Focus: Residential

In this extended look at the residential sector, we review an eclectic variety of projects, ranging from Victorian gasholders-turned-apartments and lofts in Amsterdam to a former Post Office sorting office that provides not only new dwellings but also an open-access garden

Edited by Toby Maxwell

What sets the best architects, designers, and developers apart from the rest is vision, and the ability to spot the potential in a building or location that few others can. Invariably, combining this foresight with a fl air for luxury can result not only in serious profit, but can also make for an inspiring end-result and, more importantly, a wonderful home.

On the pages of this Focus we profile a diverse range of residential projects, each of which have their own unique take on luxury. For some, it is about the location, for others it is the specification that enables them to stand out from the rest.

Among our crop of projects is one of London’s most remarkable reinventions. Gasholder towers that would have been seen for decades by commuters into King’s Cross Station have been relocated and repurposed into the ultimate in quirky luxury living, and are now the jewel in the redevelopment of a once run-down area of the capital.

By contrast, we also take a look at a beautiful home situated within the wonderful isolation of Dungeness on the Kent coast, and find out how a former Royal Mail sorting office has been repackaged into a well thoughtout – and dare we say, first-class – development.

All extremely varied projects, and yet what they have in common is that each, in its own way, brings together a wide range of influences, constrictions and creative inspiration to imagine a space for luxury living.

Gasholders London, King’s Cross
WilkinsonEyre Jonathan Tuckey

At the start of this year, King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership completed Gasholders London, a development of 145 apartments comprising studios, one, two, three bedroom apartments and duplex penthouses. The development is the only one of its kind in the world to be built within listed gasholder frames, dating from the 1860s.

Architecture practice WilkinsonEyre is of course no stranger to highly unusual, large-scale projects. The firm has also created the Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, China’s Guangzhou International Finance Centre, and is the architect behind London’s other major industrial repurposing global icon, Battersea Power Station. The practice won the competition to create residential apartments within the gasholder frames in 2002 and has created the most striking of conversions, with apartments designed as wedge-shaped ‘pie slices’ within the circular buildings.

Sketch of the gasholders, with a central courtyard gardenSketch of the gasholders, with a central courtyard garden

Gasholders London have been built on concrete cylinders of eight, nine and 12 storeys, clad in glass and aluminium and encased within the Grade II listed Victorian iron pillars and struts of the 123 gasholder frames, each weighing about eight to 10 tonnes. They spent four years being restored by hand at a specialist engineering works in Shepley, West Yorkshire. Floor-to-ceiling windows in every external room can make use of remotely operated perforated steel and bronze shutters, made in Italy to a bespoke design by WilkinsonEyre.

Central atria, reminiscent of the interior route of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, bring light into the heart of the structures, while a vast courtyard in the middle at the juncture of the three gasholders is encircled with viewing platforms and a ground-floor fountain as its centrepiece. The Gasholders London’s curved facades, adjacent to the Regent’s Canal, offer far-reaching views across the water and to the capital beyond.

Chris Wilkinson OBE, architect and founder of WilkinsonEyre, said: ‘Working with a circular geometry has resulted in really beautiful ideas. What began as a challenge turned out to be a blessing. The gasholders are historic, industrial structures being redeveloped, but in a more enduring sense we view it like a watchmaker would see a beautiful timepiece. We wanted to retain the presence of the structure but give it new meaning and use for the future. We’re placing new against old, finding ways to create an elegant contrast.’

Jonathan Tuckey is the architect responsible for the apartments’ interiors. His vision has been to create a look that is ‘luxe industrial’ and positioned somewhere between industry, craft and luxury. To this end, materials often used in an industrial setting are upscaled and applied to homes to create a comfortable and still living environment.

Materials such as lye-treated oak-cast concrete bathroom basins have been made specifi cally for the Gasholders London apartments, while kitchen units created by Italian manufacturer Valcucine to a bespoke design by Tuckey feature treated Valchromat, a stained timber panelling. There are also reflective, poured resin floors by Dutch firm Senso, and stainless steel and bronze accents throughout – particularly in the taps adapted for the project from the Arne Jacobsen original from Vola.

Within the open-plan living areas, the kitchens have been designed to play on the mechanical nature of the overall building. This is achieved by using through-coloured engineered board for the units and the application of brushed stainless steel and brass. Mirrored panels and flush, fl at-panel light fittings in the ceilings exaggerate the sculptural forms of the kitchens. The mechanised approach is continued inside the master bedrooms, which are edged with brass, connecting them with the perforated metal shutters that shade each apartment that also feature brass details, revealed as they open and close, controlled from within by the resident.

The bathrooms are lined in bespoke concrete tiles and panels and feature matching concrete washbasins. The solidity of these interiors is complimented by details similar to those found in the kitchens with their use of flush light panels, mirror and brass accents; these elements interact visually to increase the sense of scale in these rooms.

‘To show off the extraordinary geometry, we have given every apartment curved walls, which are reflected in mirrors so that they appear to continue round,’ says Tuckey. ‘Apartments have deliberately not been aligned with the original cast-iron columns, to ensure their intricate details are visible through windows and reflected on the resin floors. They’re a friendly figure in the corner of the room.’

At Gasholders London, the ground and first floors have a gym and spa, business area, cinema screening room with private bar and residents’ dining room, as well as a communal roof garden on top of one of the Gasholder buildings. The roofs of the other two are private gardens for the nine individually designed duplex penthouse apartments. These are accessed via private stairways through sliding roof lights, with terraces to both floors, private cinema and spa located around a centra atrium and facing east or west for sunrise or sunset. A specially commissioned lighting artwork by German artist Tobias Rehberger is installed in the entrance lobby.

The Victorian gasholders have been relocated and transformed into apartmentsThe Victorian gasholders have been relocated and transformed into apartments

The overall scheme comes under a single development partnership to ensure that King’s Cross is redeveloped within the scope of a unified masterplan in which public squares, restaurants, office buildings, schools and parks come into play in a balanced way alongside residential buildings.

Key public spaces have been developed first to ensure an established sense of place for both residents and commercial tenants. Based around the nearby hub of Granary Square are several restaurants and independent retailers as well as Central St Martins art and design school, the UK HQs for Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and Google.

The wider development has seen a number of historic former railway buildings converted into modern use. Thomas Heatherwick has designed a 9,300 sq m space for events, dining and retail within the area’s original coal storage depot. It is due to open towards the end of 2018.

‘We are fashioning a distinctive part of London that is not dull or corporate or stuffy,’ says Robert Evans of development partner Argent. ‘The plan is to become a London estate like those laid out in the 18th and 19th centuries.’

Gasholders London is the fourth residential project to launch on the 67-acre King’s Cross estate, following the ArtHouse, Tapestry and Plimsoll buildings. Among the most distinctive features to be retained on the site, the Gasholder frames had long been a prominent landmark for passengers arriving into King’s Cross by train from the North. They were dismantled in 2001 to allow the construction of the Channel Tunnel rail link, providing the ideal opportunity to refurbish and relocate them to a canalside location better suited to the wider masterplan for the site.

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