Looking back on the more recent history of European architecture, we will notice that the important, sometimes even crucial impulses of innovative development processes have come from the British architects. Alison and Peter Smithson, for instance, critically revised the tenets of modernism and CIAM; Richard Rogers opened up the unparalleled space of freedom with the Centre Pompidou while Norman Foster demonstrated the possibility of innovative technology and creative design symbiosis with his project for the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank headquarters. We must also mention the widely spread influence of James Stirling.
In the new millennium, British architectural studios espousing the responsible attitude towards the heritage of the historical city, as well as the community, came to the fore. Among them are Caruso St John Architects and Carmody Groarke, while Assemble presents a special case of a group of architects and artists whose work is primarily marked by social engagement.
6a architects studio was founded in 2001 by Tom Emerson and Stephanie Macdonald, and their sphere of work are primarily art galleries, ateliers, educational buildings, all of which are almost exclusively located within the historical context. The conversions of historical buildings are made with special care and respect towards the forms and characteristics of the existing buildings, which is evident in the South London Gallery Fire Station project that has won the RIBA award. The fire station, an old Victorian brick house dating from 1867, had a horse-drawn fire engines garage, and the upper levels contained apartments for firefighters and their families. The architects redesigned the building by creating a series of different spaces, ranging from the exhibition halls to the local community facilities, while at the same time respecting the character of the historical building. A lot of adjustments have been made in order to make the fire station contemporary and functional, like a void created along the entire height of the building, which resulted with a luminous and welcoming entrance atmosphere. New spaces are connected via a meticulously detailed metal staircase whose design was inspired by historical buildings. The ventilation system is almost seamlessly implemented by use of slits in the wooden floor and appealingly designed ventilation grids that look like integral parts of the doors. We could describe 6a’s approach to the historical substance by quoting master Carlo Scarpa: If you respect the old, you have to be radically modern.