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TfL West Ham Bus Garage: Top deck view: Pringle Richards Sharratt at West Ham

Chris Wilkinson, Architecture Today

West Ham Bus Garage is a distinguished addition to the lineage of wide-span structures, says Chris Wilkinson

The architecture of great industrial sheds had its roots in Albert Kahn’s heroic buildings for the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Corporation in the 1920s. The classic image of a vast horizontal shed, lined with an imposing row of chimneys, defines that era of American industrial growth with a new kind of architecture that was distinguished by a pragmatic functionalism with a clear expression of structure and materials. Times have changed and there is no place now for coal-fired boilers belching out smoke and pollution from their chimneys. Pringle Richards Sharratt’s recently completed West Ham Bus Garage is a new generation industrial building in which the chimneys are replaced by a wind turbine and the acres of industrial roofing and cladding by living greenery. It is reassuring that sustainable ideals are finding expression in such modest projects as this modern bus garage and it is quite right too if we are to make progress in cleaning up our act.

In 2006 Pringle Richards Sharratt took up the challenge of designing a huge garage for over 300 buses, with a low carbon footprint (they have achieved a reduction of about one third against the benchmark) and 25 percent renewable energy. The garage replaces two existing facilities located on the 2012 Olympic site and this project was seen as an opportunity to progress the aspirations of design champions at Transport for London and the London Development Agency. The development is part of a broader regeneration project for this run-down post-industrial wasteland and fits in to a masterplan by Sergison Bates for a mixed development which includes residential apartments. All of this is thoroughly laudable, with the proviso that there can be drawbacks to this kind of mix when issues such as noise and health and safety become problematic.

Pringle Richards Sharratt has taken this into account as a fundamental part of its design. The diagram very clearly places four 27-metre-span vaults in a north-south orientation with quiet activities such as offices and administration on the north, facing a future residential site. The noisier elements of the garage and bus parking are on the opposite side to the south. The architects identified that the distance from unattenuated noise of the nearest bedroom would be 175 metres and any activities closer than that had to be acoustically screened to avoid nuisance. This has increased the amount of roofed area but it has also served to reinforce the concept diagram. Buildings with complex circulation patterns have to be based on a really clear diagram and this inevitably becomes a generator for the architecture. West Ham
Bus Garage is no exception in this respect.

Visiting the site with John Pringle, he carefully described the layout of each of the major activities and explained why they were placed in their particular location. It quickly became apparent that every aspect of the design has been meticulously considered and skilfully planned. There’s no place here for the arbitrary randomness that has become fashionable in some architectural circles. This is a thoroughly rational design that is tailored to its brief and context, and the building adopts a responsible attitude both to its neighbours and the environment.

From the outside, the building appears friendly with plenty of soft landscaping along the eastern boundary to offset the inevitable vast areas of tarmac. The two outer vaults have visible green roofs which is surprising for a bus garage but nevertheless rather reassuring. It challenges one’s preconceptions about bus garages which one might imagine would conform to the genre of industrial tin sheds – though there have been some rather spectacular examples in the past, not least Stockwell Garage (1952) in south London with its voluptuous curved concrete vaults and Oliver Hill’s Newbury Park bus station (1950) with its copper-clad barrel-vault.

But West Ham sets an entirely new standard for twenty-first century bus garages, developing themes present in other Pringle Richards Sharratt buildings such as the Winter Garden in Sheffield, the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum in Coventry and the History Centre in Hull. All of these buildings experiment with curved laminated timber structures and embody a sustainable agenda. That’s not to say that West Ham is formulaic, for it has an unusual hybrid structure of timber laminated three-pinned arched ribs supported on concrete buttresses at the perimeter and upturned steel V-shaped columns between vaults. This economical structural solution has elegant proportions and the connection details are well resolved.

