The Skyroom is a new rooftop venue to host events programmed by the Architecture Foundation. Sitting above their offices on Tooley Street, the structure offers a range of rooms, both covered and open to the sky, for different occasions and uses ranging from lectures and performances to dinner parties and sun-bathing. The project opened to coincide with London Design Week on 20th September 2010.
The project features a central courtyard open to the sky, framing the rising form of The Shard being built high above London Bridge Station. A balcony cantilevered over Tooley Street offers breathtaking views through the More London development to the Thames and the Tower of London beyond.
Akin to a small theatre space, the proportions of Skyroom enable it to be occupied in a variety of different arrangements. Four niche spaces extend from the courtyard to provide an intimate setting for meeting and relaxing. On the south facade a louvred screen frames a Black Tupelo tree with purple autumnal leaves which will eventually turn an intense bright scarlet, affirming the rooftop as a new ground and a site available to be colonised by nature.
With a bespoke structure constructed of steel with copper mesh facades and larch flooring, Skyroom is topped with six Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) cushions. The structure and materials used throughout the scheme have been chosen for their lightness and varieties of transparency: the white steel structure is like a drawing in space, marking out the territory of the rooftop and framing key views of the site and sky. The stainless steel and copper mesh panels create moiré patterns that lightly obscure their surroundings. ETFE, a material originally designed by NASA to create enclosures on the moon, is used here in sizes ranging from 2m sq to 8m x 3m. Stippled with sun-blocking silver dots, this continues the fabric-like quality of the enclosure across the roof.
The design of Skyroom is a response to a number of major constraints: the limited structural capacity of the existing roof; location of the building within a conservation area with strict guidelines on the appearance of developments; building to a limited budget; and access to the roof for construction. As the roof was not able to support any additional load of either materials or people, the creation of a new structure above it was crucial. In order to transfer load into the existing steel columns, a new steel deck was created, passing through the roof to connect to the heads of the columns below. Newly built large steel sections enable the transfer of load through the steel deck into the existing structure.
Excluding the cantilevered balcony, the scheme is set back from the building perimeter to negate the need for expensive scaffolding on all sides as well as to comply with planning regulations to limit the amount of the structure visible from the street and consequent change in appearance to the overall building. Additionally, materials used throughout were selected to satisfy the local authority’s requirement for quality finishes that would age well and compliment the conservation area. Both points reveal that there are indeed opportunities to adapt the capital’s skyline even when faced with the rigorous planning control of a conservation area.
A limited budget and tight programme were additional factors that steered the design of Skyroom, which went from detailed design to completion in just eight weeks. The project, commissioned and funded by the landlord of Magdalen House, Lake Estates, demonstrates an imaginative re-use of one of London’s neglected roofscapes and is in keeping with the Mayor of London’s policy to encourage the occupation of the city’s rooftops.