Hawkins\Brown Architects present a new vision for the Bartlett School of Architecture

multi story building with a brick facade and extensive glazing
The Bartlett is located at 22 Gordon Street, at the former Wates House. The new brick facade is extensively glazed with full-height, timber-framed windows in deep recesses.
(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

The UCL Bartlett School of Architecture in Bloomsbury, London, has been redesigned and extended by 3,000 sq m by Hawkins\Brown. The deep retrofit of the former building, Wates House – built in 1974 and located on a restricted site part of the Bloomsbury Conservation zone – will provide a new modern and adaptable space to allow the leading architectural school to innovate its programme and fulfil its public facing role.

After operating at a spatial minimum for 15 years, increased space and adaptability were at the top of Bartlett School of Architecture director Bob Sheil’s list. He explains that while the Bartlett could have been seen as a ‘nightmare client’, they were just eager for functionality, rather than an architectural statement: ‘The Bartlett is about the people and the work they produce – we don’t need to be distracted.’

‘They ticked all the boxes,’ he adds of Hawkins\Brown, whose building reflects the broadening role of the Bartlett. ‘You can’t forecast the future of architectural education.’ With the growing popularity of the Bartlett’s non-accredited courses, he sees an architecture based on ‘titles’ as an unsustainable educational model. ‘Architecture is one of the most broad, diverse and liberal domains – it’s not only about educating architects,’ he says.

Exterior of the new Bartlett School of Architecture

Exterior of the new Bartlett School of Architecture

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Increased studio and informal spaces where doors have been removed reflect broad functions and encourage social activity and exchange. Euan Macdonald, a partner at Hawkins\Brown, sees the design as a ‘vessel for the academic activity of the school’ which is ‘lean and hard-working’, offering a network of spaces to suit different activities.

The architects brought the facade up to the property boundary, adding 1.5m to the floor-plate to fill the site footprint above ground and creating a new entrance with double-height glazing to connect the school to the street and open it up to the public. A fifth and sixth floor were added to increase space, as well as a full height extension to the south.

The architects met challenges along the way, overcoming them through diplomacy, design and engineering. ‘Initially we worked hard to demonstrate that the anticipated scope of our original brief, a £5m refurbishment and window replacement, was not going to provide a sustainable, holistic or long-term solution to the Bartlett's fundamental problem – a chronic shortage of space,’ says Macdonald.

An architectural design drawing of inside a multistory building with offices

Exploded section of the 22 Gordon Street building

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Working with the existing structure also threw up obstacles: ‘A final key challenge was how to design a heavy, masonry building with significant additional mass and area, when both the sub- and superstructure of the original building were close to their design capacity. Through close collaboration with the structural engineer we developed a lightweight structural solution for all new spaces, and selected a slim depth (70mm) brick that fulfilled all these constraining criteria,’ says Macdonald.

Retaining the original structure was symbolic, as well as environmentally sound: ‘We also wanted to reveal the story of the old building’s transformation and modification,’ says Macdonald. The concrete has been left in its raw state and complemented with typically industrial finishes within.

Inside the barlett school of architecture looking out the window with scaffolding styled shelving inside

Commissioned by the UCL Bartlett and UCL Estates, the building is the first for the ‘Transforming UCL’ scheme, the largest capital programme in the university’s history

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Inside a large open room with a large folding or swinging door

‘All spaces are designed to be robust, hard-working and durable to provide the backdrop to the activities and output of the school,’ says Euan Macdonald, partner at Hawkins\Brown

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Exterior view of two buildings with brick facades, one brown and one gray both multistory and glazing

The architects worked to design an architecture that ‘responded positively to the diverse characters of the surrounding conservation areas’, says Macdonald

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

landing on a staircase with a person walking down out of focus

The original building, Wates House, was designed to accomodate 380 students and 90 staff, whereas the new 8,500 sq m building will accommodate 1,000

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

shelving and wooden lockers inside the bartlett school of architecture

Bob Sheil, director of the Bartlett School of Architecture, wanted a more convivial space that would activate collaboration between students

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

wooden staircase with strip lighting in the bartlett school of architecture in

With a full-height atrium, the staircase is a central feature of the new building

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Existing hand rail in a stair case, partially painted blue

For Macdonald, the most subtle, yet poignant, detail of the whole design was the handrail of the existing staircases and the new handrail of the extended stairs: ‘This small detail sums up our respect for the school and its former home and how we have built upon it, yet transformed it to provide new space for future generations of architects and designers’

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

View looking down the center of a stair well going down numerous floor, stairs with wooden effect

Despite the constrained site and structural challenges, Hawkins\Brown’s design met the brief and needs of the university and school, while achieving an aesthetic balance of materials and maintaining symbolic historical elements of the building

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)

Desks with coloured plastic chair in a classroom style with pin boards in front of each desk

Integrated joinery, pivoting screens and sliding shutters are built into the working spaces

(Image credit: Jack Hobhouse)


For more information, visit the Hawkins\Brown Architects website

Harriet Thorpe is a writer, journalist and editor covering architecture, design and culture, with particular interest in sustainability, 20th-century architecture and community. After studying History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Journalism at City University in London, she developed her interest in architecture working at Wallpaper* magazine and today contributes to Wallpaper*, The World of Interiors and Icon magazine, amongst other titles. She is author of The Sustainable City (2022, Hoxton Mini Press), a book about sustainable architecture in London, and the Modern Cambridge Map (2023, Blue Crow Media), a map of 20th-century architecture in Cambridge, the city where she grew up.