There’s plenty to shout about in this just-opened new building by Bennetts Associates that managed to complete in the huge King’s Cross development with hardly a murmur...
Client: London Borough of Camden
Architect: Bennetts Associates
Size: 20,404 sq m
Developer's cost: Confidential
Duration: 22 months
Words by Emily Martin
After a decade of planning and construction works, phase one of the King's Cross development programme is now open to the public. And working to accommodate 45,000 people on a site that previously housed a series of disused buildings, railway sidings and warehouses on contaminated land, has created a new central London hub in an otherwise space-demanding city.
While developing a 67-acre site (owned and managed by King's Cross Central Limited Partnership) it is possible to even miss a major landmark completion that may otherwise be much trumpeted. On 19 July one of the largest buildings completed as part of the development works was opened to the public. Designed by Bennetts Associates, the 14-storey building, created especially for long-term tenant Camden Council, is set among some of King's Cross's major commercial buildings, yet innovatively 5 Pancras Square accommodates a leisure centre, swimming pool, library, cafe and Contact Camden customer services centre, plus offices for Camden Council staff.
The full-height atrium and central staircase act as a visual focus for the workplace. Photo: Hufton + Crow
A cube-like form, situated at the junction of Pancras Road and Goods Way, the building's shape was influenced by its street-corner location as well as the 'volumetric limits' of the King's Cross masterplan. Each facade incorporates subtle design features to, as Rab Bennetts, Bennetts' founding director, describes, 'animate the cube' and offer some practical solutions.
''We have introduced blades that cut out the late sun on the north-west side of the building,' he says, pointing to the upper 10 floors of the building occupied by the council office staff and characterised by bronze-anodised solar shading. Overlooking the protected Camley Park Nature Reserve on Goods Way, the facade is punctuated by deeply recessed balconies, a feature also seen on the Pancras Way facade, which Bennetts says give the building a kinetic quality. In contrast to the bronze-anodised upper levels, the lower 'public' levels are clad in light pre-cast concrete that reflects the internal structure and even offers a tantalising glimpse down into the basement swimming pool from street level. Lightbox artwork, designed by artist Mark Titchner, is installed on the top floor of the south-east corner, creating an illuminated visual marker for visitors arriving at the building's Pancras Square entrance.
The new public library looks over the double-height cafe space. Photo: Hufton + Crow
The building, which has two public entrances, connects the street-level public entrance in Pancras Way with the upperground- level administrative entrance in Pancras Square with a triple-height lobby space. The public entrance lobby on Pancras Road provides direct access to the building's lowerground- levels' leisure facilities, including a gym and studio space. 'A selling point for the leisure facilities is that it's in a light and airy space,' says Peter Fisher, Bennetts Associates director and lead architect on the project. 'Of course there was the risk that the pool would become dingy, being in the basement, so we introduced a natural light well to the lighting design scheme.'
The building features a public swimming pool in the basement with a colour-changing light wall. Photo: Hufton + Crow
Featuring a LED back-lit light wall, with green, blue, purple and pink ever-changing colours, the ambience of the space is transformed to create a calm yet energised space. Featuring a stretched ceiling, LED lighting in it is diffused to create a glow 'The building's basement is a very usable space, which is very unusual,' explains Fisher. Housing the building's services, which would normally be sited in the basement, was achieved by installing a mobile floor within the pool. 'The pool's floor rises not only for access, but for usability also. If the pool is required to have one continuous depth, then it is possible to do this,' says Fisher.
From the Pancras Square entrance, there is direct access to customer services, the mezzanine library and double-height cafe plus to the 10 floors of dedicated office space above. The boundaries between the library and customer services centre are consciously blurred to provide a friendly and welcoming space equipped with informal seating, private meeting rooms and a play area in the children's section of the library. The double-height space that connects the two mezzanine floors contains a public cafe with uninterrupted views over Camley Street Natural Park. 'The layout is intended for visitors to discover the levels,' says Bennetts. 'The mezzanine looks over the elements of drama and allows for a bigger feeling of space.' Not intended as a 'dead quiet' space, Bennetts Associates has made acoustic allowances within the ceiling as well as in several study rooms to limit the reverberation levels. 'There is a dense footfall and it's a lively building in comparison to the previous one, which was grim!' says Bennetts.
Vertiginous viewing from the top floor down through the atrium. Photo: Hufton + Crow
On the office levels, a full-height atrium and central staircase act as a visual focus for the workplace and allow daylight to flood in. A series of cut-outs in the north and west facades provide terraces with exceptional views north over the Camley Street Natural Park, the Eurostar terminal and Camden beyond. The office floors are predominantly open-plan, with large private meeting rooms that can be subdivided for flexibility, and informal breakout areas concentrated around the atrium. Featuring a palette of durable materials, the concrete structure, suspended steel structure, cladding and stone flooring sit in deliberate contrast to the more colourful but ephemeral palette of the furniture, wayfinding and branding.
Bennetts says: 'it was also our criteria to force people to talk to each other! So we have created circulation space the provides a village feel.' With the floors centred around the atrium, Bennetts Associates had to carefully consider its diameter to allow for enough natural light versus distancing colleagues and co-workers from each other. 'Its size allows for enough light to the 10 floors and small enough to maintain intimacy,' he adds.
The Pancras Road facade has punctured balconies to 'animate the cube'. Photo: Hufton + Crow
Designed for long life and high levels of adaptability, the building has earned the BREEAM rating 'Outstanding', one of the highest yet achieved in the UK for a civic building. The robust and simple design, based on a combination of 'passive and active design features' helped achieve this rating. Key sustainable features include maximising daylight to the centre of the building, an energy-efficient hybrid ventilation system, and being linked to a site-wide district heating network that provides 100 per cent of the development's heating and hot-water needs. Long-term running costs will be substantially reduced and carbon-dioxide emissions cut by an estimated 64 per cent. Something well worth shouting about.