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From Car Park to School, A proposal for adaptive re-use

Part 2 Project 2009
Colin Wharry
London Metropolitan University, UK
‘The driving rain hushes the extractor fan chanting Hare Krishna’

The project adopts a speculative position, acting as a polemic to preconceived ideas about re-use and education. This position sets up a knowing duality between the obdurate qualities of the existing structure and the fragility of a child.

The existing Welbeck Street car park has a distinct presence; it can be read as a legible object in its context and has become embedded as part of a collective memory. Through the wrapping of the building, a translucent layer starts to ‘blur’ the strong expression of the structural dia-grid facade. This screen adjusts the ‘focus’ of the facade, becoming a memory of itself.

The building’s urban relationship to Oxford Street, its specific local context (a hinterland) and the introversion of the city block through courts and atria, provided the starting point for a two-form entry Montessori primary school. An ‘introverted plan’ defines a free spatial arrangement, exploring ideas of ‘pressure and release’ of internal spaces in relation to the city.

The classrooms are internally focused, super insulated timber rooms. Existing beams restate a high level datum, allowing light and air to be introduced from above. The restrictions imposed on the individual, that provide a controlled and focused learning environment are counterbalanced by release into the oversized, unheated circulation spaces that allow for more informal interaction and learning and create a strong connection to the city beyond.

Colin Wharry


Given the broad acknowledgement of peak oil, a future of curtailed car use in central London is imagined. The multi-storey car park becomes a relic of a carbon-driven economy and a new life is sought for it. The re-use of this structure would be characterised by compromise, but also result in the creation of spaces that might not have been achieved otherwise.

Wharry has exploited this premise with invention and probity. Acts of cutting, repairing, lining and over-cladding are exploited to achieve a scheme of spatial variety and high tectonic ambition.

A proposal for a two-form entry primary school is enabled by the creation of sizeable voids that allow for the passage of light and air. Pre-cast beams remain in place tying the structural dia-grid façade to the cores. Solid timber elements are inserted to create warm inwardly focussed classrooms that serve as a counterpoint to the existing language of raw concrete. An external ‘leaky’ skin of glass (printed with white dots that increase in radius as they move up the façade) is used to wrap the building. This acts as an acoustic shield, but also serves to make a new image for the building, recalling Gerhard Richter’s use of photographic mistakes (blurred and out-of-focus images) to make paintings.

Tutor(s)
David Grandorge

2009
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