The city of London is home to many Brutalist landmarks – which, depending on who you ask, are architectural beacons of either beauty or bleak absurdity. From the divisive Barbican complex – designed in the 1950s by British firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon – to the impossibly charming Trellick Tower (1972), which served as the principal inspiration behind J. G. Ballard’s dystopian classic, High-Rise (1975). None of these buildings, however, are currently undergoing a more dramatic transformation than 180 The Strand, which is fast becoming an apex of progressive creativity.
Formerly known as Arundel Great Court, this vast, Brutalist space, erected in 1965, was the vision of the trailblazing British architect Sir Frederick Gibberd, who was greatly influenced by the smart-thinking, modernist aesthetic of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. “I practice landscape architecture and town planning,” Gibberd said in the August 1976 edition of The Architects Journal. “My imagination is probably best when I’m able to combine these arts into one practice,” he added. Crafted from dense grey Portland stone and bronze-finish aluminium windows, the building comprised an angular complex of offices, centered around a verdant courtyard. As Gibberd affirmed: “My concern for the environment has been a strong influence. Arundel Great Court on the Strand has given central London a new landscape court.” Unlike its neighbouring structures, such as the stately Somerset House or The Royal Courts of Justice, the AGC blended into the smoky, charcoal skyline with unassuming obscurity.
Over the past five years, however, the building – which was largely unoccupied from 2011 to 2014 – has played host to an impressive roster of avant-garde exhibitions, one-off gigs, runway shows and installations, re-affirming its creative stature in the capital. With crumbling concrete lines, exposed steel railings and jagged, light-filled rooms, its derelict interior provides an unprecedented canvas for artistic ingenuity. Luxury French house Louis Vuitton, for example, staged its spectacular travelling Series 3 exhibition in the building’s spacious underbelly in 2015, while emerging fashion design talent Thomas Tait, transformed a stark bunker into a runway for his A/W16 show, complete with concrete seating, strip lighting and graffiti-sprawled walls.
At the start of September 2016, 180 The Strand officially re-opened its doors as a multidisciplinary hub for art, design, food, music and broadcasting, under the creative reign of retail entrepreneur Alex Eagle, whose cult concept company, The Store, remains the long-lead tenant on the building. Given the enormity of the plot, space isn’t an issue – with 10 large studios that could, according to the Business of Fashion, house more than 30 companies. So far, both the British Fashion Council and the ever-expanding Dazed Media are in the process of relocating there – attracted, no doubt, by the vibrant cross-section of creativity that will thrive under one roof.
Decor (lack thereof)
“Art activates the space – and the space activates the art,” Eagle told The Spaces, in reference to the site’s exhibition debut, ‘The Infinite Mix’ – a radical, audio-visual art show, presented by the Hayward Gallery and global vinyl enterprise, The Vinyl Factory. Eschewing a set narrative for an experiential, musical structure, viewers were guided around ten exclusive video works by both enduring and emerging artists including Jeremy Deller, Rachel Rose, Martin Creed and buzzed-about L.A. filmmaker, Kahil Joseph. Mercurial and impressively diverse, The Infinite Mix is a feat of spatial and sonic innovation. “The Brutalist architecture provides the basis for a unique experience that is truly immersive and radically different from a traditional gallery environment,” says Sean Bidder, creative director of The Vinyl Factory. With hotly anticipated projects on the horizon, it certainly seems as though this is just the start of a stimulating new chapter in the building’s history.