Project: Theatrical Apartment – Residence Clerkenwell Apartment
Architects: APA London
Project Architect: Guillermo Lavernia
Location: London, UK
Size: 123 sqm
Contractor: Bentis Brothers
Photographer: Ed Reeve
Apalondon have collaborated with Dalia Ibelhauptaite (a director of opera and theatre) and Dexter Fletcher (a director of film and theatre) on the design for a new and theatrical apartment space in Clerkenwell, London located on St John Street.
The building, built in the 1930s, had a former life as a shoe factory. The clients were drawn to it for its expansive windows, though the old arrangement of rooms meant that these were always partially hidden from view. The brief was to transform the warehouse space, taking close consideration of the scale, grain and detailing of the existing architecture, and to create something very personal to the clients, representing something of their histories.
The old factory has a roughness, an authenticity, which appealed to Dexter, whose film background supports a love of architecture seen through a lens, in movement. The existing window frames which work together on metal rods ‘in unison’ for ventilation are a complex but beautiful mechanical pivoting system which creates a raw and industrial aesthetic that retains a certain dynamic of movement, even when static. These themes permeated the design.
A directorial, choreographic & artistic fluidity prevailed. Dalia’s operatic set design skills became the design core around which the space was manipulated. A black box like a huge fly tower sits centrally in the space. This houses a bathroom, film and book archive and laundry facilities. The black box sets about a pattern of architectural movement so that the spaces wrap around it. Each side of the cube is characterised by a different function: reading & sleeping / working, preparing food & dining / socialising & relaxing. The whole space is however a continuous wrap.
The cube surfaces open and close, incorporating raw steel walls, blackened mesh screens, metal shelves, recesses, decorative niches and sliding doors. It is Baroque in complexity but simple in function. Each element serves a purpose in movement to reveal a use of space that is compact and deliberate or occasionally obtuse and irreverent. Springing from the clients love for theatre, dance, music and artistic clarity, a monochrome palette became highlighted by gentle warm tones of light, delicate introductions of industrial steel blues, rich dark olive green and unexpected textures.
Hard materials appear as soft as butter, soft fabrics are placed as monolithic stone like structures. Lighting is varied, from muted & reflected tones to occasional directed, theatrical atmospheres. The choice of materials, furniture and moveable wall screens is deeply personal, inspired by family history as well as evoking memories of journeys in Japan, Belgium, and Argentina, each captured by fragments (solid oak shelves, black ash shoji, thick black marble splinters, mountain climate blankets & throws) that combine to create a dark mystical dream at night or a textural landscape in daylight. Urban in complexity yet strangely archaic /prehistoric in its base simplicity, the apartment dominated by a black steel cube reflects the inhabitants passions and their love for material quality of an elemental nature.