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thomas wensing portfolio 2013

was argued on the basis of historical research and supporting evidence done by the office, with the assistance of Julian Harrap. Before joining DCA I was a partner at two small firms; in 2008 at Studio Seventi and in 2009-2010 at Meld Architecture. In these positions I worked mainly on residential jobs, many of which gained planning permission but were not built. Throughout 2009 and 2010 running these firms was combined with a part-time teaching position at Kent University. The teaching activities included both seminars and studio projects, both in the bachelor as the masters programmes.


april 2013

thomas wensing architect A career is a combination of choice, chance and happenstance. Architectural projects are collaborative by nature, and yet the profession supports the myth of the individual genius. When honest the portfolio reflects the personal contribution to a project within this context. I attempt to clarify the background and ideas guiding the projects rather than to seduce with images. Since August 2010 I have been working as licensed architect at David Chipperfield Architects (DCA). My experience is wide-ranging and international, covering mainly residential and commercial work in The Netherlands, The UK and the United States. I would describe myself more as a generalist than a specialist, although I possess the tenacity and drive to see a project through to the end, I do get impatient when I am not intellectually challenged. I think it is important to acknowledge the larger societal and cultural role of architecture and not to limit architecture to a technical

pursuit. My activities in architecture have therefore moved beyond the office, to include teaching and writing. This includes regular contributions to Blueprint Magazine, Architecture Today and Building Design. I contributed to and edited the new monograph for David Chipperfield Architects, for which I conduct a series of interviews with David Chipperfield. Prior to being invited to work on the monograph of DCA, I worked on several projects as architect or architect in charge, with projects ranging from a large residential development in South London to an artist studio complex for the sculptor Antony Gormley. This project involved the conversion of the Grade I listed stables of High House in Norfolk to light and contemporary working spaces. I headed a small team during the preparation of two successful planning applications. As only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I, this process involved extensive negotiation with the local planning and heritage authorities. The case

From 2006 to 2008 I had my own practice in the Netherlands, while teaching part-time at a number of schools. At Tilburg Academy for Architecture I taught a first year masters studio with Sang Lee, I taught two summer schools with Jacob van Rijs (MVRDV) at the Academy for Architecture in Rotterdam (2006 and 2007), and I was module convenor of a third year bachelor module at Eindhoven University. In 2008 these activities led to being admitted to the Visiting Teacher’s Programme at the Architectural Association in London. In New York I worked as an architect at Bogue Trondowski Architects. Projects included a penthouse design on 9th Avenue, New York, NY, the design of a guest compound in Caribou County Idaho, and a bespoke kitchen for a house in Darien, CT. The kitchen was published in the Architectural Record in July 2007. Prior to my stay in the United States I worked for two large firms in the Netherlands, the most notable being Jo Coenen & Co Architekten, Amsterdam. In 2005 I graduated as a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University on a Fulbright Scholarship and a Columbia University grant. A Master of Architecture Degree from Delft University was awarded in 2001, and I am ARB registered architect in the UK and registered architect in the Netherlands.

Canada Water is being transformed from an area with a largely suburban, light industrial and commercial character to a town centre serving a larger district. Brownfield industrial sites have or will become available for development. The town centre is located in the London Borough of Southwark, next to Canada Water basin and the Canada Water Underground Station.

canada water new town centre

Sites C and E are located at the heart of Canada Water, north of Surrey Quays shopping centre. Its centrality is key in unlocking the development potential of the sites around it. The brief was therefore for a scheme which was flexibile enough to encourage continued development over time for the whole of Canada Water. The development is part of a park infrastructure and pedestrian and cycling network.

In April 2012 David Chipperfield Architects were invited to further develop a master plan designed by Maccreanor Lavington Architects. The design team consisted of four practices: Maccreanor Lavington and Claus & Kaan each designed a large perimeter block, Vogt Landscape Architects were responsible for the public realm and David Chipperfield Architects designed a set of three individual buildings at the centre of the development. The Stage C designs of David Chipperfield Architects were submitted as an outline planning application in December 2012, along with the outline proposals of Claus & Kaan Architecten, and a detailed planning application by Maccreanor Lavington.

