We interviewed James Le Ball and Gareth Watkins of Darling Associates Architects to find out more about the design concept behind Newman Street’s modern update.
Our team worked with Darling Associates Architects on the delivery of 66-67 Newman Street, completing the detail and build to Darling Associates’ original brief and design. The result is a world-class coworking space in a classic London building offering tenants the flexibility of taking the space they need, whether it’s a single desk or an entire floor. We caught up with Darling Associates’ James Le Ball and Gareth Watkins to learn more about the original brief for the project and what it was like to re-imagine the space while staying true to the look and feel of Newman Street.
Gareth: “The brief was to create a sympathetic extension to the top floor, refurbish the unique existing frontage to Newman Street and modernise the dated rear façade to Berners Mews. Internally, the brief was to extensively refurbish the existing building and reposition it in an evolving West End Market with a new identity.”
James: “This particular market had been transformed with Facebook moving into Rathbone Square. Berners Street was seeing significant investment in large office floorplates and Fitzroy Place had recently completed, so Newman Street sat dated within this urban hub. There was an opportunity for the building to be able to provide something different. The scale of the existing footprint combined with such a high-quality refurbishment re-establishes this unique building, allowing for a small tenant to grow into the larger surrounding network.”
Q: How does the design position Newman Street as a competitive offering in the surrounding area?
James: “The building is completely rebranded and presented with a modern, on-trend appearance both externally and internally. There was great potential in the fundamental qualities of the existing buildings that were not originally celebrated. The design process we went through focused on providing Newman Street with a new lease on life by transforming it into a dynamic and welcoming working environment where people can be creative.
The proposal reinvigorated the Newman Street façade and the subtle, set-back extension wraps around and links it to Berners Mews through a clever material palette. The added floor elevates the building in the current market with floor-to-ceiling glazing, high-quality internal finishes and two external terraces creating the premium floorplate a building of this quality deserves. The core was also rationalised and refurbished to meet current legislation. Given the bespoke size of the floorplates, it was important to design the building to accommodate a single or multi-occupancy let.”
Q: What was your creative process like? How did the design evolve? What inspired you?
Gareth: “The building has a very strong presence on Newman Street and the façade is well-balanced and proportioned with a distinctive materiality. The challenge was how we could add to what was already a complete design and connect all aspects of the building into one holistic proposal.
The existing palette already included rich, textured materials, so our focus turned to making a modern statement. The extension was the perfect platform to do this, as the remainder of the building was already clearly defined in its architecture. With a sensitive surrounding context and 66-67 Newman Street sitting taller than its neighbours, the mass needed to be considered rather than extravagant. The extension took the base rhythm of the existing window bays on both façades, with floor-to-ceiling glazing providing excellent outlook from the internal spaces and the dark grey zinc finish bringing a modern interpretation to the traditional. The ground has superb frontage with a discrete stone surround, that again was retained and celebrated as part of the reception and internal office layouts.
The minimal palette of high-quality materials brings out the slight variations in the details of the building. I think that is what ties the whole thing together; you get the same family of details running throughout the whole scheme.”
Q: What was it like to develop the design with the client?
Gareth: “The client team were hands-on throughout the process which is always a positive experience. They engaged in the process and gave quick and constructive feedback. We were given a well-defined brief and knew exactly where we were going from the outset. A modern palette was agreed which would contrast with a building that had its own unique grain and character, which provided a solution fit for the current office market whilst paying respect to the existing fabric.”
James: “It was an exciting experience as we could see the client really wanted to transform the building and, within the context of the surrounding office market, we could see that it could provide something different. I think that was what drove the mix between the modern material palette and the retention of the key existing elements, which has created a classic coworking space.”
Q: What would you say are the stand-out design features of Newman Street?
Gareth: “That’s a really tricky question! I believe that the strength lies in a limited palette of materials that links across all floors to give a clearly defined brand and appearance, creating a strong identity within the building.”
James: “I think it’s about exploring the potential of what you can do in an existing building: how subtle changes can repurpose a building that has all the fundamental characteristics that you require, but actually by key and clever decision-making, you can transform buildings without having to demolish them.”
Gareth: “That’s an important point – repurposing existing building stock by providing a complete homogenous design back to the market.”
Q: What about the finished space is tailored to support coworking and smaller tenants?
Gareth: “66-67 Newman Street provides a vibrant and flexible space for individuals and small teams to hot-desk or take a dedicated area or floor with breakout spaces to allow for the cross-pollination that typifies a successful coworking solution.”
James: “It’s a starting point for growing companies to establish themselves and then scale up in the surrounding area. Teams can expand to take one of the larger floorplates once their business develops and flourishes.”
Q: What impact does the finished building have on the surrounding area?
James: “The biggest impact is that the building is now vibrant and fully utilised. It has been refreshed and reinvigorated, and it provides an active frontage in constant use. By nature of the planner’s requirements, the external appearance has been subtly upgraded through the introductions of the black glazing and cleaned brickwork, with the modern extension adding the high-quality space this building deserved. The existing façade has real prominence on Newman Street and suggests the energy within the building.”
Q: How would you describe Darling Associates’ relationship with Oktra on this project? How did the two teams work together to deliver the space?
Gareth: “Early sessions establishing roles and deliverables are critical and we achieved that from the outset. Communication was always clear and with requirements defined by all parties involved. When necessary, there were site visits and sketches alongside design team meetings which ensured progress with minimal delay.
There are always surprises hidden in these buildings and success is measured by how those are dealt with when they arise. Our relationship with Oktra was successful because it had clarity – when issues arose, everyone rolled up their sleeves and worked together to find a solution. In the end, a positive collaboration has refurbished this building and brought it back to market as a high-quality workplace.”