The repair and restoration of a modernist icon, and the reanimation of an inner-London neighbourhood.
The Brunswick Centre is a pioneering medium-rise, high-density, inner-city neighbourhood, designed by Patrick Hodgkinson (with the help of a young David Levitt and David Bernstein). The centre, which is Grade II listed, was a heroic prototype for a holistic community, integrating housing, shopping, a medical centre, cinema and office space in a single development.
By the turn of the century, however, the Brunswick Centre was severely run-down. Its original developer had gone bust and LB Camden was struggling with the upkeep. What should have been a vibrant and busy destination was often deserted, leaving residents feeling disconnected and disheartened.
Working with Patrick Hodgkinson, we were invited by LB Camden to return to the project, with a brief to restore, repair and improve the buildings and the public realm, and help the Brunswick Centre become a thriving neighbourhood again. However, this project is much more than a restoration. This was an opportunity for the Brunswick Centre to become a new, inner city destination. By rethinking the concourse and the landscape around it, we had an opportunity to reconnect the Brunswick Centre with the rest of Bloomsbury.
Crucially, all work had to be completed with the residents of the nearly 400 apartments in full occupation. The concrete, originally intended to be painted ‘crown cream’, in reference to the Nash Terraces of Regency London, had been left unpainted due to cost-cutting measures, and had badly deteriorated. In addition, many of the shops were empty, the housing leaked, and the concourse at the centre was underused and neglected. Our challenge was to inject new life into the Brunswick Centre, whilst retaining and enhancing its original architectural quality and iconic status.
Our collective approach to the project has been straightforward: to complete and restore the original architectural vision, whilst making contemporary interventions.
One of the most effective moves has been the repair and painting of the concrete. It has rejuvinated the buildings and has been key to transforming perceptions of the Brunswick Centre. Behind the scenes, services have been renewed, and the ‘winter gardens’ conservatory structures on each balcony have been restored and improved with more efficient, bespoke double-glazed glass.
The shopping street at the centre of the concourse level has been upgraded with a new anchor supermarket inserted at the northern end of the development, in line with the original concept of creating a ‘full stop’ at the end of the street. The retail units have been enlarged and the shop fronts extended to provide more attractive spaces for retailers, whilst tensile membrane canopies offer shoppers protection from the weather. Coupled with active and intelligent management of these spaces, these simple changes have created a new, popular high street for Bloomsbury.
The hard and soft landscape forming the plinth at the centre has been completely refurbished. The width of the vast concourse has been reduced by adding glass walkways, canopies and central seating, creating a more active and intimate streetscape. Accessibility has also been greatly improved, with the complete remodelling of the existing stepped and ramped entrances onto the surrounding streets. Finally, a new work of public art by Susanna Heron has been created, taking the form of a water feature in the centre of the concourse. Together, these interventions encourage conviviality within the space, and ensure that the centre is animated both day and night.
The renewal of the Brunswick has been hugely successful. Its renaissance has acted as a model for what can be done to reuse other, tired twentieth century buildings. English Heritage have identified the project as exemplary. Crucially, all of our additions have been sympathetic and simple, suggesting the Brunswick Centre, which has provoked debate about modernist architecture for 50 years, was more than fit for purpose from the start. Indeed, with the repairs made, Patrick Hodgkinson now expects the Brunswick ‘to go on another couple of hundred years’.