Surrey Commercial Docks Canada Water in Rotherhithe is part of the former Surrey Commercial Dock site. The Luftwaffe bombed Rotherhithe extensively; dock infrastructure, housing and roads were completely destroyed. After 1945, the area was rebult, but from the late 1950s the port infrastructure migrated downriver. In December 1970, Surrey Commercial Docks were closed after almost three centuries of continuous opera-


The ambitions of Southwark Borough Council are for a new town centre with high quality housing, improved services and better and more retail provision. The town centre needs to become a denser, more active and more urban district, fully integrated in the wider urban fabric.

Thomas Wensing was part of DCA’s design team and jointly responsible for the preparation of the planning submission.

opened at Canada Water, with London Overground services following in 2010. This improved connectivity better integrated Canada Water with the rest of London and has shifted the focus of the wider area to Canada Water From 1981 the London Dockland Debasin. velopment Corporation redeveloped the area with predominantly low-rise Southwark’s Local Development housing, out-of-town retail sheds and Framework aims to develop Canada parks. In 1996 the area was handed Water as a Major Town Centre with an over to the London Borough of South- expansion of 35,000 m² of additional wark to continue the urban regenera- shopping and leisure space and 2,500 new high quality homes. tion. tion. In the decade following the closure, 90% of the 372 acres of dock systems were filled in. Canada Dock was renamed Canada Water and reduced to one third of its original size.

In 1999, the Jubilee Line extension



canada water

examples of cities, often with urban grid patterns, such as New York or Barcelona, show that the most attractive and lively urban spaces occur at

concept - urban frame


dense locations where the regularity of the pattern is interrupted. A sense of urbanity is experienced precisely at locations where anomalies exist. Examples are Times Square, Central Park in New York or along the Diagonal in Barcelona. (3) A synthesis of these two urban models is proposed: to create an “urban frame” which delineates a public leisure, to separate work from living, space within the grid structure of and to provide roomy and light apartblocks. In this space a family of obments surrounded by green. Over the jects can be placed; these create a seyears the performance of this model, especially in a social sense, has been questioned; the model of the ‘tower in the park’ was derided by the activist Jane Jacobs as “the tower in the parking lot”. (2)

Krakow Main Market Square with Town Hall Tower & Cloth Hall; building elements framed by urban form

Earlier versions of the masterplan consisted primarily of a grid pattern of urban blocks. (1.) During public consultation it became obvious that there was a need for improved pedestrian connections and attractive public spaces; places to use and inhabit. The challenge was therefore


to achieve a balance between density, a high concentration of uses and vibrant urban spaces. Historically modernist planning concepts such as the ‘Radiant City’ would promote generous spaces between build-

Gradually a more nuanced view on high rise living is developing, as evidenced by the adoption of the strategy of the ‘walking city’ by successive London Plans. The ‘walking city’ is an urban model which achieves higher densities at important public transport nodes, which encourages walking and cycling, and promotes mixeduse developments to stimulate urban activity. As a matter of fact, classical


ries of smaller spaces between them. The central square in Krakow, Poland, is a good example of how a large public space, forming the focus of culture and amenity in an area, can contain buildings that articulate the space into a series of smaller areas, and deliver the setting for landmark buildings. (4)


ings. The objectives were to free up the ground plane for transport and

Model of proposed master plan for Canada Water showing the building blocks set in the urban frame

The potential of Canada Water basin as an important amenity space is currently untapped. The activation of its edges is at the heart of the design 2.


