application in the factory or on site, or indeed of the base metal over which it was applied. The specialist expertise offered by members of the supply chain was paramount in reaching a satisfactory conclusion and indeed there was a high degree of patience from all parties at the ‘trial and error’ stage.
It is testament to the working relationship between MSUK, BAM and Stanton Williams that this was all undertaken to everyone’s satisfaction, especially the clients. MSUK carry with them a very versatile support team from their supply chain. Having worked with such a talented team of suppliers, manufacturers and installers they were able to adapt to the many challenges and bespoke requirements of the project. Whatever the problem MSUK were able to offer a committed team or individual to fit, supply or manufacture any bespoke requirement or meet any of the specific installation issues which may arise.
MERO-SCHMIDLIN’s design team manager, Barnaby Howe was particularly pleased with the outcome “Initially the arches were only fully installed to the 1st floor portion of each opening, with just perimeter steelwork installed at ground floor, leaving the ground floor of each arch open. This was due to the clients intent for the occupier of each unit to provide their own shop front in the style and layout of their choice. Over the course of the contract however, as units were leased, MERO- SCHMIDLIN were asked to complete the ground floor portion of a number of arches, installing the remaining steelwork, glass units, doors and internal cladding. Due to the clients desire to maintain a consistent visual appearance and high level of quality MERO- SCHMIDLIN ultimately completed the installation of all arches.”
Many architects are now realising that having an independent party who are able to offer impartial advice on design, material choice and expertise on installation is far preferential to working directly with one manufacturer. These advantages are not only limited to architects and specifiers as both principal contractors and by definition, their clients, are greatly benefitting from the value engineering and reduction in on-site time that such collaborations produce. Richard Wardle, Project Architect for Stanton Williams Architects was equally impressed commenting:
“Mero Schmidlin (UK) PLC provided a seamless service over several phases of the Granary Building project, including the last phase of the Eastern Goods Yard Arches. Their collaborative working methods and proactive approach to both design and installation allowed us to overcome a number of complex technical challenges, including working within a historic building fabric. Mock ups and benchmarks constructed before works began ensured aspirations for careful detailed interfaces and junctions were successfully realised throughout the project.”
Whilst very few people may have ventured into the Kings Cross area prior to the millennium, it is now a vibrant area to learn, work, live and socialise. Thanks to the developers and their dedicated team of architects and contractors, the area will continue to thrive for many years to come. As a result of this monumental regeneration scheme Kings Cross has now become a destination rather than a thoroughfare, as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has enthused:
“The Granary Building is a stunning development that embraces the past while looking to the future. The transition from a depository of Victorian grain, to a university where the seeds of artistic ideas sprout, has been handled with great sensitivity and flair.”
For more information on the Kings Cross Development see the following websites:
Words & Images by Paul Scott
Tel: 01992 634131