Alex Monroe Workshop
- Original design
- DSDHA, 2016
For over 25 years Alex Monroe has been consistently designing and hand-making jewellery in the very heart of the city, building a reputation that spans the world despite the huge pressure on London’s creative industries.
Having completed the award-winning Alex Monroe Snowsfields Studio & Boutique in London Bridge in 2012, DSDHA were appointed to design a second building for the jeweller to accommodate his burgeoning success. The commission resulted in the recently delivered Alex Monroe Workshop on nearby Tower Bridge Road.
Alex Monroe’s growing success did not follow any predictable path. Instead of ‘doing things by the book’ — i.e. moving the production elsewhere, perhaps at the outskirts of the city or even abroad, and build a bigger ‘campus’ — he chose to distribute his business activities across the city centre. The Workshop, the Boutique and the Studio are all in close proximity to each other, just a 10 minutes walk apart.
Alex’s business, and the architectures which accommodate it, involve the city in their daily routines. They do so aesthetically, socially and economically, contributing to the urban renaissance of the area; following a model which is very different from the segregated anti-city of zoned areas of industry or city within the city of Google or other multinational agencies which keep everything in-house.
Both the Workshop on Tower Bridge Road and the Studio and Boutique in Snowsfields — a multiple-award-winning, 3-storey addition to an existing Edwardian single-storey shopfront — were developed in close conversation with Alex Monroe, through a constant process of collaboration and exchange of ideas.
Interestingly, Alex has reflected on how the architecture of his new studios has improved the nature of his business. It has contributed to a more convivial environment, which has in turn improved communication within the various departments, and has impacted positively on the quality of the jewellery collections. This has in part been made possible through the careful modulation of light within the building, allowing one to observe the pieces under a variety of different conditions to test their qualities.
Located between a pub and a shop, this new-built four storey workshop presents an enigmatic and finely crafted storefront. Its bespoke weathered steel external skin responds to the eclectic surrounding brick architecture, whilst clearly signalling the building’s function as being neither retail nor residential. Its materiality hints at a world of creativity and artistry; it marks the presence of a type of activity that, although at risk of disappearing, is now more than ever central to our city’s cultural and economical well-being and as such deserves recognition.
The façade’s horizontal metal blades establish a rhythmic harmony with the composition and articulation of the immediate streetscape, whilst achieving a moiré-like visual effect. This veiled appearance acts as a protective shield, allowing passers-by at ground level to catch a few glimpses of the activities inside. It is an architecture in conversation with its context, and also with the people who inhabit the area.