Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Angel Building

Architect: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects, 2011

A sophisticated refit and extension of a 1980s office building that produced a genuinely imposing atrium together with exemplary environmental credentials.

The slick, black steel-framed structure standing at the corner of Pentonville Road and St John Street appears a far cry from the dull office block that previously occupied the site, but it is, in fact, largely the same building. Designed in a collaborative venture between AHMM and Derwent London (a partnership that has reworked other sites in the city including the Shoreditch Tea Building), the new construction uses the concrete frame of its predecessor as the skeleton for an altogether more sophisticated, extended ensemble of steel and glass. However its inoffensive exterior does not explain why the building has won so many awards. For this, you need to walk inside.

Formerly a disused open-air courtyard, the central space has been converted into a vast and impressive atrium. Composed of concrete beams and uprights (poured in situ), with exposed soffits and a glazed box-beam ceiling, the architectural references are abundant; Kahn, Lloyd Wright and Mies are all present here. Despite the monolithic concrete forms, the space is light, with recessing and projecting forms above that seem to slide over each other. The building seems to follow the American model of office architecture: a central plan with glazed perimeter office space above; lifts and stairs tucked away in the wings; ground floor meeting spaces and a large sunken cafĂ©. Ian McChesney’s giant carbon fibre installation in the centre of the atrium entitled ‘Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness’, a large seat intended to resemble treacle dripping from a spoon (the title itself referring to the motto on the Lyles Black Treacle tin), reinstates the glamour of early twentieth century office architecture, completing the aesthetic.

Best time to visit: working hours Monday-Saturday. True to its American-inspired form, the foyer is accessible to passers-by and is by far the main attraction of the building. Entry to other floors requires a staff key-card.

Address: 407 St John Street, London EC1V 4AB.

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