Architects and designers SHH have just completed the first stage of a £5m five-phase project for auction house Christie's at their Old Brompton Road showrooms in South Kensington.
The project, which has been managed by Abacus Project Service, is being phased over a number of years and has been undertaken in order to unify a complex building containing a very varied series of spaces.
Abacus Project Services, who were appointed directly by Christie's, will be working closely with SHH to provide project and construction management for the duration of the project, to ensure that all stages are delivered on time and within budget.
The aims of the project are to improve and simplify customer interface areas, circulation and signage and to open up connecting links to create better entrances and viewing corridors. Galleries and gallery systems will also be modified to make them as flexible and multi-functional as possible for the huge range of auctions held there - selling everything from jewellery, ceramics, comic books and stamps to Star Trek memorabilia and Barbie Dolls!
In particular, the new works set out to make the Old Brompton Road site even more approachable for new and younger collectors or for general public novice users, demystifying the whole auction process for those who may hitherto have been intimidated by it or who may not have grasped how many affordable items go under the hammer at the site - or the fact that they can walk in off the street at any time to get a valuation or to view forthcoming auction items.
Christie's has a total of 119 offices in 42 countries worldwide; its offer based on exemplary client service and extensive experience, dating from the auction house's early years when James Christie conducted his first sale in 1766. Famed for his eloquence and humour, Christie turned auctioneering into a sophisticated art, conducting the greatest auctions of both the 18th and 19th centuries and turning the auction house's showrooms into a 'popular showcase for the unique and the beautiful'. In London, Christie's has two major salesrooms: King's Street and Old Brompton Road, where sales cover wider and more eclectic objects, set within the price range of a wider margin of collectors, meaning that the site attracts an incredible variety of both items and people.
SHH were initially commissioned by Christie's in 2004 to create a new prototype gallery space - in the existing Coleridge Room - creating a new display method comprised of a series of bay panels which open outwards, expanding the volume of goods which can be displayed in the gallery with items either stacked against or hung from the very flexible surface to create individual and easily-dressable display areas. The panels have a carpeted surface, which highly robust and non-fraying, as well as being able to take any number of screws and nails! Practical and hard-wearing oak flooring, new AV and electrics and retail-style display lighting systems completed the project, which proved highly successful and easy to use for staff and customers, allowing the real stars of the show - the sale items themselves - to shine.
SHH were subsequently appointed in October 2005 to undertake a feasibility study for the whole building, showing how phases of works could ensure that all the necessary work could be completed to fit around auction activity, with no closure period at all. This entailed working with a building with a non-uniform series of spaces, sited within a conservation area and with residential use both above and to each side of the showroom. The building is also effectively made up of two separate buildings: at the front, a late Victorian 7-storey mansion block and, at the back, a 2-storey warehouse, including The Hanger Room, used during World War II to make Spitfire parts.
Planning permission was duly obtained and tender documents for the first phase of works went out in January of this year.
SHH is the lead design consultant on the scheme, with a team, which includes project and construction managers Abacus Project Services, main contractor Datum Contracts International ltd, mechanical contractor Borahurst ltd, electrical contractor Jets Electrical, building services engineers The Monalco Partnership and lighting designers Elektra Lighting.
The consultant team worked closely with a client briefing team from Christie's, as well as internal Christie's consultants, charged with looking after IT, phone systems, security and CCTV.
The scope of works for this major and long-term project is split into a series of phases, which will see new space-planning and the redesign of all public interface areas, from the entrance area and shopfront to the viewing galleries to the reception, bid registration desks, collection points and cashier desks.
The works had to be planned meticulously to create an empty space at all times so that displaced people could move and then carry on as normal. A whole new permanent mezzanine floor was built into the back-of-house area to facilitate this, so that Christie's workforce could be moved in and out of this area sequentially to facilitate the works.
In the public arena, Phase One encompassed one of the Old Brompton Road shopfronts and the reception area, a new circulation core and staircase, a lift between the two floors, the lower-ground floor valuations department and one of the two lower-ground floor galleries. There are eight galleries in total on this site, with the remaining six all on the ground floor. A whole new signage package also formed part of this initial stage, comprised of shopfront and internal signage and directories.
SHH began their approach with the shopfront, lowering the stallrisers to create a more dynamic entry and better views into the galleries. The dominating concept of transparency and welcome meant the creation of a new two-storey void to open up views through to the basement galleries, the valuation areas and the ground floor Picture Room, so that people could see straight through, creating a sense of welcome into an open and constantly evolving museum space, with clear signage at every stage directing them around.
The new reception desk has a bespoke Corian top and a mirror-sandblasted glass front with a strong red feature wall.
Structural works included the demolition of the existing enclosed stair to create the space for a new highly visible circulation void with a completely brand new stair, featuring open treads and risers and glass balustrading.
For the transition zones and decision-making points, veneer laminate walls in square were put in as a visual circulation aid. For the new stair void these are full-height with interspersed feature lights. The new stair leads down to the relocated valuations area - one of the most-used public areas, which has to be highly visible to encourage people to use the building's vertical circulation. This was relocated here to help show people that there are more galleries on the lower ground floor.
The new lower-ground floor gallery was stripped back to its core and completely reinstated to upgrade the whole infrastructure of the building and all services as the job progresses. Future-proofing the phases was very important with cabling, wiring and all services and electrics set in at this phase to pre-empt later works and ensure compliance.
Lighting design was key as valuers need very good light to view objects correctly. For the galleries, a wall-wash system using metal halide lamps was introduced to allow paintings to be hung anywhere on the panels and receive good quality light and realistic colouring, using remote spotlights on tracks. Lighting had to be revealing and honest overall with a museum-style lighting, which meant absolutely no use of fluorescents or incandescent lighting because of the risk of yellow tinges.
The reception and public interface areas could have a moodier lighting design, with more focused feature lighting.
SHH Team Credits
Graham Harris Contract Negotiation
Neil Hogan Creative Direction
Steve Southall Project Architect
Emily Chan Architect
Daniel de Groot Signage and Graphics
Shay Radojkovch Documentation
All photography by Morley von Sternberg