168 Upper Street is a mixed-use building for contemporary furniture retailer Aria. It occupies a former bomb-site on the corner of Barnsbury Street in Islington and rebuilds the missing piece of a 19th century parade which has sat incomplete since the Second World War.
The original building at 168 Upper Street was conceived as one of two end pavilions on a Palladian-inspired urban block, consisting of ground-floor shops and townhouses above. It stood on the site from the mid-1880s until 1940 when two high explosive bombs were dropped on the corner, significantly damaging the building. It was eventually demolished in its entirety, with the basement backfilled, forming a space in the parade which remained empty and unused until Aria purchased the site in 2012.
Given the good condition of the remaining block a legitimate design solution to restore 168 Upper Street would have been to rebuild it as a mirror image of its opposite end. Instead, rather than attempting a neoclassical restoration that perfectly replicates the original building with traditional materials and construction techniques, the form was conceived and built using contemporary construction and fabrication processes.
A number of typical structural solutions were considered but rejected. A traditional masonry cavity wall would have made the detailing of bespoke brick elements very expensive and time consuming. Using precast concrete as a cladding material would have allowed for intricate detailing, but was an aesthetic solution rather than a structural one – meaning a separate structure, finishes and insulation would be required. Instead, a more elegant and innovative approach was sought which could bring the architecture and structure together into one cohesive form.
A complex mould of unique panels - totalling over 450m2 of CNC-cut expanded polystyrene formwork - was drawn in Rhino, fabricated and then supplied to the contractor to bond to inexpensive plywood. With the CLT floors installed first, the formwork was assembled on site in sixteen 1.2m-high horizontal bands. Once the formwork was assembled, construction continued with day pours of the concrete and terracotta mix for each horizontal band – with the entire perimeter poured in one go each time for both internal and external leaves. Once the concrete was cured, the formwork was first removed by hand and then any remaining polystyrene was soda-blasted off, creating a gentle texture to the façade.
The result is a 1:1 hollow-cast concrete memorial of the former building, complete with flaws and mistakes that highlight the nature of misremembering.