A. B. 1.


1. Urban perimeter block by Maccreanor Lavington Architects, 2. Urban perimeter block by Claus & Kaan Architecten, A., B., & C. by David Chipperfield Architects

approach. The urban frame visually enlarges the space of the basin into the urban fabric (1). The placement of buildings on site has been guided by pedestrian flow, the attractiveness of views and the desire to achieve a healthy balance between enclosure and openness. The square will form an important node in pedestrian and cycling connections (2). The public spaces form part of larger green in-

canada water public realm


frastructure connecting the various green spaces and water bodies on the peninsula. In the square three buildings are organised around the Central Lawn. This soft landscape element is inspired by traditional London squares, such as Bedford Square, where a park at the centre offers respite from the city. A boulevard along the quay forms part of the pedestrian connection to Green-


Model study showing view of building a. and the steps of Canada Water basin

Model study showing view of building a., b, & c from Canada Water basin

land Dock and the shopping centre. Surrey Quays Road is lined with trees and a triangular pocket park marks the south east corner of the square.

c a n a d a - w a t e r- s k y l i n e

The three buildings A, B & C are a family of blocks set in a rectangular public space. The grouping contrasts with the predominantly brick architecture of the buildings around the square through its elemental quality and by introducing a classically refined modern architectural language and light palette of materials.

skyline & tower The datum line of the buildings in

and around the town centre is set at a height of 30m. Three existing towers rise above this datum; two point blocks of GLC’s Canada Estate and the recently completed Ontario Point. The townscape formed by these buildings is accidental but loosely grouped around the Underground Station. The height of the buildings drops off outside of the designated town centre boundary to the height of terrace houses and suburban cul-de-sacs. The hierarchy of urban spaces and

orientation for pedestrians will be improved through the densification of the town centre and the development of a skyline. The tallest building is the proposed landmark tower of 150m AOD, which straddles the south west corner of the basin. It forms the pinnacle of a skyline defined by earlier developments and the urban cluster formed by the urban perimeter blocks of Maccreanor Lavington and Claus & Kaan.

Building A The building is mixed-use, with 7 floors of residential space and ground floor retail (11,541m2 GEA total). The linear block creates a pedestrian street to the north and faces the square to the south. It is set at an angle to open up to the views of the basin. The volume is raised off five circulation cores and is cantilevered at either end. These cantilevers offer maximum visibility into the square and create usable space for the restaurant and café at the corners. The apartments have balconies which are wrapped around the volume, giving the building a strong horizontal emphasis.

cades are treated equally on all sides to avoid a front and back duality and serve as a dignified backdrop to the different character of the landscaped areas. The trabeated structure of the tower is expressed in the façade to form a zone of private amenity space around the building. The classical rigour of the column and beam frame offers shade in the summer, light in the

winter and gives depth to the façade.

Building C

Building B This mixed-use building features 19 residential floors, a ground floor mini market and an art-house cinema in the basement (16,211m2 GEA total). The building is placed along the curve of Surrey Quays Road and forms a backdrop to the square. It delineates a second tri-angular urban space along Surrey Quays Road. The fa-





detail view of building C

detail view of the slab and column structure of building B




Building C is a square tower of 41 storeys (27,431m2 GEA total) at the south east corner of the Canada Water basin. The tower is conceived as a slender and elegant column in the views with a classical arrangement of base, shaft and capital. The metal posts of the balconies give the tower a vertical emphasis, reminiscent of the fluting on a column. The ground floor is occupied by a café restaurant overlooking the square and basin. It is the desire of the clients that this building and its associated spaces should form a focal centre for the area.





View of the new town centre for Canada Water

Peabody Essex Museum Competition 2011 The Peabody Essex Museum consists of an agglomeration of buildings from various periods. The new expansion is composed of a group of smaller-scale blocks, each housing one or two intimate galleries, arranged around a courtyard in the space between the East India Marine Hall and the Yin Yu Tang house.

Menil Drawing Institute Competition 2012 The Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center will be the first of its kind: an institution solely dedicated to research, preservation and exhibition of modern drawings. A three storey building that distributes the program according to functional and lighting requirements is proposed. Its character and setting will be in harmony with the neighbourhood of pavilions set in parkland. The volume of the MDISC is sitting on a plinth and is primarily composed of three elements: a sculpted box, an arcade of thin columns, and a screen of glass at the upper level.