The space created within the four 27 by 81 metre vaults is generous but not overbearing. There is sufficient space to park 60 buses beneath the two outside vaults (and another 240 in the yard) with room to manoeuvre, but the workshops in the two inner vaults provide comfortable spaces to work in with plenty of good natural light from overhead skylights. These are pleasant workmanlike spaces without any ‘municipal’ overtones. Similarly the office and staff recreation spaces are light, airy, well-designed modern workspaces. They are not luxurious but use clean self-finished materials that are fit for purpose and they seem to be treated with respect by the bus drivers who evidently enjoy their new conditions. In many ways West Ham is an exemplary bus garage which should set a benchmark for the future. My fear is that, in capturing the spirit of optimism and relative affluence of the early twenty-first century, it may not be repeated in these new times of austerity.

Chris Wilkinson is a director of Wilkinson Eyre, 2001 and 2002 Stirling Prize winner. He is a Royal Academician and author of Supersheds (1995).

Project team
Architect: Pringle Richards Sharratt; design team: John Pringle, Malcolm McGregor, Karsten Weiss, David de Sousa, Daniel Jones, Simone Ruschmeier, Mung Ying Hon, Kai Ming Wong, Katherine Graham, Mark Gregory, Mandy Chiang; civil, structural, mechanical & electrical engineer, fire engineer, flood-risk: Arup; qs: Tillyard & Partners; project manager, CDM coordinator: CPC; acoustic consultant: Halcrow; transport consultant, ecological consultant: Capita Symonds; air quality: AECOM Faber Maunsell; landscape architect: Edward Hutchison Landscape Architects, Peter Thurman; engineer (temporary garage): White Young Green; archaeology: Museum of London Archaeological Service; planning consultant: Tribal MJP; approved inspector: HCD Building Control; geotechnical surveys: Stats; client: Transport for London, London Bus Services, London Development Agency.

Selected suppliers and subcontractors
Main contractor: Mansell Construction Services; groundworks, rc frame: Gallagher Piling, Keller; unexploded bomb detection: Bactec; steel frame, glulam beams: B&K Structures, Kaufmann; specialist engineering equipment: Smith Brothers Webb, ASD; roof and wall cladding: Kalzip, Kingspan, Lakesmere; sectional overhead doors and roller shutters: Crawford Doors; lifts: Otis; stone cladding: Marble Mosaic; m&e services: Briggs & Forrester; curtain walling, glazing: Colorminium; aluminium glazing supplier: Schuco; blockwork: Grangewood; windows: Laser Cladding; timber windows: Rationel; raised flooring: Carrino; fuel stations, storage tanks: Cameron Forecourt; metal doors: Ingersoll Rand; timber internal doorsets: Handles & Fittings; architectural metalwork: Specialised Fabrications; decorations: K&M McLoughlin; floor and wall tiling: Linton Ceramics; specialist joinery: BW Consultants; diamond drilling, chasing: J Hare; pit steelwork: Glentworth; glazed block wall: Greenfield; utilities infrastructure: Beach Communication; mastic: Structural Sealants; soft floor finishes: Tyndale; fire stopping: FP Ninety Three; insulated render: Permarock Products, BR Hodgson; glazed screen: BW Consultants; fuel and wash building: JM Piling, Thompson Roofing; soft landscaping: Deacon Landscapes; wind turbine: Perpetual Energy, Mitie Engineering; window film: The Window Film Co; blinds: Claxton Blinds; signage: Tara Signs.

West Ham Bus Garage achieves an overall 33.5 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared with a benchmark industrial/office building. This is made up of 7.7 per cent carbon dioxide reduction through energy-efficient design, including natural ventilation in offices, natural lighting and two micro-CHP units for hot water; 14.5 per cent carbon dioxide reduction from biomass boilers; and 11.3 per cent carbon dioxide reduction through the wind turbine. Of the total carbon reduction, 25.8 per cent is through on-site renewables. The London Mayor's target is 20 per cent.

© Architecture Today 2010