One could be forgiven for thinking that most of the Holborn area in London consisted of mainly buildings occupied by universities. For example, the old Public Record Office in Chancery Lane is now home to the King’s College, and Bush House in Kingsway is occupied by the Strand Campus of the same college. The London School of Economics occupies the former Land Registry Office and has expanded in recent years in the Houghton Street with a collection of contemporary buildings of markedly different designs, and these are what members of the Architecture and Built Environment came to visit. Once again we are fortunate enough to have Tony White as our guide: the visit was of particular interest to at least two alumni and an ex-employee. We began our tour at the LSE Library housed in the Beaux-Arts influenced former headquarters of W.H. Smith, dramatically remodelled by Foster Associates between 1999-2001. We were given an extensive tour of the interior by a member of the LSE Library staff. The main feature of the building is a vertical ramp, with an exposed central lift shaft. Colour is introduced by a series of innovative felt-covered wooden screens to aid perhaps with sound insulation in this huge void.
The next three buildings that we visited differed from the library as they are new buildings. First up was LSE Centre Building (architects: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners), two linked steel-framed blocks. The design won an RIBA competition in 2013 and delivered its brief by exceeding the BREEAM Excellent target. The exteriors are difficult to photograph though on such a tightly packed campus!
Our next building could not have offered more contrast – from glass and steel to angular brickwork in the Saw Swee Hock Centre, home to the LSE Student Union. The building (opened in 2014) was designed by the Irish architectural practice of Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey. It was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, and the architects were awarded the prestigious Gold Medal awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects in the same year.
We took the lift to the top of the building and were rewarded with a views of the surrounding area, before moving on the last building on our tour,
the Marshall Building, 44 Lincoln Inn Fields. The architects are the Dublin-based practice of Grafton Architects following their success in winning the architectural competition for its design in 2016. Whereas O’Donnell and Tuomey had chosen a vibrant brick for the Saw Swee Hock Centre, the Marshall Building is clad in cool Portland stone. As one of our group observed the LSE now has a central campus to be proud of and proof how architects are able to be innovative and imaginative in designing academic buildings.