Ian Ritchie Architects were appointed by Longmartin Properties Ltd to design the transformation of Sussex House, which is located at the intersection of Long Acre and Upper St Martin’s Lane. It was completed at £7 million construction cost and is one of several multi-million mixed-use developments iRAL has designed for The Mercers Company in Covent Garden.
Sussex House is a prominent corner building at this major junction. The building has a new façade, and the completely redesigned interior space has a 4,000 sq ft retail or gastro-pub space at ground level and first floor, 7,600 sq ft of office space and a 500 sq ft rooftop terrace.
Any new building or refurbishment in Covent Garden must strike a delicate balance between history and modernity. While satisfying contemporary needs, its design qualities must demonstrate sensitivity to the area’s distinctive existing fabric, long history, and well-loved character. IRAL’s design has replaced a utilitarian building with an elegant contemporary piece of architecture with a positive relationship to the other corner Victorian and Georgian buildings at the intersection.
Following studies of the proportions and characteristics of Covent Garden’s existing façades the new building presents a rich yet harmonious architecture to the surrounding context. The classic architectural composition has a base, middle and top – and these elements are clearly articulated in the design and there is a balanced composition between the overall façade and fenestration.
The choice of materials was carefully considered to complement the surrounding urban landscape. Translucent white Linit insulated cast glass elements edged with pale bronze anodised aluminium give verticality to the façade. The textural quality of the opaque areas of the facade reflects the Portland stone elements in a number of neighbouring buildings. Against this neutral palette of materials, decorative profiled panels of floral artwork are mounted on the south-west facade from the 2nd floor to the roof level.
Retail glazing and doors framed with light bronze anodised stepped profiles are installed at the ground and first floor levels. A roof level lightweight canopy, stepped back from the edge of the building line, is clad on its underside with anodised aluminium, to shade the 6th floor office area and to crown the building. The roof terrace area around the perimeter provides a private outdoor amenity space for 6th floor office tenants.
The internal planning optimises the site’s small footprint. Services and circulation zones are situated to the rear of the building, allowing an uninterrupted open-plan space on each floor. The translucent cast glass external walls are separated by full height windows with views across the intersection towards Leicester Square. The translucent glass is low-iron and is fritted translucent white to enhance its white appearance.
St Martin’s Lane and the Seven Dials were designated as special areas for enhancement in the Westminster City Council 2005 Theatreland Initiative: ‘At night-time, the theatres would have a new sense of sparkle and by day have an excellent quality of streetscape.’ The refurbished Sussex House reflects these qualities. During the day it complements and enhances the existing urban landscape. During the hours of darkness, carefully designed internal lighting gives a subtle white glow to the translucent glazing and acts as an urban menhir along the ‘Theatreland’ route from St Martin’s Lane to Seven Dials.
Planning permission has been granted for IRAL’s design for the next Mercers Company developments – the internal transformation of Long Acre 117-123.
The insulated, light transmitting and structural U-channel cast glass cladding product designed by Ian Ritchie Architects has been registered for an international patent.