The founder of architecture practice CZWG was an early adopter of EC1. He tells Melissa Crowther about his local landscape.
It wasn’t cheap rents, that’s for sure. When we moved here in the early Eighties, rents were actually quite high – I suppose on the basis that the area was going to become very City-ish. We liked EC1 because it’s a great location and we found a large, quirky building, on Bowling Green Lane. I lived in east London, my partners in the west, so it suited us all. It was also good for clients to get to, which helps.
Describe your “quirky building”.
It has a rather fabulous history. It’s where the newspaper that eventually became the Evening Standard was based – they had it as their office and printing works, with horses and carriages at the back. It was the whole operation. If you step through the archway now to have a look at the front, you can see that, when we converted it, we gave people something to smile about…
Was your first architecture practice in the area?
We were pretty early on, I must say. Zaha [Hadid] came almost at the same time – also to Bowling Green Lane. Then The Architectural Review was thrown out of its fabulous premises in Victoria and moved to Bowling Green Lane, which the staff thought was a big step downmarket. We had to hold a drinks party for them in order to cheer them up! Wilkinson Eyre is now across the street, too. And, for a time, Ian Simpson was just two doors down from us. Bowling Green Lane seems to be dominated by architects, it’s strange.
What local architecture do you admire?
There’s that terrific live-work building with sliding glass in Clerkenwell Green by Paxton Locher. And there’s a particularly good residential development on St John Street, just up from the St John restaurant; a white-fronted warehouse conversion that looks quite jazzy, though it must be 15-20 years old now. And I think the Erick van Egeraat buildings by Waitrose are pretty handsome. I’ve always liked them. Historic buildings don’t need praising, as everybody likes those…
Which EC1 building has CZWG has a hand in?
We did the well-known Manhattan Loft Corporation scheme in Summers Street. It’s got quite a tough, colourful aesthetic, and, we like to think, a bit of an American feel to the entrance. We’re also responsible for Janet Street-Porter’s old house in Britton Street, which I think is still very special. It would be fun to do something more here.
Got your eye on any Clerkenwell dream projects?
The old Guardian building on Farringdon Road is particularly baleful. It would be fabulous to have a go at that… Various architects have always proposed to build over the railway lines at Farringdon. It would make a great open space but the money doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. It might also be time to rethink Clerkenwell Green – there’s a lot of Tarmac for not much traffic.
What do you like about the area?
This may sound pretentious but I like its classlessness. It’s not full of trustafarians, or the nouveau riche, or City types – it’s got everybody. You don’t identify it with a particular type of person. It’s a really nice mix.
Where do you hang out?
The restaurants are particularly good, aren’t they? The Eagle opened just after we arrived, and we were even here for the original Quality Chop House, before it was smartened up – the actual postman’s diner. Morito, Caravan, Medcalf, The Modern Pantry, St John… We’ve got such a choice. I love it!
What’s your take on Clerkenwell Design Week?
I think it’s terrific for the area and great for boosting morale. Most of the time, you tend to work in your studio, doing your thing, feeling like you’re part of something but you’re not necessarily sure what. The festival allows you to strut your stuff and shows you that there are other people out there doing similar, interesting things.
Piers Gough is taking part in a debate about the link between food and architecture during Clerkenwell Design Week on 24 May in the Farmiloe Building (www.clerkenwelldesignweek.com). For more information about his practice and its projects, visit www.czwg.com