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Vex, London

Vex is a unique architecture/sound collaboration. It is an in-situ concrete house which arose out of the collaboration between musician Robin Rimbaud (known as ‘Scanner’) and architects Chance de Silva.

Music and architecture both take as their starting point Erik Satie’s ‘Vexations’ – a looping, repetitive piano work that lasts around 18 hours in continuous performance. This is probably the first architecture/sound collaboration of this type since Le Corbusier/Xenakis/Varèse’s Philips Pavilion of 1958 – in that it was envisaged as an integrated design collaboration, with the music and architecture symbiotic and made in parallel, rather than the sound added later as an installation in an existing building.

Creating the continuously changing, fluted exterior concrete required formidable craftsmanship in making the boat-like formwork. Internally, exposed concrete ceilings, elements of wall and a single elliptical column create a warm, cave-like feel – although the building is paradoxically very light with window positions responding to Satie’s musical score as well as contextual and sunlight parameters.

Wherever an upper floor is pulled back from the one below, a crescent shaped rooflight results. Where an upper floor overlaps the one below, there is a reflective soffit of galvanized steel. The building is a very bold addition to a London conservation area (of predominantly Victorian houses). It nudges forward of the historic building line to give views down the street, capture sunshine around the clock, and look out towards a local landmark church.

Galvanized steel was an important ingredient in both constructing and finishing this unusual building. The whole exterior skin was cast against profiled galvanized sheet to give the building its characteristic fluted concrete appearance and texture. Crescent shaped galvanized sheet soffits, which subtly reflect the fluted façades, are used wherever part of the building projects beyond the floor below.

A characteristic feature internally is a curved galvanized Flow Forge grillage which defines spaces, provides guarding to staircases and acts as both dividers and screens. Reused profiled galvanized sheet from the exterior formwork is used as an internal finish to the walls in the ground floor studio. A galvanized ships ladder rises to the rooftop terrace where a circular larch fence enclosure is fixed on both sides of galvanized steel structural posts with curved flat horizontals.

Both inside and outside the variety of galvanized elements are used to complement the industrial character of VEX whilst adjusting comfortably to the building’s prolific use of curves. The galvanized finishes perfectly complement the use of raw concrete and untreated timber.

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Architect: Chance de Silva

Image: Hélène Binet, Chance de Silva

Posted on October 29, 2019 by Galvanizers Association

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