The vast, ongoing development of King’s Cross behind the station, led by Argent, has seen major repurposings of industrial heritage, such as the Granary Building. Perhaps the most unusual are three conjoined Victorian gasholders, Grade II listed like their neighbour gasholder no. 8. A WilkinsonEyre project will see them restored, to house three cylindrical-based volumes, rising 12, nine and eight storeys and providing 145 apartments, ready in 2017. Practice founder Chris Wilkinson talks about King’s Cross Gasholders with Herbert Wright.
Who were the original Victorian designers for these gasholders?
The Gasholder Triplets were designed by John Clark and were erected at Goods Way (West Side), King's Cross between 1879 and 1880. The current Siamese triplet arrangement replaced an earlier trio of unlinked and non-telescoped gasholders, originally built between 1864 and 1867.
Clearly their history and their conjoined triplet arrangement make them unique. How did you deal with the physical structure of this industrial heritage?
The King's Cross gasholders were unique because they had to be dismantled to facilitate the Channel Tunnel railway, which meant that we were dealing with a known kit of parts. The difficult problem of contamination was therefore eliminated.
Which WilkinsonEyre projects does Gasholders relate to, in terms of providing relevant experience and/or aesthetic?
The gasholders do not relate closely to other projects. The architectural solution has emerged from the specifi cs of the project. We started with the geometry and proportion of the cast-iron frames and tried to make best use of the space that they contain. We did this by dividing them up into radial segments, or 'slices of pie', and we worked out horizontal divisions that were compatible with the frames. We had to relate the inside spaces to the main structural elements so that views out are not compromised.
Perhaps the most difficult design challenge was to find an architectural vocabulary that was sympathetic to the Victorian cast-iron frames but relevant to today's lifestyle, and we worked hard to achieve an industrial aesthetic but choosing quality materials. We have used the outer-layer screen to unify the appearance of the otherwise disparate arrangement of cladding elements, and we are happy that the dynamic quality of these relate to the movement of the Gasholders that would rise and fall according to the amount of gas they contained.
What is the cladding on the new blocks?
Metal rainscreen cladding with bespoke perforations and solid panels and sliding folding shutters.
Gardens ring the three gasholders and new blocks, but what about the roof gardens and trees envisioned in your original sketches?
The current gardens layout is essentially the same, however minor changes have taken place. Very tall trees are not feasible, but planters have been provided for future fl exibility.
Did you look at other similar projects, notably the four Gaswerk Simmering remodellings in Vienna by Nouvel, Coop Himmelb(l)au and others?
No, we didn't refer to other projects because there is nothing with the same constraints. The unusual arrangement of the conjoined triplets created its own special problems that had to be resolved in the design, and we started from there. We always start each project by examining the brief and site context. The design solutions emerge out of this work rather than researching other schemes.
Concept sketches for the Gasholders' project
There's a strong record of repurposing historic structures at King's Cross, from the Granary Building to gasholder no. 8, next to your project. Did that make working with Argent different than working with other developers?
Argent has an excellent record of developing great buildings and it is a pleasure working for it. Argent is interested in the quality of the architectural design for both new and historic buildings.