Elizabeth House Planning Application 2012 A proposal for two large mixed-use buildings at Waterloo Station, London: the North Building with office and residential accommodation, and the South Building with offices and retail at ground level. The project provides a total of 132,127m2 GEA of new development, as well as significant new high quality public realm at ground level. A fundament of the scheme is to establish a new forecourt for Waterloo Station. The profile of the North Building gives shape to a medium rise urban cluster around the station and is placed as to have as little impact on the views from Westminster, a World Heritage Site, as possible.

h i g h - h o u s e - s t u d i o

high house stables The artists Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons bought High House in 2010 and commissioned David Chipperfield Architects to transform the stables into a studio complex. Situated in 50 hectares of Norfolk parkland, this Grade I listed manor house in Greek Revival style was originally built in 1756, with the addition of the stable block and changes to the main house by the architect W.J. Donthorn in 1829. The existing stables consist of four towers arranged around a courtyard, a pedimented coach entrance facing east, and a fine gentleman’s entrance

portico to the south. The complex had been neglected for a number of years and was in need of extensive repairs. The project converts the stable block into a complex of studio, office and guest accommodation by roofing over the courtyard, creating a new link building between the house and the south west tower and upgrades and minor interventions to the manor house. The client envisioned a contemporary working facility which would offer the same light conditions and spatial clarity as a modern exhibition space. The building has outside walls with minimal fenestration and pitched roofs. The challenge was to intervene in a way which would do justice to quality and character of the existing fabric. The internal walls of the courtyard are

proposed to be raised with a double pitched skylight centred around the entrance portico. The masonry walls are patched and the roof structure has a timber finish to complement the original material palette. Thomas Wensing was project architect, successfully preparing two planning applications, and preparing a set of construction documents for the link building, which is scheduled for completion in summer 2013. All heritage documentation was prepared by him, with support of Julian Harrap. The role of project architect entailed liaising with client, local authority and regional heritage bodies (English Heritage, Cambridge), as well as various consultants.

W.J. Donthorn presentation drawing for High House renovation and proposed stables in Greek Revival style - 1829

High House south elevation existing

High House south elevation proposed

High House north elevation existing

High House north elevation proposed

h i g h - h o u s e - l i n k

model study for north facade of new link studio. Stables to the left, High House to the right.

high house link studio After planning application and listed building consent were granted for the conversion of High House at the end of 2011, the clients decided to phase the development. The priority was twofold; to put parts of the building in new use as soon as possible and to stabilise and renovate the areas most in need of repair. The original service link between the east wing of the manor house and the south west tower of the stable quadrangle had been almost completely demolished in the early 1950s. The tower had not been used as staff quarters for decades and was and in need of serious structural repair.

The service link used to consist of a formal front facade to the south, which was fortunately kept, and a vernacular building to the north.

crete block and steel I-beams. The plan form is simple, with the service spaces housed in the poche of the thick wall, abutting the historic fabric.

The exterior of the volume picks up On the basis of historic photographic the horizontal brick banding of the evidence, presented by the design main house. team, the conservation officer and The interior and furniture of the tower English Heritage permitted the new is in a material palette of timber, lime link building studio to have a similar plaster and steel to complement the duality; the front facade remains his- existing character of the building. torical, whereas the rear has a more industrial character. A single large sliding window in galvanised steel, the masonry wall in locally sourced Holkham Gault brick. The interior of the new sculpture studio is unpretentious and robust, with a tectonic language of loadbearing con-

ground floor plan link building proposed, not to scale

Model study of interior of link building in concrete block with galvanised steel doors

m e l d - a r c h i t e c t u r e

Great Percy Street Thomas Wensing worked for MELD on a number of projects and saw Great Percy Street through from preliminary design to completion. Great Percy Street is a Grade II Listed end-of-terrace in Islington, north Lon-

don. The clients sought to turn the low basement into guest accommodation and a small studio for the husband, who is a sound engineer. It was proposed to lower the floor throughout, to install a new oak stair, to turn the two former coal cellars underneath the street into a small bathroom and store, and to have a guest bedroom with

garden access at the rear. The recording space was constructed as a boxwithin-a-box and achieved a sound reduction of 70dB. The preparation of all the supporting heritage documentation for the planning application was done in house.

