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Conservation Architecture in Camden: Past and Present

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A historic image of Camden Town Hall. Image © DIA

Congratulations to Camden Council on achieving its 50th year anniversary– from Donald Insall Associates Architects, who have recently passed our 57th! It is pleasing to recall our long and productive relationship with the Council: most recently we have helped gain permission to refurbish and convert the modern former Camden Town Hall on Euston Road and through our building assessment and subsequent historic building planning guidance, help reach agreement to redevelop the building into a 270-room hotel with a high quality contemporary 3 storey rooftop extension.

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Door surrounds, railings and historic details reinstated. Photo © DIA

Our strong commitment to Camden reaches back to the early days of the Council and particularly to the challenging and innovative reuse of eighteenth century houses on the Rugby Estate for social housing, many of which had previously been scheduled for demolition, which is an amazing possibility when viewed from the perspective of 2015 for these houses are of remarkable character and quality; they help contribute so much to give the area around Great Ormond Street its distinctive and much valued ‘village’ quality. This courageous turn of policy was prompted by a campaign generated by local residents whose vision was of a different future from that enshrined in earlier planning policies, a vision retaining well known and well-loved landmarks and features of the area. In order to benefit from the housing grants available at the time the houses were split into flats, sometimes involving breaching party walls between different homes – a solution unlikely to find favour now but at the time enabling these remarkable houses to be put to new use with a sustainable future. In the case of three houses which had already been partially demolished owing to their poor condition a completely new block of social housing was designed to fit immediately behind the retained and restored historic frontages.

Diverse and lateral thinking to provide innovative design solutions is much the ethos of our architectural practice, established by Sir Donald Insall, who in his book, Living Buildings, advocates the concept of buildings behaving like people, maturing and aging and having to adapt to the forces and changes which affect their lives. The practice continues to work on these wonderful historic buildings in Camden, currently being involved with new proposals for one of the eighteenth century houses on Great Ormond Street, a building first repaired and converted by the practice back in 1979. Many of our clients and commissions have indeed remained in contact or developed over many years with long standing clients including several local authority councils in London such as the City of Westminster and Richmond Borough Council and several London estates such as Cadogan and Grosvenor. Not every project is as grand as the reconstruction of Windsor Castle after the fire, for which we were the lead architects, and we remain just as happy dealing with smaller domestic historic buildings such as those splendid houses in Great Ormond Street.

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Original spine-walls had been removed and beams left unsupported. Drawing by Ailwyn Best, image © DIA
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An aerial view of the Rugby Estate, London Borough of Camden. Drawing by Ailwyn Best, © DIA.

Article by Michael Shippobottom Consultant Donald Insall Associates,Chartered Architects and Historic Building Consultant.