Club Row, Former Nichol Street Infants School
- Original design
- Edward Robson, 1878
- Quinn Architects, 2016
Quinn Architects have sensitively restored and converted the former Nichol Street Infants School using the same artisanal approach with which the building was originally created. Materials such as zinc, terrazzo, bronze, oak and handmade bricks balance new and old, and collectively they mark a new chapter in the history of the Grade II listed building.
The Nichol Street School was opened in 1879 by the School Board for London (SBL) to serve the area known as the Nichol, one of east London’s most notorious slums. The 1879 school, designed by the SBL’s chief architect E R Robson (1835-1917), comprised two main buildings: to the south, a single-storey mixed infant school accommodating 363 pupils, and a two-storey school to the north containing the schools for older boys and girls, each with 312 pupils. This was Robson’s preferred arrangement, advocated in his 1874 book ‘School Architecture’.
The Nichol itself was transformed in the 1890s, when the newly formed London County Council razed the entire district to the ground and rebuilt it in the form of the celebrated Boundary Estate – London’s first large-scale council housing project. Only the two schools were retained; at Nichol Street (now known as Rochelle Street) the junior school was enlarged, and a new boundary wall was built to resolve the difference in orientation between the infants school. The infants school passed out of teaching use in 1933, and it since had a number of uses before it lay abandoned for many years.
In 2016 Quinn Architects completed a more progressive transformation for the deteriorating infants school in order to reintegrate it into the Rochelle site and attract fellow creatives. The Client, James Moores Organisation, had previously repurposed the adjoining junior school and external sheds into creative office spaces and the Rochelle Canteen. The Client’s pragmatic needs were to bring the roof deck – originally a rooftop playground covered by corrugated metal – into use, and to put an end to the serious weather damage the building was suffering. Through a long design and consultation process, the Grade II listed exterior and interior were fully refurbished and carefully amended, providing 8,500 sq.ft of new office and gallery space.
As part of the refurbishment, the flat roof playground was replaced with a radically different standing seam zinc roof, its structural strategy expressed internally through an exposed concrete ring beam sitting on rebuilt brick piers. We raised its height by 1.5 metres, allowing the upper floor space to share in the tall work and gallery spaces as on the ground floor. All of the first floor windows were replaced and in the previously unfenestrated openings on the street facade, new oak windows were installed. These were designed with openable vent panels to the side to assist with the unobtrusive ventilation and cooling strategy developed with the services engineer.
Originally, the building had no internal connection between the floors and no access through its street-facing facade. Alongside a detailed refurbishment of the interiors, new terrazzo stair and bronze handrails were introduced to connect the two floors, top-lit by a large rooflight and leading to the new front doors, and these new elements are referenced with modernity to establish their time and place. New mezzanine floors increased the space and utility of the ground floor double height wings. These allowed for the creation of small managerial and meeting room spaces required by modern tenants without compromising Robson’s original design.
Externally, the weathered brick specials were replaced with new handmade bricks to match the existing, and all ledges flashed to protect them from future damage. The original arched windows were carefully amended during their refurbishment to lift their timber sills off the weathered stone beneath, protecting them from further attack by standing water. As part of the refurbishment, the dividing wall between Club Row and the Rochelle site was demolished and a common landscaping scheme established. New gates and front doors were inserted into the street facing elevation, and the high brick infill panels on the boundary wall replaced with railings. Together, the updated façades and landscaping create subtle new connections between the building and its surroundings.
Shoreditch has been home to Quinn Architects for over a decade and our care and understanding of the area has been key to the integrity of the project. The key concept throughout has been to engage with Robson’s idea of care and attention to building detail, and we have concentrated on how the existing building can be respectfully restored and converted to creative workspaces while protecting it for the local community.
Hatty Vidal Hall, on behalf of James Moores Organisation, said: “From the start Quinn Architects have been fully immersed in the project and taken responsibility for its successful outcome, not only on the obvious aspects of design and construction, but also in supporting our efforts to secure the right creative tenants for the building and to preserve it for future generations”.