A developer asked us to look into an opportunity on the outskirts of East London - a locally listed Neo-Georgian former convent.
With buildings and sites like this, the first question often asked is: What is the angle which would make it most viable as a development? Sub-divide and split into flats? Spruce it up and rent it out in its current usage? Convert the building for a different use class? Knock the building down and rebuild something else in its place?
In this instance, we knew an operator with deep connections in the green technology industry - bringing people together to incubate ideas and develop innovative projects. We could thus envision this as a 'campus' where people would come to live and create.
Given the history of the building as a convent, a 'campus' development wouldn't be a far cry off from its previous usage. The demolition and building works could potentially be a lot less. A "light touch" approach would be more sustainable, produce less waste and save on cost.
Renewing the building with a sympathetic usage can also help to preserve more of its original features and character. The one item that has to be changed however is the oversized dormer at the roof. Not sure who did that, but they didn't have a very good sense of proportion and design.
In drawing up our scheme, we couldn't help but think back to our days in architecture school. All those long hours and overnights in design studio - it is effectively where we lived. It was intense and exhausting, but fondly memorable. Given the character of the existing building, one could imagine something in the vein of a Harry Potter-esque Hogwarts or a Professor Xavier X-men type of school. If some of our best memories of making things happen were from our student days, who says that experience needs to stop after graduating?
Our design starts and ends with the ground floor - where most of the magic happens. It is very important that the communal spaces for such developments of this size (roughly 1,000sqm) are all on one floor - it concentrates social life to encourage meeting and engagement and is more efficient for personnel to manage.
The centre of the main action is the Open Collaboration Hub - a large common work area with open kitchen/bar (serving free tea and coffee with other food and drink for sale). A variety of other more traditional rooms offer other places to work or have meetings. The former chapel is repurposed as a Multi-purpose Hall - for larger presentations, lectures, or film nights. On the opposite side of the building are service/support functions - bathrooms, housekeeping, laundry, cycle storage, etc.
On the floors above are rooms for the tenants, with a variety of room types at different price points. They start with twin suite rooms which share an ensuite bathroom with one other person. Deluxe suite rooms have space for two people with a private ensuite.
Our favourite feature is the express slide - providing a quick and direct route from the bedrooms above to the Open Collaboration Hub at ground. Can you spot it on each floor?