s t u d i o - s e v e n t i

Fransfield Grove

Upper Brockley Road

Dovercourt Road

Thomas Wensing worked on several designs while at Studio 70. Fransfield Grove was a planning application for an end-of-terrace block of three apartments. Concrete structure with timber cladding.

This project was an extension to an early Victorian property in a conservation area. A double storey volume accommodates a store and a bathroom off the landing. The lower volume is an extension to the kitchen living area with folding doors onto the garden.

Again in a conservation area, the extension wraps as a box around the existing house to create additional living space for this family of four.

b o g u e - t r o n d o w s k i

site plan











the completed log cabins at dusk

idaho compound 2005-2007 This project was completed while at Brogue Trondowski Architects, where Thomas Wensing worked as assistant architect from the initial design until the completion stages. The client works in Wall Street, and has a passion for fly fishing and nature preservation. The compound sits in a sparsely populated valley at an elevation of over 6,500 feet surrounded by

magnificent views of distant mountain The open plans of the cabins help to ranges. make the small interiors appear spaThe complex rises just slightly above cious. Originally, the compound conthe landscape with the cabins infor- sisted of four log cabins, in various mally grouped around a local dip in stages of dilapidation. It proved necthe undulating prairie grass. These essary to use the logs of one of the cabins were built by the first wave of outbuildings for repair of the others. The cabins were braced, temporarily settlers in this part of the country. relocated, and hoisted onto their new The architectural concept for the new foundation. Steel structural reinforceinterventions was to create cor-ten ments have been hidden in new partisteel boxes which would erode or in- tion walls. trude the archetypical house shape.

kitchen - darien CT - 2006 This project was designed by Thomas Wensing at Bogue Trondowski Architects, with the help of Associated Fabrication, Brooklyn, NY. Small projects are often testing grounds for new ideas. This one allowed us to experiment with materials

and fabrication methods. The cabinets are sheathed in solid matte acrylic. Handles are custom CAD-CAM milled out of the faces. The acrylic allows the new kitchen to read as a sharp translucent insert. Corners are dissolved by foldaway panels, cutouts, and bold cantilevers, maximising the space and creating a dynamic link between kitchen, living and dining room.Its re-

finement complements the existing, Japanese-inspired house. A desk, dumb waiter and flat screen television are hidden in the cabinets. The kitchen was published in the Architectural Record, July 2007













68 Thomas Wensing contributes regularly to magazines Blueprint, Architecture Today, & BD

>>BOOK BRINKMAN & VAN DER VLUGT ARCHITECTS By Joris Molenaar NAi 010 publishers, £40 Review by Thomas Wensing


Right: Rotterdam’s Van Nelle Factory, by practice Brinkman & van der Vlugt, had a profound influence on architecture


The director of the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, Kees van der Leeuw (1890-1973), found himself with an acute problem in 1925 – his architect Michiel Brinkman had died. With a new site bought and the existing premises bursting at the seams, a successor needed to be found urgently. Jan Brinkman, the architect’s son, was still studying civil engineering and deemed too inexperienced to take on the assignment. The young and talented modernist Leen van der Vlugt was approached, and the firm Brinkman & van der Vlugt was born. Even though the office had specialised in industrial buildings, the task was daunting and new staff were drawn from avant-garde circles to meet the high expectations of the client. After all, van der Leeuw had towering ambitions – he wanted a building which would still be modern in 25 years’ time. Brinkman & van der Vlugt, under the direction of van der Vlugt, became one of the leading and most prolific modernist architectural practices in the Netherlands before the war. With the unique combination of a progressive clientele and talented staff (most memorably the communist Mart Stam from 1926-28), it set out to create a string of remarkable buildings, and aimed to transform the future of Rotterdam. In doing so the practice was able to exert an international influence on architecture, of which the Van Nelle Factory is the most noteworthy example.

