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James Pickard

James Pickard, co-founder of Cartwright Pickard, talks about the challenges of refurbishing the Grade II listed Golden Lane Leisure Centre in the City of London

by Magali Robathan, CLAD mag | Published in Sports Management 2013 issue 1
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James Pickard
James Pickard

What drew you to a career in architecture?
I started getting interested in architecture when I was five years old, when my father commissioned an architect to design a very modern house for us near Harrogate in Yorkshire. I went to see the architect’s drawings and the model he made of the house. I also went to the building site every week with my mum and saw the building taking shape.

Watching the home I grew up in being designed and built inspired me to want to be an architect myself.

How did you start your career?
I studied architecture at the University of Nottingham – I did two degrees there. I have always worked in London, apart from a couple of years spent working in Stockholm.

I founded Cartwright Pickard in early 1997 with Peter Cartwright.

How would you describe your architectural philosophy?
Primarily, it is about using our ideas to improve the quality of life for building users and occupiers. It’s also about the quality of life of people who have to move around buildings – if you are doing a large masterplan, the space between the buildings can become more important than the buildings themselves.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
When I visit beautiful places, I try and understand what makes those places successful. I’ve travelled lots and been to see buildings by some of the great modern architects of all time, which have inspired me. I’m also driven by the idea that the wheel needs to be reinvented every now and again. I’m very interested in how new technologies and practical innovation can improve the performance of buildings. Architecture should evolve to reflect this innovation.

Generally, the construction industry is very conservative and slow to change. The majority of homes built in Britain today use technology we inherited from the Romans 2,000 years ago. Technology in house building has moved on very little since, yet changes that have taken place in every other walk of life have been huge. Sometimes you have to recognise there are better ways of doing things and embrace change.

How did you get involved with the Golden Lane Leisure Centre?
We were already working for the City of London Corporation [the municipal governing body of the City of London] on the Middlesex Street residential estate – doing some refurbishment work and new proposals, including building a public library. We were invited to tender for the refurbishment of the Golden Lane Leisure Centre off the back of the success of that project.

Why did it need so much work?
It had been around for a long time and all buildings need to be refurbished after 30 or 40 years of use. It needed a lot of upgrading to the fabric of the building, because of the running costs. It was all single-glazed, and very thermally inefficient. Also the City of London Corporation wanted to breathe new life into the existing complex.

What did the refurbishment project consist of?
We refurbished the existing swimming pool, sports hall and changing rooms and added in a new gym and dance studio. We also created a more spacious reception area, and improved the circulation throughout the building. The place feels like a high quality leisure development now, rather than the very dowdy, down-at-heel, grubby place that it was before. It’s been transformed.

In order to make the buildings more thermally efficient, we introduced double glazing to the swimming pool hall, badminton courts and other big spaces. This reduces energy loss and significantly lowers heating bills.

Because it’s a Grade II listed building, we had to undertake all the changes in a very sympathetic way. It took a lot of care to find manufacturers of glazing systems where the mullions [metal frames] were very similar in dimension to the old steel frames, for example. A lot of attention went into the detailing and selection of materials and getting approvals from the authorities with regard to the listed building consent.

We also improved the overall quality of the building, with high quality colours and finishes, and have put in low energy lighting, which will contribute to its low energy performance and cost savings going forward.

Fusion Lifestyle has been appointed to manage the centre; the company is paying rent to the City of London Corporation, so it’s getting income back in return for the capital that’s been spent. More importantly though, the residents of the Golden Lane Estate have got a fantastic new sports facility.

What is your favourite part of the refurbished centre?
I think it’s the way we’ve exposed and treated the existing pavement lights, and used them to let daylight in. They have enabled us to transform the vaulted areas of the building that weren’t well used before. The new gym has been put into the vaulted club rooms, and it’s a fantastic space now.

How was sustainability taken into account?
Introducing double glazing has dramatically reduced heat loss, and we’ve put in a lot of low energy lighting. We’ve also got photovoltaic panels generating electricity on the roof, which introduces quite a strong renewable energy component to the building.

What were the biggest challenges of this project?
Working with a listed building. It’s not like just getting planning permission, you have to get listed building consent and you have to go through a much higher level of scrutiny and approvals to get that consent.

There’s probably 50 per cent more work involved in a listed building project than a non-listed one. You do these projects partly because they are quite high profile, and partly because it’s in the interest of the practice to experience working on different building types. If I was doing this job purely for money, I would have turned this project away, but we enjoy having a variety of work in the office and it’s an honour to be involved in the refurbishment of such an iconic project.

What reactions have you had?
Extremely good. We had an open evening and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone raved about what a good job had been done. We’ve recently won the Architects’ Journal Retrofit Award in the public building category, which was very nice.

Who do you admire?
I learned a lot from a very distinguished architect called Peter Foggo. I was lucky enough to work in his practice and he taught me a great deal.

In my view, Renzo Piano is the greatest living architect. And the architects who have inspired me the most who are no longer alive are Alvar Alto and Louis Kahn, because of the simplicity and rigour of their approach to design. There’s an incredible humanity in the way they understand how humans interact with buildings.

What do you love about your job?
Every single day is different. I started studying architecture more than 32 years ago, but you never get bored, because the days are never the same. Architecture is an art and a science, and there’s a creative, innovative process in architecture which I really enjoy. It is also very rewarding to train young people and see them grow into competent architects within our business. Some move on but keep in touch.

And what do you enjoy the least?
Fee negotiations. Many clients are exploiting the fact that there’s a massive shortage of work to drive down fees to unsustainable levels which is damaging the profession. The market has almost reached the point where architects are being asked to do the same amount of work we were doing pre-credit crunch for about half the fee. These are very tough times for architects.

Are you doing other sports projects?
We’re working on quite a large, highly sustainable resort in the South of China. It’s set around a lake and includes a golf course, an equestrian centre and a watersports centre as well as a five star hotel and spa and 1,000 villas. We’re aiming to make it the most environmentally-friendly resort in China.

We’ve finished the initial masterplan, which I presented in March.

We’re planning to use an anaerobic digestion system to create biofuel from kitchen waste in order to generate heat and electricity for the resort. It will be one of the first of these types of systems to be installed in China.

There’s a historic village in the area with 300-400 year old traditional Chinese homes – absolutely beautiful, timber-framed structures – which have been left to rot. We’re planning to renovate the whole village and then get people back into the homes and turn it into a living tourist attraction.

It’s very exciting and right up our street, because we’re passionate about creating beautiful places that use sustainable ideas and innovation.

GOLDEN LANE LEISURE CENTRE

The Golden Lane Leisure Centre is located at the heart of the Golden Lane Housing Estate, and was originally designed by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (the practice responsible for the Barbican and the Golden Lane Estate) in 1963. The centre takes an ‘L’ shaped form around a quadrangle and is the conglomeration of two formerly separated buildings; the two storey swimming pool and badminton court and the single storey club rooms.

The centre is a Grade II listed building and is owned by the City of London Corporation. It reopened in January 2012 after a year-long refurbishment by Cartwright Pickard. The contractor for the works was Quinn London, and Fusion Lifestyle is managing the centre.

The leisure centre has a 20m pool, sports hall, 38-station gym, dance studio and outdoor courts for tennis, netball and children’s five-a-side football.

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