In 2015, the architectural practice Squire and Partners purchased a dilapidated three storey department store in the centre of Brixton. Revived and restored, it is now the headquarters of the practice and houses more than 250 staff, as well as a series of creative and retail units at street level. In addition, the building is also a showcase for some of the suppliers and craftspeople who work for the practice – and as a venue for events.
Restoration has revealed the Edwardian structure and the many original artistic features, while at rooftop level a new floor has been added, topped by a series of dramatic oak-framed mansard lanterns. These act as pavilions which enclose a staff bar, café, restaurant and kitchen, and support large rooflights which flood the interior with natural light. The exposed oak structure imparts a warm, natural quality to these spaces.
The restoration of this Edwardian building was inspired by its long and varied history. It was the furnishings annexe of the Bon Marché department store, built in 1906 and one of the first steel-framed buildings in England. At that time, Brixton was a flourishing destination for retail and culture, and the new store was constructed with an extraordinary commitment to craft and detail. But its day passed; used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War, it went downhill and ceased trading in 1981. It then housed a variety of uses – highend retail, government offices, the Refugee Council – until squatters moved in and graffitied another layer onto its colourful history. By the time Squire and Partners purchased the building it was in a state of disrepair, its former grandeur buried under layers of partitions, carpets, linoleum and false ceilings, the residue of decades of piecemeal conversions.
The architect’s aim was to celebrate the history of the store, revealing the decayed decadence of its past as well as its more recent uses. Original mouldings, teak and mahogany floors, and decorative metalwork have all been preserved. The practice has added its own contemporary layer to the building, working and collaborating with more than 50 artists, craftspeople and innovators to create a bespoke approach to a unique building. As the architect explains:
“In addition to the physical restoration of a Brixton landmark, we strived to restore its original purpose – a department store that showcases creativity, craft and the process of making, and acts as a showcase to promote collaboration and exploration. Every space tells a story and honours the past of this reinvigorated, buzzing building.”