Reflections on Clerkenwell Close

At The Stonemasonry Company Limited we are always looking to undertake innovative projects, usually this comes to us in the form of a complex, Floating Stone Staircase, but just over 2 years ago we were fortunate enough to be involved in a new build masonry project in Clerkenwell Close. Working alongside our long-time collaborators, Webb Yates Engineers, we were engaged to complete the sourcing, fabrication and installation works for the stone exterior for this one of a kind building (more detail on which can be found on our projects page here- https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/clerkenwell-close).

P195_15CC_0292.jpg

The incredible Clerkenwell Close is no stranger to the spotlight, having won numerous awards since completion, for its unique and groundbreaking design, however you may have seen this project in the news this week for a different reason, as it is currently at the centre of planning dispute with Islington Council. The architect and the local authority have escalated their on-going disagreement over whether the building had the relevant planning approval. It is alleged that many of the features of the building, including the distinctive quarried finish of the stone pieces, were not proposed publicly or made clear by the architect, Amin Taha. Taha strongly objects, saying all the relevant drawings were issued and consent was given, claiming there had been an error in the Council’s handling of the process. Given the importance of this building to a great many people, it was more than a little shocking to find that Islington Council are demanding that it be demolished. 

P195_15CC_004.JPG

In terms of the stonework, the theory behind what has been achieved with this building is simple; each floor was cast as a concrete slab and kept in place with temporary props. The stone columns were then craned into position by our expert team of masons. These pieces were then connected to the concrete and joined with the other stone columns and lintels. Once finished the temporary props were removed and the concrete slabs then rest onto the stone exoskeleton. The reason this simple technique has caused such a stir is because the natural stone façade, which has not been disguised, or resigned to the role of decorative cladding, is also the primary structure. 

The benefit of this method being that, compared to a cast concrete system, the fabrication and communication necessary in the manufacturing process is reduced, furthermore the amount of trades on site are minimised and the carbon emissions from manufacturing are greatly reduced, as the variety of materials required is significantly less. This innovative, yet simple, building has sparked a lot of meaningful debate on sustainable, efficient and honest construction and has opened the eyes of many to the versatility of natural stone as a modern structural building material.  

P195_15CC_013.JPG

We feel that this complex and modern structure is a fantastic example of what can be achieved using stone as a structural material.  Through eight years of collaboration with Webb Yates Engineers we have tried to rationalize and update not only engineering processes but also the manufacturing methods for stone structures to create projects such as this.

(If you wish to read a more thorough explanation of the planning dispute, The Architects’ Journal has published a detailed article on what has been going on.https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/unpicking-amin-tahas-clerkenwell-close-fiasco/10035640.articleOr if you wish to read a bit more about how people have responded to the building, there are plenty of opinion pieces to find: http://www.architecturetoday.co.uk/rock-of-ages/)

 (Photography by Agnese Sanvito)

Emma Garner