Words Kirk Truman
Designs Urban Projects Bureau
“Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for”
From 1714 to 1830, the first four British monarchs of the House of Hanover (George I, George II, George III, and George IV), reigned in continuous succession in the United Kingdom. With its centred panel front doors, large rectangular windows and distinctive chimney tops, Georgian architecture bares the name of the monarchs that reigned during this period. A notable example of such architecture locally in Fitzrovia is Robert Adam’s elegant Fitzroy Square, while nearby, a remarkable reinvention of the style can be found at 33 Grafton way.
London’s most hard working architectural typology, the Georgian townhouse itself is more-or-less public, or more-or-less private. In the project produced, designed an reimagined by the architectural practice, Urban Projects Bureau, an ordinary Georgian house has been pushed to the limits adapting the typology to provide a mixed-use socially sustainable development that provides commercial spaces and a three-storey family home.
The project itself was the vision of husband and wife duo, Eva & Paschalis Loucaides. Including a full-scale renovation, reorganisation and reinterpretation of the existing building and a light-weight roof-top pavilion and garden – the building was an opportunity and challenge for Urban Projects Bureau to use architecture to support a mixed-use urban environment and to experiment with central London’s essential urban tissue. Alex, founder of Urban Projects Bureau, had previously met Eva whilst studying in Cambridge and the two have remained friends ever since.
The conversion and extension of 33 Grafton Way was given the name Hard Working House by Urban Projects Bureau as the project was a chance to experiment with and bring new innovations to the Georgian town-house typology so as to make it ‘work harder’. Using the design principles of typological adaptation and addition, the derelict property which was in a severe state of disrepair was reconfigured to provide a compact high-density dwelling, with a range of residential and commercial spaces including a newsagent, 2 studio apartments and a three-storey private maisonette with a new roof-top pavilion and terrace.
With Fitzrovia closely monitored by both Camden and Westminster Council conservation teams, the project was subject to many stringent planning and conservation area regulations. Working closely with the local authority and planning consultants Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, the property was re-imagined as a positive contributor to the historic fabric of the neighbourhood. Undertaking a detailed visual analysis of their proposals through complex 3D modelling of the property and its urban context, the design itself was influenced significantly by views from the streets and neighbourhood buildings in order to design the rooftop pavilion to be invisible from the street, while appearing to be a contemporary adaptation of the neighbourhood roof-scape. Through three rounds of pre-planning consultation, the planning officers and local conservation area groups were very supportive of the project and its potential to innovate the historic fabric, meet housing and workspace policy ambitions, and to set a precedent for future development.
Key to the project was the ambition, care and trust of the Loucaides family, who Alex and the Urban Projects Bureau team worked closely with throughout the project at all stages. Having been the family grocery store at the ground floor at one stage, the property has been in Paschalis Loucaides’ family for the last 40 years. Paschalis was determined to rectify 30 years of neglect inflicted on the house and to set a precedent for high-density inner city living and to create a compact dwelling for he & his family. On the project, Paschalis says “the hardest part was the pressure and cost of renovating a derelict building. As it was so far gone, banks would not mortgage against it as it needed such extensive work to be habitable.”
As well as the sensitive conservation and reconfiguration of the house, the key architectural addition to the property is the roof-top pavilion and garden. Conceived as an ‘urban room’, carefully positioned openings and site lines frame key views of surrounding urban landmarks, orchestrating a series of dynamic relationships between the domestic dwelling space of the house and its urban context. The property itself was gutted entirely from within, leaving only the existing masonry walls, which were repointed and cleaned. While the interior timber structure (which was rotting, leaning and bowing) was replaced, as much of the existing fabric was recycled as possible. This included re-using timber joints and trusses as structural elements where possible, or as internal features such as built in furniture and a new dining table. The thermal and environmental efficiency of the building was upgraded through lining all the walls and window reveals with Thermalcheck insulation, replacing all the windows with new high-performance double glazing, and replacing the flat roof with a new high-performance thermally insulated warm roof with roof garden above. The drainage, services and heating systems in the original building were not fit for purpose and were replaced with integrated energy-efficient systems.
For Paschalis and his family, the property has been renovated in such a fashion to adjust to his family’s needs, though there are still ready-plans to extend the rear of the house. At the base of the house, where his relatives once ran a grocer’s, he has sighted the possibility of reviving community spirit set by his relatives in the form of a café. He adds, “I know most of the people in our street and we can live on top of the shop without any trouble at all. Living in Fitzrovia is more like a community than living in the usual semi-detached commuter belt so many young families opt for.”