Central Saint Martins gets big yellow table sculpture

The presence of a huge yellow table in the heart of Central Saint Martins in Kings Cross is a major enhancement by architect Featherstone Young to the college’s main thoroughfare and working life. Johnny Tucker takes a closer look


You could be forgiven for thinking the giant yellow table with a pop-up lamp in the main thoroughfare of Central Saint Martins in London is an installation by one of the more extrovert students. It plays so well with the giant space, looking quite normal in many respects, while helping to punctuate it and also give it a more human scale.

The colours act as a counterpoint to the buildings around itThe colours act as a counterpoint to the buildings around it

In actuality it's a visually arresting, extremely pragmatic design solution by architect Featherstone Young to issues surrounding usage of the thoroughfare. Now that the students have been ensconced in the Stanton Williams building for a couple of years, the college started to look at how the building was actually being used on a daily basis. A number of areas have come under the spotlight, including this huge, full-height central street. Although the space is perfect for degree shows and performance, generally students don't tend to congregate there, due to such factors as a lack of seating (furniture tends to go walkies around the building), the lighting and having nowhere to plug in to recharge electrical items - the only sockets are special ones designed for cleaners, that won't take a normal plug -- not to mention the sheer size and scale of the space.

Featherstone Young's deceptively simple answer is a nest of tables all built by Millimetre. This giant yellow table is the mothership. Some 4m high, it has a two-fold purpose, the first of which is to house all the other tables when not in use. When everything is removed it becomes a moveable room. Material sides can be pulled down and AV is built in to allow it to be used as everything from a work or seminar space to a theatre. Flexibility is the key, as it is with the rest of the tables. Within the yellow table sit two 2.5m-high M-size tables, which again can act as rooms or just delineate a human-sized space with its own lighting. Nestled inside of these are S-size tables (12 in total), which are actually tables and XS-size tables (24) as seats.

Illustration showing how all the sizes fit togetherIllustration showing how all the sizes fit together

'The key thing was to do something that wasn't too restrictive and that people could take ownership of and change it and adapt it,' says practice co-founder Sarah Featherstone, who is also a tutor on the Narrative Environments MA course at CSM. The use and layout permutations are myriad and Featherstone Young has even gone to the trouble of suggesting, via diagrams, a few options until the students truly make them their own. It's a clear family, the larger pieces steel-framed, and all of them finished off in exterior-grade phenolic board (for robustness) in a family of green to yellow colours that those familiar with Featherstone Young's award-winning output may have seen before.

The big idea and execution is extremely clever, but what raises it a level further is the true attention to detail and that's what should make these tables extremely flexible and useful. The power issue is sorted: the L and M tables plug into the cleaners' sockets and students can then plug into the tables' legs. The L wall and projection screens are integrated into the ceiling. On the M-table, a more substantial wall in three parts hinges down from the ceiling and can be used as screening or for display.

The L table has also been designed so standard display panels -- an art college staple -- can slot into the gaps between the legs.

Featherstone Young’s design with all the tables utilised

Featherstone Young's design with all the tables utilised

On a smaller scale, there are such elements as fully integrated lighting, a little board for chalking up details of the day and holes in the legs to allow for eyelets to be screwed in so students can easily attach things to them. None of this detailing compromises the minimal form and clean lines. The bigger tables are on casters and L has even been designed to be the right size to be wheeled through the security turnstiles, so that it can be used in the space outside.

When out the tables give a new human rhythm to the huge space, the strong colour a real bonus in the essentially neutral interior. When not needed, everything can be packed into the L footprint and wheeled into one of the side lobbies.

It's a playfully elegant and practical design solution and one that you could see working in many other similarly large spaces.

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