Sitting at the south-eastern corner entrance of London’s Design District, the recently completed D2 building by Mole Architects adds another compelling layer to the diverse urban fabric that the creative hub has become known for.
Officially opened in the fall of 2021 in the city’s Greenwich Peninsula neighbourhood, the Design District was envisioned by developer Knight Dragon as an intentionally eclectic yet purpose-built community specifically for creative industries. To avoid even a whiff of homogeneity, the development firm recruited eight separate architecture studios and tasked them with designing two buildings each, requesting that they effectively work in a silo to ensure that each contribution had its own unique physical identity. The result: 16 individually expressive buildings that have no bearing or influence on their direct neighbours.
Mole Architects’ first building for the community was C2, a squat ziggurat that now houses studio spaces and a test kitchen. Clad in weathered Corten steel panels arranged on the diagonal, the three-storey structure made for a dazzling addition to the pedestrian-only district.
With its new counterpart, D2 (all buildings are named according to their position on the area’s masterplan), the Cambridge-based architecture firm has struck a similarly striking note, this time using aluminum with a lustrous finish as its external material of choice.
While structurally distinct, the two buildings share a commonalty in that they both pay homage to the area’s history as one of Europe’s largest gasworks. With C2, this plays out through its rusty metallic facade, a clever reference to the industrial gasometers that once dotted the landscape here; D2, on the other hand, “conjures the shifting shades of a gas flame.”
To achieve this ever-changing shimmering effect, the studio, which is helmed by architect and founder Meredith Bowles, adorned the 748-square-metre rhombus-shaped building with aluminum sheets, factory-painted with an iridescent finish and folded into approximately 500 fins. The resulting pyramid profiles of the pleated metal glints in the sunlight, an effect compounded by the irregular shape of the building, which is only glimpsed in fragments between the surrounding buildings. “We wanted the building to feel ‘alive,’” says Bowles. “The fins catch the light in an exciting way that changes throughout the day.”
For the structure of D2 (which spreads five independent workspaces across its three levels), Bowles selected one of his and his firm’s preferred building materials: Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). Requiring roughly half the energy output of concrete, CLT also acts as a carbon sink and, holistically, elevates the wellbeing of the building’s occupants.
To that end, the timber was left exposed on interior walls and stairwells, lending the modern design a natural characteristic; the inherent beauty of the material also meant that painting or finishing the walls with another material was unnecessary, which allowed for a fast build.
To beef up the energy efficiency, the walls were lined with a phase-change material that absorbs and stores heat, keeping the interior spaces cool when the outside temperature rises. Furthermore, strategically placed openable side panels naturally vent air through perforations in the aluminum cladding. A butterfly roof with integrated triangular skylights allows plenty of light into the entire building from above, while windows in different sizes were arranged to best access both the sun and the views – the largest ones at the base flood the street-level interior with tons of natural light, smaller ones on the upper levels frame the generous views of the sky.
Each window is complemented with an external blind to minimize solar gain and a side glass fin with a dichroic inner layer that “refracts and reflects light into separate colours” and amplifies the glimmering effect of the metallic exterior.
The smallest of the 16 buildings that constitute the Design District, D2 is in no way overshadowed by the buildings it rubs shoulders with. Instead, it commands attention and injects new energy into the celebrated diversity of the creative hotspot.
Clad in shimmering aluminum fins, D2 by Mole Architects doubles down on the eclectic vibrancy of London’s Design District.