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Bartlett Buildings: Wates House

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Wates House was used intensively for nearly 40 years, seeing The Bartlett go through decades of ideological, pedagogical and demographic evolution.

Bartlett Buildings: Wates House

Wates House, home to The Bartlett from 1975–2014 when the building was vacated to make way for its transformation into what is now 22 Gordon Street.

Credit: M. Clayton

Wates House was constructed in the 1970s to unite the various parts of The Bartlett, then known as the ‘School of Environmental Studies’, and supported by a £450,000 grant from the Wates Foundation.

It was necessary for the building to provide an assortment of workshops, demonstration rooms, laboratories, seminar rooms, offices and a library to support the work of approximately 180 undergraduates, 200 postgraduates and 90 staff members. The Architects’ Co-Partnership (known as ACP) was commissioned to produce designs, which were informed by a committee of staff and students.

A six-storey block was devised for a narrow rectangular site bordered by Gordon Street to the west, Endsleigh Gardens to the north, and Taviton Street to the east. This site was formerly occupied by the Endsleigh Hotel, converted from a row of terraced houses developed by the prolific builder Thomas Cubitt in the first half of the 19th century.

Built to blend in

Planning restrictions limited the height and appearance of the new building, favouring a conservative approach. Wates House had a reinforced-concrete frame faced with brickwork to cohere with the appearance of neighbouring Bloomsbury terraced houses. Narrow brick buttresses divided the elevations into regular bays, each containing paired windows with aluminium frames. The block had a mansard roof of timber construction, covered with asphalt.

The internal configuration of the block was centred on a pair of stairwells at the east and west ends of the building, adjacent to lifts and lavatories, enclosed by reinforced-concrete walls. The remainder of each floor was divided into rooms by partition walls, which promised adaptability for future use. A porch opened into a reception with a beadle’s box and an open area designed to host exhibitions. The ground floor also contained administrative offices and a seminar room, while a car park at the east end of the block was accessed from Taviton Street.

An extensive basement was devoted to workshops, laboratories and studios, and a small yard to the south provided space for experiments. The Bartlett also had access to the large auditorium in the adjacent Christopher Ingold Building.

Bartlett Buildings: Wates House

Wates House had a reinforced-concrete frame faced with brickwork to cohere with the appearance of Bloomsbury terraced houses.

Credit: M. Clayton, UCL Image Store

Offices vs open-plan

The first, second, third and fourth floors of Wates House contained an assortment of open-plan student workspaces, seminar rooms and staff offices. According to a committee report published in October 1972, this configuration reconciled “an overwhelming staff preference for individual rooms” with an inclination among students for “shareable, unassigned spaces to accommodate different sizes of activity groups and varying and unpredictable kinds of activity”.

The fifth floor contained a large library, which was described in the The Architects’ Journal (AJ) as “a pleasant room with a fine view north”. An apartment, offices and a studio with a glazed wall were positioned at the extreme ends of the fifth floor. As there was no budget for furniture and fittings, the interior was finished sparingly with fluorescent lighting, linoleum flooring in the common areas, and carpets in offices and seminar rooms.

Wates House was not considered a success, even shortly after it opened in January 1975. An appraisal by the architect Dr Francis Duffy in the AJ pointed out that the design and planning of the building had been complicated by planning limitations, a tight budget and time constraints.

Despite these difficulties, Wates House accommodated every part of The Bartlett until the 1990s, when some departments were allocated space in 1–19 Torrington Place. The completion of Wates House was therefore an important milestone in the history of The Bartlett, as Duffy remarked: “For the first time it [was] possible for all the teaching and research groups to be in touch with each other in the common study of the built environment.”

The Bartlett Buildings series is produced by Amy Smith, Historian, Survey of London, part of The Bartlett School of Architecture.

The Bartlett is UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment, comprising 12 multidisciplinary schools, institutes and centres. Find out more:

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