Adaptive reuse – art school to apartments

St-Martins-DoorwayWhen I was younger I spent a year attending evening classes at the St Martin’s School of Art in London. I mostly remember arriving at the Charing Cross Road entrance on dark and wet and windy nights although it couldn’t always have been raining.

St Martin's School of Art, Charing Cross Rd brick and steel
St Martin’s School of Art, Charing Cross Rd, London sometime in the mid 1980s.

It was an important experience for me culminating in an end of year fashion show with professional models.  The evening show was extra special as the renowned British designer Zandra Rhodes attended offering her support and encouragement to the student/newbie designers.

Nowadays, St Martin’s School of Art has combined with the Central School of Arts & Crafts and is known as  Central St Martins (CSM) and since 2011 is based in the King’s Cross area of London. This relocation has left the 1939 purpose-built art school site in the heart of London available for renovation and a new lease of life as retail premises and loft apartments.

adaptive reuse of the old art school building
The adaptive reuse of the old art school building – now Foyles bookstore with apartments on the upper floors. November 2015

Although it is not listed the building is nevertheless an interesting construction of steel, brickwork, Cornish granite and Portland stone. It definitely has a 1930s feel about it and fortunately the recent renovations have not significantly remodelled its external appearance. From the street it looks very much like a successful ‘adaptive reuse’ and so much better than being simply knocked down to allow for yet another soulless glass and steel affair the likes of which seem to be springing up all around.

Foyles St Martin’s Lofts designed by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

13 thoughts on “Adaptive reuse – art school to apartments”

  1. Agree completely about the interesting repurposing being so much better than a knock down. How nice you have all that personal history with the building too. On another note many of my memories of time spent in Wales in my youth involve rainy,dark times and it couldn’t always have been raining then either – interesting you should raise that and make me wonder🤔

    1. I’ve been thinking about the weather issue. Perhaps it’s to do with something being active, actually raining and dramatic as opposed to just a kind of enveloping, soporific blanket of passive grey. Oh so very easy to forget. Just a thought!

  2. I chuckled at the way the architect’s impression of the loft apartments are flooded with natural light, while your current external photo still depicts an overcast day. I suppose though, the building, with all its external glass, was designed to capture as much light as possible for the students? I wonder how long it was in the planning stages, as it must have been unveiled just on the eve of WWII. Bet the developers never saw that coming. How wonderful it has been repurposed so well, and I love that Foyles bookstore!

    1. There isn’t much information about either the original architects or the process only that it was built by the old London County Council and possibly their in-house architects? I read one architectural commentator’s (Prof Alan Powers, Architecture and Cultural Historian) note that is was an example of ‘an LCC architectural style’ which appears to have been in action from the beginning of the 20th century up to about WWII.
      And regarding Foyles – I bet they’ve got your book on their shelves!

      1. It’s on the Foyles catalogue, so that is a good start. Can you imagine Councils building such grand buildings these days? If it’s anything like Australia, all this kind of infrastructure is left to private enterprise. I suspect the form of the entrance archway and inscription is a signal of LCC style. I did notice many London buildings had that type of stone, font, and so on e.g. hospitals, etc.

      2. I think the era of big public building projects is probably over in England for the time being in our ‘age of austerity’. It all appears to be public/private collaborations and plenty of very private in places like London with little interest in the local communities (and real people do live in London!) within which the projects are sited despite all the noise about consultation!

      3. I know what you mean. Trouble is in the end it doesn’t really make much difference where the funding comes from if no one person has a visual dream and a passion to get it built! You just get watered down, same old, same old.

      4. Wow the piano is pretty amazing, but the kid in me just loved the old police box with hints of Dr Who and the Tardis.
        When I lived in London we had a friend who was a ‘blue sky’ designer type and very practical too. When I visited his tiny mews house it was the first time I’d seen a ‘book’ staircase and I remember being really impressed, but worried about the dusting. Oh dear, how prosaic.

      5. Good point! Our film club watched The Irish Pub (2013) recently, and all of us must have been wondering about how on earth they cleaned all the cluttered, ancient wooden shelves behind the bar, because when one of the landlords talked about the dusting, the whole cinema burst into laughter 😀

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