Emrys unveil historic Barkers retrofit


Emrys Architects’ largest project to date sees an ambitious redevelopment and retrofit of a real London landmark: the Barkers of Kensington building on High Street Kensington. Planning has now been secured by Emrys, on behalf of Relsa Properties for a £120M deep retrofit of the famous department store building, securing its long-term future as prime office and retail space.

The Barkers of Kensington building is Grade II listed and an iconic example of Art Deco retail architecture. Construction originally began in the 1920s, and was interrupted by World War II before the final phase was completed in the 1950s, revealing the distinctive Portland Stone façade with vertical glazed and dark bronze bays, incorporating intricate motifs detailed into the stonework. An unsympathetic refurbishment in the 1980s changed the eight storey building primarily to office use – with newspapers including the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard occupying the upper floors, where the interiors were radically modified to create a central atrium space beneath a vaulted glass roof, while shops occupied the lower floors. Further alterations to the retail zones were undertaken in 2006 and 2015.

At present, the 52,889sqm building provides neither quality commercial accommodation nor effective retail floor space. Relsa engaged Emrys Architects – already well-known for sensitive commercial developments across London and beyond – to revive the building as a prime commercial location while respecting its strong character and heritage.

The existing entrance space on Derry Street is dark, enclosed and dated, and will be opened up and enlarged to improve both the arrival experience and connections through the building, with Art Deco-inspired finishes to a new grand staircase and escalators referencing the building’s heritage. Beyond, the spacious and light-filled central atrium, beneath its barrel-vaulted glazed roof, remains in good condition and will be retained. However, Emrys Architects are introducing new walkways – suspended from newly exposed roof level trusses – and a Vierendeel truss bridge to improve circulation within the building’s upper levels. A café, casual seating, new scenic lifts and atrium staircases – together with balconies overlooking the atrium from the surrounding offices – bring the impressive atrium to life and provide opportunities for engagement among the wider building community.

On each of the office floors around the atrium, Emrys Architects are exploiting the building’s intrinsic qualities – particularly its high ceilings, which rise to an exceptional 4.7m on the first and second floors. Simple measures – such as opening up deep ceiling voids – will transform previously gloomy spaces and improve natural light, with positive results in terms of occupants’ wellbeing and energy use. Exposing steel columns will also provide a robust and distinguished presence to the interior, derived from the original structure and identifying this as a historic building rather than simply another modern commercial development.

At the top of the building, Emrys will create an attractive and flexible space for all building users to enjoy. Plant space will be consolidated behind new screening designed to be more in keeping with the building’s original design, with the new ‘found’ space used for a new rooftop canteen alongside landscaped outdoor terraces – continuing the project’s focus on occupants’ wellbeing as well as supporting local biodiversity. The building’s roof lanterns – one of the Barkers of Kensington building’s most defining and iconic features that capture the spirit of the age they were built – will be repurposed as unique spaces for private dining.

Below ground level, Emrys are remodelling the basement to create a new ‘Opportunity Space’ – enabling flexible use for multiple functions such as networking, talks and lectures, film screenings or hospitality events. Existing car parking spaces will be repurposed for bicycle storage and charging, alongside changing rooms to encourage sustainable travel.

Other works will upgrade the building exterior to enhance its appearance in keeping with its historic character and position within the Kensington Square Conservation Area. Original windows with a distinctive chevron motif will be reinstated on the Derry Street core, with the pattern also used on new gates to the secondary entrance on Young Street. Deep external terraces on the frontages to floors 4 to 6 will be upgraded with new landscaping and planting – bringing previously neglected spaces back into productive use as valuable amenity space for occupants.

Glyn Emrys, director at Emrys Architects said:

“The Barkers of Kensington building is one of London’s most distinguished and iconic buildings. As architects it is a huge privilege and responsibility to repurpose the building for 21st century use, almost 100 years after the construction first began. We have sought to retain and enhance the existing building as much as possible, working with it to create flexible new spaces with a clear focus on character, sustainability and wellbeing.”


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