Foyles has moved two doors up the road to the former Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design building. It's an apparently short move in distance but a huge leap forward in quality of environment. The old Foyles buildings were, to some, charming and serendipitous and to most others, a rabbit warren of small, confusing spaces. One went into the shop hopeful of finding a book immediately to be confronted by a labyrinth.
Just as Marylebone High Street now concentrates fashion and food stores, Cork Street art and Tottenham Court Road electrical goods, so Charing Cross Road was London's Mecca for book lovers. Once Foyles was one of a thriving cluster of bookshops in Charing Cross Road, all with books piled high inside and on stalls outdoors, but the one way gyratory road system pushed too many cars through the street and choked the browsing pedestrian. The neglected public realm, changes in the book trade and more recently aggressive competition from the internet were all factors in the street's demise.
A vast new Crossrail station will open in four years’ time just 200 metres to the north and will hugely improve connectivity. Significant improvements are promised for the street environment, with plans for the road gyratory to be deleted in favour of the former two way road system to civilise the road and make it attractive for citizens rather than cars.
Foyles’ new home has a rich history as one of the seminal art and design schools of the 20th century. Here studied Frank Auerbach, Gilbert and George, Jonathan Barnbrook, Alexander McQueen, and Stella McCartney. The building was wild and wacky and superficially as labyrinthine as the bookshop two doors down the road.....superficially only, as under the accretion of partitions installed by the art school was a highly rational structure of open floors separated by a small light well. Extraordinarily, floors on the street side were set half a level up (or down) from floors on the land side.
Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ scheme has stripped away a century's ad hoc accretions to reveal the original structure; we enlarged the central well into an atrium to flood daylight into the centre of the building. We connected the four floors on either side of this atrium with stairs and, because they are half a level up from each other, you only need one short flight of stairs to connect between. As you cross from side to side you are hardly aware that you are also moving up or down the building. We placed lifts with glazed fronts into the light well serving in both directions. So instead of a confusing succession of spaces that require effort of navigation, now the whole bookshop is manifest and easily accessible.
There were significant challenges to the change in use from art school to bookshop. Low ceiling heights meant that services such as heating, cooling (and a first for Foyles - fresh air) need to be tightly packed. Rather than concealing them behind a suspended ceiling, which would have reduced the spatial quality, they are on view in their foil wrappings. Hanging below them are a sequence of lighting tracks supporting the latest low glare LED light fittings.
The spaces inside the store are open, light and designed to be flexible: giving the bookseller great freedom in setting out the departments and the displays to respond to changing book reading patterns and an ambitious programme of in-store events. At the rear of the ground floor is the original assembly hall and gym - a magnificent space that was used to host meetings and dances. A mezzanine was subsequently added, and this largely destroyed its volumetric quality. Our conversion has removed a significant part to reveal the double-height space.
The handsome exterior of the building has been cleaned and restored and a new rear extension enlarges the ground, first and second floors. A roof extension is clad in carefully detailed zinc and complements the beautifully crafted brickwork original below. The top three floors of the building contain apartments, accessed through a separate entrance to the north of the bookshop.
This project inserts this most famous and much loved bookshop into the inspirational former home of one the UK's most creative art schools. In this context our design has merely had to clarify and simplify the existing building, to let light into it and to allow it to be filled with wonderful books, to make them the real draw.
Foyles has moved two doors up the road to the former Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design building. It's an apparently short move in distance but a huge leap forward in quality of environment. The old Foyles buildings were, to some, charming and serendipitous and to most others, a rabbit warren of small, confusing spaces. One went into the shop hopeful of finding a book immediately to be confronted by a labyrinth. Just as Marylebone High Street now concentrates fashion and food...
- Year 2014
- Work finished in 2014
- Status Completed works
- Type Showrooms/Shops / Book shops / Building Recovery and Renewal