Urban designer David West, of firm Egret West, tells us why he loves working in Clerkenwell, which local building he’d love to makeover, and why a tourist’s first port of call should be The Slaughtered Lamb pub…
What makes Egret West unique?
I’m an urban designer and Christophe [Egret, co-founder] is an architect. So right from the outset we created a 50:50 balance and symbiosis between architecture and urban design. This balance is fundamental. It adds a great deal of value to the projects, because it stitches them into the wider community and the wider landscape. That’s our calling card. It sounds incredibly simple but it really does define and differentiate our projects.
One of your best-known recent projects is the Clapham One building – can you tell us more about it?
Clapham One was a really interesting project because it fuses so many uses together into one building. It’s a classic example of looking beyond the boundary at what a site is capable of– finding a way of balancing the community needs with a bigger ambition. For example it has a library which we chose to make into a celebratory space – a community hall first, and a library second. It’s flexible enough for jazz concerts, a fashion show, a birthday party, as well as agreat place to read books and study.
What project are you most proud of?
I’m particularly proud of Clapham One as I live nearby. It was one we had to win. My four-year-old daughter absolutely loves coming with me to the children’s library there. But I’m always proud when a project is successful and enjoyed by the public. To me, Clerkenwell is one of the most interesting areas of London, and has a lovely understated vibe about it.
Which site in Clerkenwell would you most like to overhaul?
The big black bunker to the north of The Slaughtered Lamb pub. It’s a completely introvert, inwards-looking black box of a building. I’d love that to be transformed into a mixed-used environment and a decent piece of public space. I’d love somewhere that showcased all the design around Clerkenwell. A conference space, hotel and gallery along with a public space.
What’s your favourite building in the area?
I’m fond of the LSO. That’s a really creative re-use of a building.
Why did you choose Clerkenwell for your studio?
To me, Clerkenwell is one of the most interesting areas of London, and has a lovely understated vibe about it. Clerkenwell is very focused on design in its widest sense. I love the collection of product, furniture and interior designers, and architects that are all clustered together. We get the benefits of the cluster.
There are quite a few architects based in the area –is there a sense of community?
Yes. We know lots of people who work around us and we collaborate with some of them – with people in our building, with engineering firms and other architects in the area, too. There’s a sense of a movement, of a shared ambition to make London a better place. And obviously Clerkenwell Design Week is great for fusing that passion together.
What do you like about Clerkenwell’s architecture?
I like the whole feel. I quite like that there isn’t a stand-out building to me. There’s a relatively consistent scale to the area and lovely meshing of materials and a good lived-in quality.
Where do you like to hang out?
Every architect would say St John because you get such great space, such great height. I also really like Life, the Japanese restaurant on the corner of Old Street and Goswell Road – the space, the food and the downstairs bar.
Where would you send a first time visitor to the neighbourhood?
I’d send them to the Slaughtered Lamb for a beer and a pie, where they’d be right in the heart of the action.
What are you looking forward to at Clerkenwell Design Week?
We’re doing a talk and an open studio. I’m also looking forward to attending a few talks and hopefully a few surprises too, seeing what people have up their sleeves.