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Planning Consent for 63-81 Pelham Street in South Kensington

20th September

Piercy&Company’s vision for a new office building in South Kensington has been given resolution to grant planning consent by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, the scheme delivers a sustainable and flexible office space sensitive to its context whilst improving the site’s existing relationship with Pelham Street.

The scheme replaces a compromised four-storey office block. It retains and extends the existing two-storey basement to accommodate a community-focused gym and adds ground-plus-five storeys with 115,000 sq ft of new high-quality office space.

Fronting Pelham Street, with the opencast Circle and District tube line to its rear, the site is adjacent to the Thurloe Estate and Smith’s Charity Conservation Area, which includes several Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings. By carefully analysing the site’s surrounding urban fabric and architectural language, Piercy&Company’s design reinterprets the iconography of the area’s shapes, forms, and material palette to create a refined and elegant contemporary building that sits comfortably within its setting.

Situated between two-storey townhouses to one side and Crompton Court, a residential seven-storey building on the other, the new building mediates the scale and massing of these buildings. The scheme’s base is expressed with a two-storey order that aligns with the parapet height of the adjacent townhouse terrace. The three-storeys above meet the building’s other immediate neighbour, Crompton Court, in addition to a single-storey top discreetly set back to minimise perception from the street with space for a roof terrace.

The building’s side and rear elevations reference the brick details of the industrial Victorian railway infrastructure and robust housing stock found in the wider Kensington area. The primary street facade has a more refined architectural language, influenced by the ratios and rhythms of the stucco-fronted listed buildings of Pelham Crescent and Pelham Place.

In reference to the many arched-shaped windows of the nearby buildings, a simple rhythm of cast concrete pilasters meeting arched-shaped windows addresses the street. The scale of arched openings increases to differentiate key street entrances. To improve the public realm around the site, the building’s frontage sets back to facilitate the widening of the pavement and accommodate new street planters.

Inside, flexible and efficient floor plans allow the building to adapt to changing future use and requirements beyond the building’s design life. Unlike most office buildings, the core focuses on a central spiral staircase that celebrates movement and provides views to the surrounding urban context as users ascend upwards through the building.

Working with the design team, Piercy&Company carefully investigated the possibility of refurbishing and extending the existing building. However, the extent to which it was reshaped and repurposed over the last century meant refurbishment with the retention of the structural frame was impossible. In its current dilapidated condition, the existing building is unfit for modern use and without universal accessibility. The resulting new scheme - which was also shaped by local feedback - not only allows for a more coherent architectural composition but a universally accessible space with a flexible structural layout that secures its long-term future.

The project targets net-zero carbon in construction and operation, BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ and 5 star Nabers UK rating. The scheme proposes air-source heat pumps to generate energy and includes blue-roof rainwater attenuation systems, photovoltaic panels, and new green roofs to provide amenity, enhance biodiversity and reduce the urban heat island effect.

The Kensington and Chelsea Quality Review Panel, a group of independent experts from various backgrounds dedicated to ensuring the highest quality in new development, provided favourable comments about the scheme.

Stuart Piercy, Founding Director of Piercy&Company, said:

“63-81 Pelham Street is an interesting project because of its unusual and eclectic contrasting site, located within the formal architecture of Pelham Crescent with the railways behind. We looked at Lutyens' work, notably the Midland Bank headquarters in London (now The Ned Hotel), to explore the depth and articulation of the facades and the oblique. Inside, we've created an adaptable and resilient structure with a staircase in the centre of the building.”

Neil Howsam, Associate Director at Piercy&Company, said:

“By looking at the surrounding site’s architectural shapes, forms and material palettes, we hope that the new building will make a characterful addition to the area and contribute to the local economy through its new use. The project started in 2019 so we’re proud to have done our best to support the ongoing work of the Wellcome Trust through the pandemic. The consent will secure the Trust’s ongoing stewardship of this building. We’d like to thank them for their considered approach and trust in the design team to help deliver a building of the highest quality.”