Soho's silver street build

Niki May Young
Tuesday 10 Jun 2008

Westminster embraces striking new design with planning permission for DSDHA's silver building

Planning permission and conservation area consent were granted by Westminster City Council for a remarkable new mixed-use office and residential development in Beak St, Soho by architects DSDHA. The scheme marks a major step forward for contemporary architecture and development in Westminster in what will be one of the first modern designs to achieve approval in Soho for 10 years, since Richard Roger's Broadwick Street development started in 1996.

The news comes following the inauguration of London’s new Mayor, Boris Johnson who is known as an opponent to changing the facade of historic London. Entirely clad in silver ceramic tiles, the 20,000 sq ft scheme for City and General addresses Westminster City Council's challenge for developers to deliver "innovative, creative and sustainable designs". Commenting on DSDHA’s design response, Westminster planning department hailed the architects as “a renowned contemporary architectural practice which specialises in new design coupled with sustainability”. It will be the practice’s first building in Westminster and is expected to start on site in early 2009.

The building is described by DSDHA as a “gift to the street”, making reference to Beak Street’s historical 18th century street name of Silver Street, when it was originally built alongside Golden Square to the south. The building responds directly to the unique context of Soho and seeks to represent its idiosyncratic character by offering new focal points to the surrounding streets as well as having a spectacular glazed entrance that allows generous views into a vertical garden courtyard. This living wall and atrium provide light and natural ventilation and offers a supplementary cooling effect from the plants to minimise energy use.

DSDHA have been working in collaboration with the artist, Edmund De Waal to design the ceramic finish, and planning and urban design consultants Turley Associates, and in close liaison with officers from Westminster City Council and the Soho Society throughout the design process. The design has been developed with the support of engineers Price and Myers LLP and Max Fordham Partnership.

The five-storey building comprises three floors of commercial space with two upper residential levels with roof terraces and green roofs. The proposal is designed to be an exemplar of sustainable design. At the heart of the building the atrium assists passive daylighting and ventilation and provides a vertical garden with integrated greywater recycling. The development creates a sustainable, mixed community allowing residents and office workers to live and work comfortably side-by-side in the centre of Soho, and also incorporates lighting and highways improvements to the immediate public realm at the narrow junction between Bridle Lane and Beak Street.

The proposal was described by officers in their recommendation report as a “striking modern design” of “a superior quality, bold and contemporary replacement...that would enliven the street...and enhance the character and appearance of the Soho Conservation Area”. Conservation Area Consent was given to replace the existing building, a locally-listed Police Section House by Dixon Butler dating from the early 20th century. Councillor Alastair Moss, chairing the Planning committee, reiterated that the Council has a high threshold for the quality of new development but that the proposed building met that requirement.

Consent was granted following Westminster City Council’s recent challenge to developers to come up with innovative, creative and sustainable designs, warning them to "raise their game" to ensure the capital remains world class. Speaking after his appointment last year Cllr Robert Davis, Cabinet Member for Planning said "Over the course of the next twelve months I will be challenging Westminster’s planners, developers, architects and surveyors to raise their game in relation to the quality of design they are delivering across our city.

“The New buildings in Westminster must compare with the stunning architecture and detail of the buildings of New York, Chicago & Melbourne.” Westminster City Council’s role in wider planning policy has recently become more evident with the appointment of Leader Sir Simon Milton’s appointment as the Mayor’s Senior Planning Advisor by Boris Johnson in May 2008.

Robert Brock, of client City & General, expressed his delight at the decision; “The design represents a stunning piece of architecture with which we are very proud to be associated. We were confident that this would win over Westminster Planners and the decision last Thursday evening was the right one.”

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