Having been heavily involved in the redesign of the iconic King’s Cross Square, architect Larissa Johnston is now focusing on building her own architectural company. Here, she compares the large scale task of redeveloping King’s Cross Square with the smaller scale, more intricate task of developing contemporary homes
Words: Rachel Mantock
Producing sculptural building forms allows architect, Larissa Johnston, to experience a harmonious fusion between fine art, physics and mathematics. Being intensely driven, Johnston started building her own company a few years ago while still working on projects for Stanton Williams.
‘I gained a wealth of experience at Stanton Williams,’ she says. ‘When I started my own practice, it just felt like the right time to do it. The scale of the projects I currently work on is very different, but the creative process is effectively the same.’
The most challenging part of the project was finding innovative solutions to deal with the ‘complex assortment of London Underground structures’ beneath the square
One of these public, large scale projects was the redesign of King’s Cross Square, where Johnston served as lead project architect. Stanton Williams won the exciting project at an international design competition and the final blueprint was ‘a dual response to the inherent complexities of the site and the aspirations for the square to become a significant new public space for the city,’ while interlinking this with the important functional aspects of King’s Cross St Pancras as a major transport hub.
Interestingly, the most complex and challenging part of the project was finding innovative solutions to deal with the ‘complex assortment of London Underground structures’ that sit beneath the square.
‘We clad a lot of elements in dark granite, which is also used to clad landscaping elements such as benches and tree planters,’ explains Johnston. ‘We also defined a number of distinct zones within the square that provide orientation and meeting points, as well as two shaded seating areas. The dark and light granite stripes running across the square visually link it to Cubitt’s 1952 station facade.’
The seasoned architect and Islington resident has watched the regeneration of the King’s Cross area unfold over the last 15 years, describing it as ‘incredibly exciting’
The seasoned architect and Islington resident has watched the regeneration of the King’s Cross area unfold over the last 15 years, describing it as ‘incredibly exciting’. The area’s reworked historical elements, such as the Granary Building and the Transit Sheds, give it an air of richness, a marriage between heritage and the contemporary. ‘The emphasis on quality design is impressive and the regeneration of this area should serve as a leading example for other large scale regeneration projects across London,’ she says.
Making the move from a large architectural company to her own independent practice has allowed Johnston to zone in on smaller scale residential projects, with a focus on every day domestic living. Her airy, minimalist design of an Islington maisonette allowed her to ‘maximise the sense of spaciousness’, making the inside and outside one by using ‘full width sliding doors that open up into the courtyard garden’.
All the internal walls were removed before steel structures were incorporated and ‘fully concealed inside the thickness of the building fabric to allow for clean, uninterrupted lines within the main space’. Clever and inventive elements such as the compact plywood box that serves as a staircase, shelves, desk, kitchen and utility maximise the floor space. All natural materials were used, contrasting hard materials such a polished concrete, glass and stainless steel against the softer timber and plywood.
Making the move from a large architectural company to her own independent practice has allowed Johnston to zone in on smaller scale residential projects
Johnston incorporated the exterior of the property into the natural, historical landscape of Islington and the conservation area local to the maisonette, characterised by large four storey Victorian terraces. This heritage aspect contrasts against the ultra modern interior in a striking way, creating a sense of surprise once you enter the property from outside.
Having grown up in Sydney, Johnston has come a long way to achieve her architectural dreams. She is still in love with all the creative offerings present in London despite having now been here for 16 years. With an eco-home project on the books, as well as the reworking of a charming mid-century house, Larissa Johnston Architects is going from strength to strength.
Find out more at larissajohnston.com