“Rather than a polite modernist extension, we needed something with a bit more chutzpah,” says Project Orange director Christopher Ash of the practice’s new office and bar development in Sheffield. The project certainly has that in spades. Clad in aluminium, its two new office floors reign confidently over the refurbished original building, creating a dynamic new roof form and an instantly recognisable landmark on Shoreham Street, part of Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter. Commercially, this bold intervention has paid off by offering office accommodation with a distinctive contemporary visual identity – the client is in the process of finalising lets for all the office units. “We’ve demonstrated that reticence isn’t necessarily the most appropriate solution,” says Ash.
Shoreham Street is Project Orange’s third architectural project in Sheffield, all for retailer and property developer Neaversons, and follows on from its multiple-award-winning housing development on Cemetery Road. The firm’s track record in the city certainly helped smooth the way with planners for such a radical reinvention here. Although not listed, the Victorian building – a dilapidated former bus repair garage – was considered locally significant, occupying a tight corner site on the junction of Shoreham Street and Mary Street. Urgently needing repairs, it had been due to be regenerated as part of a Section 106 agreement for adjacent student housing but this failed to materialise and the building was instead forced-sold.
Initially, the plan had been to subdivide the main workshop space into office units and build new residential accommodation on top. But with current government planning policy against residential development in flood areas, it was decided to retain the double-height ground floor space for a bar and mezzanine restaurant area, and locate duplex office units in two new floors above, with all the necessary servicing to allow conversion into residential if desired in the future. The bar – which will be fitted out by the operator – retains a strong flavour of the industrial character of the original workshop, with equipment such as the ceiling-mounted crane still visible.
Project Orange felt the relatively diminutive, pitched-roof building could easily take a substantial upward extension in response to the scale of the surrounding area. “It felt quite sad and abandoned and lost,” says Ash. Taking inspiration from the pitched-roof artisan workshops throughout the city, as well as the industrial language of large retail sheds, he drew scores of designs of the new office extension before striking the balance he wanted between the original Victorian building and its “parasitic” extension. “The two have completely equal billing and each would be completely diminished without the other,” says Ash.
Clad in sinusoidal, powder-coated profiled aluminium, the extension creates a bold, sharp contrast with the host building. Instead of taking a regular form, the new is set back from the structure below and animated with a carefully choreographed balance of cut-backs and voids. This creates both external terraces for tenants to eat lunch or have a smoke break, and internally, a space with a dynamic character. On both main elevations the new “bites down” into the old to knit them together while retaining the distinctive character of the original elevation, which has been restored. “It’s very deliberate to have a little bite into the brick so that it engages, but it’s set back to give a respectful shadow line,” says Ash.
The office units measure 121.5sq m, 123.7sq m and 189sq m gross and each has its own WC, kitchenette and terrace as well as featuring very tall windows to maximise views over the city. Although designed as duplexes, there is lift access to the top level so that the units could be further sub-divided if desired. Each also has feature sculptural stairs of birch ply, with the ply used for the balustrades and soffits as well as for the main office flooring (birch ply suited the need to create instantly marketable accommodation that could age gracefully without constant repainting, but could easily take change from future tenants). A removable flooring panel around the perimeter allows for cables and servicing to be neatly hidden and easily accessed.
Native Sheffielder Ash says the development, with its generous ceiling heights, city views, external roof space and distinctive appearance, is designed to appeal to small creative businesses that might otherwise have relocated out of the city. “We’re creating a new dynamic working environment within Sheffield … If you want to retain graduates you need spaces that chime with people.”
The highly economical development was completed for £1.2m. A new, lightweight steel structure was introduced to brace the front of the building, but very little was removed from site – timber decking from the workshop was utilised as boarding to line the inside of the walls in the bar area on either side of the brick piers.
Project Orange is perhaps better known for its leisure and residential work (“we’re not afraid of specifying curtains”) but has more recently turned its hand to workplace design, with the design of its own studio last year and currently the Oxford premises for 60-strong investment company Oxford Asset Management. The practice regard their lack of commercial office track record as a positive, says Ash: “We’re well-placed to conceive of an office environment as something other than desking and lux-levels.”
Certainly the Shoreham Street development offers an alternative to run-of-the-mill office accommodation. As a new landmark on the inner ring road, it helps signal the regeneration of the city away from its traditional associations with the manufacturing industry. Not only is it a symbolic reference to the past, says Ash, but it is a pointer to the future aspirations of the city too.