This King’s Cross residential project presents a unique and creative approach to preserving Grade II-listed gasholder guide frames. Tamsin Bradshaw speaks to architect Chris Wilkinson and interior architect Jonathan Tuckey about the unusual constraints involved, and their inspiring solutions.
Gasholders London has been a long time in the making. Now, after more than a decade of planning and designing, this residential project is coming to life – and it’s proving to be a distinctive example of architectural repurposing, while helping elevate life in King’s Cross.
The project first began with a competition in 2002: King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership invited five architecture firms to submit ideas for what to do with a trio of gasholder frames dating back to the 1860s. Layer upon layer of historical paint had kept these cast-iron frames in good condition, and after a two-year restoration programme, they have been relocated to the side of Regent’s Canal, with panoramic views of London.
The winning idea came from WilkinsonEyre, an architectural practice that is also working on six-star hotel Crown Sydney and the apartments at Battersea Power Station. For Gasholders London, the firm came up with the idea to place residential buildings inside the frames, creating circular structures that would celebrate the round, Victorian forms.
“The buildings are kept separate from the frames, so the accommodation is set back from the frame, and there’s always a gap. It varies, but there’s a minimum of 1.5 metres between the buildings and the frames,” says Chris Wilkinson, one of the founders of WilkinsonEyre. “They take the curved geometry because there’s no alternative. We sorted that one out by dividing the circular form into ‘pie’ slices. Some apartments have one slice, some have two slices, some have three. It’s further complicated by the fact that each gasholder is a different diametre and the column spacings are not the same.”
It’s a challenge the interior architects also had to grapple with. Like WilkinsonEyre, Jonathan Tuckey Design was appointed via a competition. “In a way, the building was so prescribed and had so much already decided about it that our approach appealed to the developer. We find those constraints inspiring rather than a nuisance,” says the studio’s Director, Jonathan Tuckey.
“From our perspective, it was really just about delivering on that planned form, the unusual pie shape,” he continues. “There was a lot of work in making sure we celebrated that geometry and the beautiful things that come with that. All the apartments have a curved facade, which is quite a lot bigger than the bit you enter in. As it opens out towards the windows, the space becomes much more expansive. We decided to put all the rooms that wanted more light at the front – dining rooms, living rooms – and rooms like the laundry and bathrooms, which don’t need so much light, in the tighter part at the centre.”
With such unusual spaces on offer, the developers decided not to limit themselves to one apartment layout. Instead, the 145 homes are a mix of one-bedroom studios, three-bedroom family homes, duplexes and penthouses. “I think they took the opportunity to make it very bespoke and very unique,” says Tuckey. “We ended up designing 25 different apartments.”
Alongside the challenging shape of the structures, there was the question of how to make the buildings and their interiors work in harmony with the decorative Victorian frames. “One of the problems with residential buildings is that you get a lot of windows, and they’re not all the same size, and you’ve got to accommodate the different requirements of lighting a space. And you also want terraces so that people can spill out in good weather and see the views, because they’re spectacular here. We saw that windows could have been a problem, because they might conflict with the Victorian frames,” says Wilkinson. “We got around that by having a third layer: a sliding, folding screen system that’s perforated. The screens open at the touch of a button and they’re in a metallic finish. I think it’s quite important to have this reference back to the industrial aesthetic.”
The next question was how to marry the industrial narrative with a sense of luxury. “We wanted the interior of the building to have a more refined industrial aesthetic. So we were talking about the idea of the watchmaker narrative,” says Wilkinson. This comes through in the interlocking circles and the winding, turning forms the buildings take as they rise up, as seen from the interior courtyards.
Jonathan Tuckey Design used materials they saw as both “luxurious and industrial” to achieve this refined industrial aesthetic. “We used a poured, reflective resin for the floors that’s synonymous with an industrial space. It’s seamless and quite contemporary, and at the same time, it deals with the geometry.” They also brought in brass accents, which add warmth to the two grey colour palettes and which echo the anodised brass hinges on the bifold screens. “Every apartment is very different,” says Tuckey. “It will allow people living in this building to have something that’s one-off.”
King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership will be in Hong Kong and Singapore in March to introduce Gasholders London to Asian buyers. Gasholders London will complete in 2017.
Jonathan Tuckey Design