David Archer and Julie Humphryes, Founders, Archer Humphryes Architects, reflect on how they combined function and style to meet the commercial needs of the recently restored theatre and music venue KOKO.
Working alongside KOKO’s CEO and Founder Olly Bengough, our studio Archer Humphryes has overseen the architectural project from conception to completion.
This involved the restoration of the 19th century theatre and Fly Tower, the reconstruction of the historical theatre structure lost in a fire and its completion with the reconstructed historical interiors and decoration, and the development of a new seven storey building that stitches together an old piano factory (1800) and the Hope & Anchor pub (1860), straddling the building with a new roof terrace pavilion restaurant.
Each of these crucial aspects of the project has been delivered alongside the reconciliation of the client’s brief and guiding vision to complete the architectural work with a complex but flexible strategy, developing the overall use and content of the building’s programming.
We needed to provide each of the new spaces within KOKO with the ability to accommodate live performance as well as to stream performances globally, potentially simultaneously within the venue. The architectural programme within the building is extremely varied and includes the main theatre auditorium, the historic Fly Tower as a separate performance space for intimate shows, and in addition, the ambitious series of bars and performance spaces within the new building including the roof terrace restaurant, the dome bar, a jazz and blues club, vinyl rooms and a ground floor tap bar and cafe.
While the brief for the project has been further filled out with additional areas including private dining rooms and penthouse and recording studio, each element of the programme is placed in a hierarchy that sits within the overall commercial programme of the project as well as presenting individual and flexible opportunities for revenue generation according to the client’s needs.
Our approach to the design of the building was a balance between working closely with the Camden council conservation team and working with the commercial and cost consultant to design the most efficient structures and façade system that would meet the exigencies of the historic building and conservation plan. The basement was constructed with secant piles and reinforced concrete prior to the steel skeletal structure enclosing the existing building and corrugated metal sheet floor plate being formed around the new prefabricated concrete core.
Working alongside the historic building and in the Camden conservation area involved a combination of approaches to the development of the façade, these included a retained masonry wall, new brick and window elevations and the development of a bespoke curtain wall solution working with steel Crittal windows and bespoke glazed tile spandrel sections.
While the new building accommodates an extraordinary breadth of spatial and emotional variety within The House of KOKO’s member floors, perhaps the greatest benefit to the project was the success of the completion of the glazed pavilion roof terrace opening to the south and sitting above the roof of the historic theatre which in turn connects directly to the new cocktail bar in the recreated historic dome. While both of these architectural features were the result of intense study, coordination and architectural ambition, the guest experience here is totally unique and unexpected.
Overall, the defining aspect of the project is the continual surprise and stimulation that the guests will experience as they move from one space to another within the building. The juxtaposition of the intimate jazz and blues club, to the discovery of the secret vinyl booths, to the private dining room which opens directly into the auditorium and Fly Tower, to the dome which allows guests to pass down a secret staircase to the upper circle, provides a compelling and memorable experience that in turn embodied the commercial value and attraction within the venue that is completely unrepeatable.