Hailed as London’s most controversial architect, Amin Taha is a keynote speaker for the New Zealand Institute of Architects Conference 2019.
Taha’s practice has won several Bristish and international architecture awards. Recent projects include Barrett’s Grove, a six-storey gabled block constructed of Cross Laminated Timber and enveloped by a facade of perforated brickwork, which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2016.
As well as running the design and detailing of projects, Taha writes, teaches and lectures on architecture, sits on the RIBA National and International Awards Jury and acts as an independent consultant to property-related research groups and funds.
His monumental apartment building at 15 Clerkenwell Close, London recently won a RIBA Award and has been widely celebrated, yet the structure is under threat from the wrecking ball. The building is steeped in architectural and geological history.
Designed by his practice Groupwork, it has a load-bearing limestone exoskeleton with 150m-year-old fossils embedded in its craggy surface. Local nimby protesters who wanted a brick building and got a stone one instead have prompted the local council to demolish the building. The Islington Council, which issued the demolition order, says the natural stone on the facade is not fully detailed in the planning documents.
The argument has escalated from an error in not uploading the stone approval to a face-saving second notice entirely driven by someone’s opinion that it is ugly.
Taha’s family lives on the top floor which is crowned by a bio-diverse roof garden. His architectural studio is on the ground floor and in the basement. The garden is his first experiment in combining biodiversity with water attenuation by organic rather than mechanical means.
Taha sees 15 Clerkenwell Close as part of the ever-evolving, stratified architectural heritage. It offers views of Clerkenwell landmarks, including the St James Church. The immediate neighbourhood was once occupied by a 12th century Normal nunnery. It was dismantled over the years and Oliver Cromwell built a brick palace on top.
Remnants of the nunnery were later incorporated into the St James Church which was rebuilt in the 18th Century in the classical style influenced by sir Christopher Wren. The limestone used on Taha’s building was sourced in Normandy from a similar seam of limestone used to create the nunnery and the church. With the materials used, they’re referencing the site’s history.
Taha’s interest in the functional has informed the design of 15 Clerkenwell Close, a key characteristic of which is a stone superstructure that is load-bearing, not merely an applied façade. He notes that architects tend to take 2D drawings of facades as their starting point when designing buildings and the facades bear no relation to their structure.
The apartment’s pared back interior has a highly bespoke design using moveable custom-made partitions of European oak conceived as furniture. The kitchen island can be removed to open up the whole floor.
In Taha’s Caroline Place project, he explored the social context that brought about the design of an Edwardian terrace house. Interior layouts were rooted in an earlier English Edwardian tradition where the served and servant areas remained separate. Servants occupied the ground level while owners lived above in larger light-filled rooms. Much later, younger inhabitants cleared the interior walls and replaced exterior details. Taha’s practice decided to repair and restore the exterior finishes, borrowing details from neighbouring properties. (Look out for the forthcoming article on Caroline Place in the next Design Guide magazine.)
The Barrett’s Grove building in Stoke Newington is another six-storey gabled block that slots between a pair of detached brick buildings. It features a laminated timber structure and wicker balconies that differentiate it from the increasingly bland copycat homes of the neighbourhood. The framework is enveloped by a facade of perforated brickwork to match neighbouring buildings. The structure is designed to offer a more sustainable alternative to concrete and steel.
The street-facing facade is punctured by large windows with deep bronzed frames.
Inside, elements of both the laminated timber and brick structures are left exposed. The timber panels are varnished and joined by timber seats, shelving units, doors and stairs.
For more information on Amin Taha check the website: http://groupwork.uk.com