Brutalism and Luxury

by David Archer & Julie Humphryes

Camden Town Hall’s annexe is love-it-or-hate-it Brutalism, designed in 1973-78 by the council’s architecture department.

Now we are appointed, in collaboration with Shawn Hausman from LA, - who started out designing film sets for Saturday Night Fever - to design the interior fit-out for its conversion from a Town Hall to a luxury hotel for the Standard Group - the hotel chain founded by André Balazs - our client at Chiltern Firehouse.

Located opposite St Pancras International, the annexe has outlived its useful life as offices, with its deep floor plates unsuited to contemporary workplaces. But it is suitable for re-use as a hotel. André Balazs appreciates its uncompromising, Brutalist form: “It’s exactly flawless, a great 1970s building” he said in the Conde Nast Traveller article How André Balazs Created the Anti-Hotel by Lindsay Talbot.

The architects converting the offices to the new use, ORMS, are planning to clean the pre-cast concrete panels, replace the smoked glass with clear glass and improve circulation at ground floor level by removing both the link to the main council building and the western stair core. As reported in the Camden New Journal, ORMS architect Ian Chalk feels that refurbishment is a better option than demolition.

“We believe it is an undervalued 20th-century block. It is a sensitive area, with a primary school next door and a Grade I-listed building opposite. We feel it is better to convert than knock down,” he said in the article Town Hall offices in King's Cross to be turned into luxury suites hotel by Dan Carrier.

Camden Town Hall annexe’s conversion comes at a crunch time for many office buildings of its vintage. English Heritage recently gave 14 post-war office buildings Grade II listed status including Peter Foggo’s 1 Finsbury Avenue in the City of London and BDP's 1971 Bank of England in Leeds. Writing in the Independent, Christopher Beanland considered these listings and wondered whether offices are undervalued ‘architectural Cinderella’ buildings, particularly those from the Brutalist era. “We don't celebrate offices in the way that we laud housing, schools, galleries, churches. One of the few places they get attention is in television and film comedy. And then it's not only their architecture that gets ridiculed, but their atmosphere,” he said in English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists.

He went on to consider the Camden Town Hall annexe and other changes of use:

“The annex to the Town Hall in Camden – where architects such as Neave Brown designed lavish, innovative council estates – will become a Standard Hotel. If old offices make perfect hotel rooms, old factories are increasingly today's open-plan offices; spaces that dance on the dead body of Britain's manufacturing past.”

The conversion of Camden Town Hall annexe is expected to take several years to complete.