The prince and the pauper


„Architecture isn’t just about creating new buildings, sometimes it’s about retuning what’s already there.” John Pawson

Buildings, as anything else, after some time become out-of-date. It can happen in spectacular organic way, when mould and fungus absorb human-made product, but it can be less poetic, when there is lack of money. Or intentions. Or both. Then a problem appears which is bigger in scale than a dilemma if we already need to bin our smelly cheese.

The Holland Green is surprising from the very first. Despite the fact that nicely designed residential building stick out when we are looking at photos, they aren’t the most important – they’re only a mean to achieve a goal. And the goal is laudable, which is truly strange as we are talking about development industry.

„This is the only project I know where in a way the booming property market has done something for the greater good of London.” Reinier de Graaf

The goal is to refurbrish the Commonwealth Institute designed in 1962 by architectural group RMJM. In its heydays it was an important modern building in London, but in 2002 it was closed to the public and then luckily escaped death penalty. In 2008 there was a competition for renovating the object, coming up with new function and building residential development to HELP FUND THE REFURBRISHMENT. I don’t know if it’s phenomenon on a global scale, but it looks impressive.


The contest was won by cooperative OMA with London group Allies&Morrison. Their proposal was based on keeping the characteristic roof (object was called „a tent in the park”) and concrete structure, the rest should have been changed. Old elevation have been replaced with energy efficient fritted facade. Luckily also a new user was found and now the Commonwealth Institute is a home for London Design Museum.


Residential complex consists of 3 free standing objects – their composition suggests an ensemble of buildings, in which there is also the Museum. Despite almost identical appearance, each building differs a little bit in size: 7-9 storeys (like Russian dolls), which is a reaction to the scale of surroundings. Calm, orthogonal geometry contrasts with theatrical shape of exhibition hall’s roof. Each facade is a hybrid of 2 different facade types: array of identical vertical windows and expression of the building’s structural grid, which is a „graph paper” for the roof curvature. Two interwinding options caused not monotonous look and big openings-terraces gave it a lightness. They used also skyboxes, which gave plasticity, limestone cladding and a lot of glazing. We can recognize a play with heavy box form, which resulted in modern style and character.


An important connection was surrounding landscape. They focused on romantic character as contrast to angular geometry of the buildings – it was about giving modern architecture a little bit of ambiguity. Vehicles are almost banned from the site, that’s why it was easy to create seemless transition between hard- and soft-scape. To solve a problem with car parks and storage space they created huge collective basement. There is also service access to the Museum and luxurious facilities for the residents: spa, swimming-pool, cinema and gym.

Whole complex impresses by its elegance and coherence – it looks like a place where it’s very nice to live in. Besides, I must admit that the idea of funding touched my little heart almost as much as foundations for sick children. Rich and young helps old and poor, architectural Robin Hood, The Prince and The Pauper, The Ugly Duckling! Maybe it is a remedy also for other forgotten buildings?

Article based on: ArchDaily, dezeen
Photographies: ArchDaily

The prince and the pauper

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