Central School of Speech and Drama | Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage presents a challenging urban context. Despite being surrounding by some of North London’s most affluent neighbourhoods, its centre consists of an insalubrious network of busy road severing a streetscape of limited architectural merit. This is changing with the realisation of Terry Farrell and Partners’ masterplan for the regeneration of Swiss Cottage’s civic and cultural quarter, which includes a theatre, library, leisure centre and market place. The extension to Central School of Speech and Drama, on the periphery of this development, is instrumental to the area’s transformation.
Sited on a prominent street corner, the new building provides a landmark to signal arrival in the quarter. Its size, dramatic form and illuminated glazed corridors give it street presence by both day and night. Meanwhile, the building reconciles the disparity between the commercial bustle of the Finchley Road and the tranquil residential character of Belsize Park Conservation Area, formed a ‘bookend’ to shield the latter. A significant public space is created between the school and the Hampstead opposite.
Know colloquially as ‘Central’, the school was founded in 1906 and enjoys a reputation as a centre of excellence for training in the dramatic arts and related media industries. The extension, containing teaching, rehearsal and production studios, replaces sub-standard accommodation built in the 1960s.
At the heart of the Central School of Speech and Drama's site is the school's own theatre, surrounded by various additions built in the last decade. It all looked rather ad hoc and piecemeal, a brick block here, a concrete workshop building there. Something radical had to happen, in terms of both volume and design. The school needed space, and a lot of it. It also had no architectural identity and this too had to change. Central’s extension reinforces a vital human dimension in this traffic-dominated locality. Small windows pierce its brickwork plinth to give passers-by glimpses of the interiors. A glazed circulation spine above reveals the moment the interaction of people at every floor level, allowing this activity to animate the street. The optical trick produced by deep metal mullions in this glazing – which make the wall appear solid when seen at an oblique angle but disclose narrow strips of glass when viewed head on – is best appreciated at a pedestrian’s pace.
A tightly spaced and subtly coloured glass façade to the west is held together by solid volumes of dark engineering brick and shiny zinc. Aubergine render walls subtly bring ‘warmth’ to the surrounding streets. The curtain walling is comprised of clear, translucent and fritted glass panels in an irregular composition. These frame or mask views of the street, while helping to control solar gain. The building was awarded a BREEAM rating of 'very good'.
Client Central School of Speech & Drama
Architect Jestico + Whiles
Structural Engineer Ellis & Moore
Services Engineer Fulcrum
Quantity Surveyor Davis Langdon
Project Manager Drivers Jonas
Contractor Osborne Ltd
Awards Shortlisted RIBA Awards 2006