Last week, David Chipperfield Architects was announced with Feix & Merlin Architects Won the RIBA . competition To design a ‘final’ academic building for the London School of Economics on its main campus in Holborn, a £120m scheme which, according to Chipperfield, adopts a strategy of adaptive reuse of the 1950s building on the site.
The other finalists to make the 35th Lincoln In Fields remake were Alison Brooks with Nigeria’s Contra Studio. Team consisting of John McAslan + Partners, Tod Williams/Billie Tsien Architects based in the US and Bangladeshi architect Marina Tabassum; Danish architect Dorte Mandrup with John Robertson Architects in London; Fielden Clegg Bradley with Danish Lendager coaching; and Belfast-based Hall McKnight.
So, what was behind the decision and world-famous LSE and its property manager Julian Robinson changed course in favor of RetroFirst Approaching?
You said this was the toughest LSE competition so far. To what extent was that related to the element of reuse?
The bulk of that was the reuse component. Perhaps we went into the competition, which we announced in December, being somewhat neutral on whether it should be a new build or a keep, kind of leaving that for the design teams to consider.
We said we wanted net carbon to be zero but, you know, this can be achieved in a number of ways.
So what made the process so difficult?
The school has built some great new buildings. Perhaps there was an expectation that we would have another wonderful new building, which – by the way – I think we have in the scheme we have chosen. But the school is a very wide precinct and not everyone thought that something like the current building was actually a new one. The process we went through led to a paradigm shift for the school in the way we now approach the buildings. As the last day approached, I did not have a notable winner, which was the case in previous competitions.
What can you say about the winner and runner-up and what were you thinking?
All the schemes had advantages and had some really good innovations, but in fact it was David Chipperfield who led his team and he was very cultured and very enthusiastic in his call to keep and work with the existing building [who was most persuasive], backed by the indomitable Hanif Kara. who – which [pitch] He convinced me that we could actually achieve a basic university building, a world-class piece of architecture, without having to start from scratch.
“The process led to a paradigm shift in the way we now deal with buildings”
We didn’t give a choice order but thought about the sustainability of each of the schemes and then, I suppose, the organization internally, the aesthetics and the message the new building would convey to the outside world.
We have done a lot of serious soul searching about what position this particular building will play in the future. We like to think of the London School of Economics as a thought leader, so we thought about the message it would send to the wider world, particularly regarding climate emergencies. Some designs went well with the students because they looked shiny and new, while it’s fair to say David was probably the least appreciative because he was reusing the existing building.
That’s a huge shift, isn’t it, in terms of what people think is desirable in architecture?
Yes, but the question is actually “what is architecture”?
The facade looks like new construction rather than renovation. Talk to us though how much do you keep and what new materials do you offer?
The winning scheme retains 60 percent of the building including the structure, foundations and facades. If you actually look at the before and after, you’ll see the same facade except for the two upper floors that we’ve expanded.
It’s a steel building and we keep as much of that as possible. But obviously we can’t have columns going through lecture halls and things like that. We should put some carriage arches above the Agora, a large gathering space for social sciences in the heart of the building.
The winning scheme retains 60 percent of the building including the structure, foundations and facades.
The rear elevation reuses a lot of the existing but we’re dropping the entire ground floor so you can disable access in the front and aft – a publicly accessible ground plane.
David Chipperfield has a great reputation internationally for transforming existing buildings, right?Yes, and this will be his first university building in the UK, and the fourth time David has been so lucky. He has already participated in four of our design competitions, [previously] For the new Academic Building, Student Center, and the Marshall Building, this shows how difficult it can be for a leading architect like him to win the LSE competition. In the end, it was a unanimous choice by the jury and I’m very proud of LSE for that.
You say this is the first zero net building in LSE. How do you know that and what is the compensation process?
Some offsetting will be included, yes. With the retention we’ve got it’s obviously going to be a lot less than a new build but there will always be some compensation. We haven’t calculated that yet. As you know, we are the first accredited carbon-neutral university in the UK and this includes offsetting some of our emissions. We’re sure this isn’t one of those Mickey Mouse takedowns. It is very strong.
What is the LSE layout now with the existing building stock?
I am currently drafting a new real estate strategy for the next 10 years. The old served us well and produced some great results but as we go forward the whole strategy becomes more inward-looking. There will be no more new buildings in the academic field.
There will be no more new builds
We’ll go through each of the existing buildings, fundamentally redesigning and repurposing them. I want to have them all up to DEC ‘B’ and beyond. I have some terrible 70’s and 80’s buildings that need to be completely remodeled. We also have a huge electrification program, which we are just getting started.
Will you need architects for any of this work?
definitely. Although there will be no more £100m projects, there will be big projects and I am currently having a discussion with my colleagues about whether design competitions for these should be held. I personally do not see why not. Design competitions bring out really good ideas and best architectural practices.
Your earlier schemes – often based on new buildings replacing existing structures – have received a great deal of architectural praise but you are clearly thinking differently now. Do you have any regrets about your previous approach?
It’s really tricky because it’s obviously time-bound. LSE’s ownership was way behind our competitors. It was really poor and we basically didn’t have college buildings built for this. Rogers Center Building [RSHP]For example, a well-ventilated building that won the 2020 BREEAM Public Sector Award.
We didn’t get rid of “excellence”, we got really “cool”, so I don’t regret doing it, no. In the scheme of things, I am pleased. To move forward though we are changing our approach. We are all on a journey and the speed of that journey has to pick up very quickly.