The progressive influences on the architecture of Van Nelle were diverse; from Theosophy to New Objectivity, from Fordism to Russian Constructivism. It resulted in a project in which, as English architect William Curtis so eloquently put it, ‘the pragmatic was transcended, idealised, given a poetic, expressive presence... matters of which style is only an outward manifestation’. The factory attracted much attention, even before it was finished; it was included in the Die Wohnung exhibition of the Werkbund in Stuttgart in 1927, and in 1932 was adopted by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock as an example of International Style architecture. The canonisation of this single building in the historiography of modernism has had, of course, the unintended side-effect of drawing attention away from the other innumerable accomplishments of Brinkman & van der Vlugt, and from the larger historical and geographical contexts of these developments. The English language monograph Brinkman & van der Vlugt Architects – Rotterdam’s City Ideal in International Style, largely fills this lacuna, and specifically focuses on the role played by the office’s attempt to redesign Rotterdam along modernist lines. In doing so it offers a welcome addition to the literature available in English on these important topics, but in its aim to appeal to a wider audience accuracy and depth of interpretative analysis are lost. Molenaar, an architect who has beautifully restored many of Brinkman & van der Vlugt’s buildings, has been researching its work since the early Eighties and has made

THE PRACTICE SET OUT TO CREATE A STRING OF REMARKABLE BUILDINGS AND AIMED TO TRANSFORM THE FUTURE OF ROTTERDAM valuable contributions on the topic in many publications. As a researcher his stance is pragmatic and his attitude post-ideological. He is of the opinion that assessment of the work ought to be based on evidence and primary sources to avoid an ‘excess of ideologically motivated historiographical speculation’. While such a stance is laudable in principle, it runs the risk of overlooking the fact that the works were built in an era that was deeply ideological, and that you could rewrite history by omission or even through misrepresentation. The most troubling example of not fully acknowledging the complexity of different ideological positions is his freewheeling use of the term ‘International Style’ in the book. Ideology is inescapable in history writing, and the International Style of Hitchcock and Johnson is in itself a thorny bedfellow; they were, after all, pursuing an agenda by glossing over the leftist leanings of many of the modernist architects. Furthermore, Hitchcock openly rejected the functionalist adage to which many of the European architects subscribed. So the bringing together of many different strands of modernism under the misnomer of International Style unduly focused on formal expression, to the detriment of the polemical and programmatic substance of these works.

If I were to follow the logic of using primary sources truthfully, I would refer to the architecture in the same manner as the architects would refer to it themselves, which is ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’ or ‘Nieuwe Architectuur’. The closest English translation would be ‘New Architecture’. It is a fact that van der Vlugt was first and foremost a builder and he detested ‘people who would like to skip building and start with urban planning and world reforming straight away’. He was not stylistically or theoretically dogmatic, and he gained respect from his contemporaries for his craftsmanship and technical skill. This neutral attitude is not the same as to imply that his position was mainly form-driven and stylistic, however; van der Vlugt’s concern was to make architecture both useful and beautiful, and sometimes he complained that his clients did not understand the sobriety of the New Architecture. Interestingly enough, he was offered positions in the USA, which he declined because he was of the opinion that American architecture was not modern enough. He died in 1936 at the age of 42, following a two-month visit to the USA. Le Corbusier remembered him thus: ‘It is an immense grief to know that we will not meet again and we will no longer see his talent flourish, especially at a time when, once again, the horizon opens itself up, and architecture is to become the predominant activity of a new society wishing to furnish itself in the service of man and man will no longer be grinding mechanically under the dominance of the power of money.’ A more beautiful riposte to the vacuity of Hitchcock and Johnson cannot be imagined.

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A magazine on the architectural work of Thomas Wensing