Simon Henley: Obliged to Build
Interview May 2019
BOTB Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts and the work of Henley Halebrown Architects with us earlier this year. It was fascinating to be given such a detailed presentation of Chadwick Hall and see how that project fitted into the ongoing explorations of the practice. The reciprocity between the new buildings and the site and the way your work ties together what might have appeared previously to be unreconcilable elements, was a delight to see.
I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on how you’ve found yourself proposing what are effectively two buildings at once with some projects; with Chadwick Hall you talked about how the external load bearing walls were effectively a ‘ruin’ within which a concrete frame was built.
SH We are interested in and feel obliged to build not just appear to build. It seems necessary to force the wall to work, not just appear to be something, to mimic aspects of constructional composition or to ape the past. The walls, the ruins, the evolution of cold construction at Chadwick started out as a position of resistance, a break with convention. It was feasible because much of the construction was limited to three and four storeys at which height it is still possible to build cold load bearing masonry and a warm structural concrete frame such that the relative movement is not excessive. As a result it was possible for the window to bridge the void between the two systems of construction without the relative movement deforming or fracturing the window frame. We surmised we could take the load bearing construction off the critical path but it was a leap of faith that with such tight financial constraints we could fund the laborious and careful building of walls. In the end it was the simplification of the concrete frame that made the crafting of this low cost building feasible. Money normally lost in steel reinforcement, and upstands and downstands designed to strengthen the frame, combined with steel shelf angles used to support modern masonry cladding, what are in effect huge cantilevers. The money moved from the frame to the wall.
BOTB So, effectively, you have a ‘simple’ concrete frame building sitting inside a more ‘crafted’ brick one, with the separation between the two allowing the brick to go up at its own pace. It almost feels like there’s an interventional project in here somewhere, obviously without a straightforward hiatus between the ‘host’ building and a later ‘intervention’. You’ve mentioned the windows spanning the gap between the warm concrete frame and the cold brick façade, did you seek to express or downplay the division between these two elements within the building?
Published XXth May 2019
All images © Henley Halebrown Architects