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LSE Saw Swee Hock Student Centre

The Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics is a multifunctional building with a large music venue, pub, learning cafe, union offices, prayer centre, dance studio, careers library and gym. The project is located at the knuckle-point convergence of the network of narrow streets that characterise the LSE city centre campus. A public space at the threshold of the Student Centre is positioned on axis with St Clement’s Lane, to pull pedestrian street life into and up the building.

The design intention was to create an active Student Centre, the character of which should be contemporary, inviting, welcoming and even provoking to its users. Inside the building open stairways spiral around the central lift shaft that forms a skewering pivot-point at the centre of gravity of the plan. These wide stairs with slow steps make a flowing continuous ribbon of movement from street to roof garden, a vertical building working as a single organism.

Houghton St, London WC2A 2AE, UK
51.5144° N, 0.1174° W
Start Year:
End Year:
  • 246th Summer Exhibition
    London, UK, 9 June - 17 August 2014
  • Ireland at Venice 2012
    Dublin, Ireland
  • The Vessel 2012
    Venice, Italy
  • GA Exhibition ‘Emerging Future’
    Tokyo, Japan
  • New London Architecture – London School of Economics Competition Designs
    London, England

The site is located at the knuckle-point convergence of the network of narrow streets that characterise the LSE city centre campus. The public space at the threshold of the Student Union on axis with St Clement’s Lane, creates a place of exchange; a spatial bowtie that intertwines circulation routes, splices visual connections between internal and external movement, and pulls pedestrian street life into and up the building. We have developed a site specific sculptural concept for the architectural design. The folded, chamfered, canted and faceted façade operates with respect to the Rights of Light Envelope and is tailored in response to specific lines of sight along approaching vistas and from street corner perspectives. The surface of the brick skin is cut out along fold lines to form large areas of transparent glazing framing views in and out from street to room. Like a Japanese puzzle, our design is carefully assembled to make one coherent volume from a complex set of interdependent component parts. Our analysis of the context has uniquely influenced the first principles of the design approach.

London is a city of bricks. The existing buildings on and adjacent to the site are built in bricks of varied and lively hue. Our design relates to the resilient characteristic of the city’s architecture with familiar materials made strange. The exterior walls are clad with bricks, used in a new way, with each brick offset from the next in an open work pattern, wrapping the walls in a permeable blanket that will create dappled daylight in particular spaces and, at night, when all the lights are on inside, the building will be seen from the streets like a glowing lattice lantern.

The faceted facade of the building is composed of both solid and perforated brick areas and glazed screens. The perforated planes are constructed from a single leaf of brickwork with spaces in the flemish bond pattern to allow light to both infiltrate the interior spaces and filtrate out at night to create a pattern effect. The openwork brickwork is constructed in front of glazed screens that seal the building and incorporate opening sections to naturally ventilate the building. The extent of perforation has been developed to maximise daylight into the building.

Our design refers to the robust adaptability-in-use of a lived-in warehouse. Open work steel trusses or ribbed concrete slabs cross the big spaces with solid wooden floors underfoot. Lightweight partitions made of clear and coloured glass and timber have sliding screens for flexibility in use. Circular steel columns prop office floors between the large span volumes and punctuate the open floor plan of the café. Stairs are made of terrazzo and plate steel. Concrete ceilings contribute thermal mass with acoustic clouds suspended to soften the sound. Every landing has a bench or built-in couch. There are no closed-in corridors. Every hallway has daylight and views in at least one direction. Every office workspace has views to the outside world. The basement floor area is lit from clerestory windows and roof lights to allow for daytime use. This building does not feel like a hotel, an office, or an academic institution. It is fresh and airy, heavy and light, open and clear, sculptural and social.


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