Kirby and his 10-strong architectural practice, Urban Research Laboratory, were faced with a narrow, single-storey Victorian printworks wrapped tightly in an L-formation around a driveway. The only daylight came from windows facing southwards into the driveway. Their brief was to convert the 160 m2 interior inexpensively into offices for McDonald Egan, a property developer with six staff. Urban Research Laboratory's more modest office is next door.
Kirby's do-everything wall takes the form of a continuous fitted 600 mm deep cabinet, constructed out of plywood and painted white like the structural walls. As well as housing the services, including the mechanical ventilation demanded by the single-aspect spaces, the continuous cabinet has been gouged out to form shelf niches in a quirky irregular pattern.
Although the cabinet eats up usable floor space, it has the advantage of freeing up the remaining office space. The two directors sit in their own offices behind clear, frameless-glazed partitions, and the pitched roofspace has been opened up, so that space and daylight flow freely around the irregular-shaped interior.
Another plywood cabinet containing the office filing system has been purpose-built as a tall island unit, painted bright puce and placed between the administrator's desk and the circulation space. In contrast, the reception desk and the visitors' bench facing it are solid chunks of fairface concrete cast in situ.
"The client is in the construction business, so we tried to work in a builderly way and express the materials," says Kirby. As well as the fairface concrete, everyday materials that are exposed without applied finishes include piers of London stock brick, raw steel beams and the frameless glazed partitions.
Beneath the bright, breezy and faintly 1950s retro image, the new interior answers the client's practical needs. "As we spend a vast amount of time in the office, we wanted something comfortable and without clutter," says McDonald Egan director Colm Egan. "And the glass partitions allow us to communicate easily with each other. We've got something lively and modern, with vibrant colours and not too formal, and that suits us."
client McDonald Egan builder McDonald Egan architect Urban Research Laboratory