Analysis Of The Piece Of Architecture: The Watchman At New Malden
Throughout the course of this piece I will be writing about a building of my choice that has had little or major work done within the last 10 years and writing about it in two separate views a democratic architecture perspective and through the social life of architecture. I have chosen a building currently called the watchmen, it is situated at the end of Burlington road, New Malden in Surrey, the town that was arguably founded in 1846 when the first trainline direct from waterloo, the “Watchman” opened 46 years later in 1892 with its purpose to become the areas “watch house”. With the idea that It would become a meeting point for all the local watchmen to help control and maintain the areas fast growth in population and it was deemed a good idea as the nearest headquarters was around 3 miles away in the larger town of Kingston upon Thames where it’s first station closed 50 years earlier in the 1840s when the area became a part of the metropolitan police district all coming down to the need of expansion. The purpose for the new watch house would be to hold all the necessary equipment and facilities such as cells for prisoners and a large covered parade for the officers to be able to carry out all their routine practice sessions becoming one of the largest stations in the area. The station managed to stay open until 1998 after the building had a “renovation estimate of £750,000” and a decision was made to shut it down as it was deemed not “cost effective”. But never the less still deemed as a “local landmark”.
After a couple years of campaigning and “won widespread public support” a decision to re-open the station was made and to man it with volunteers to become an information centre and was later joined by police and a dog unit but unfortunately that wasn’t to last long due to more cuts within the force. The main campaigner said, “he would vigorously campaign to keep the station open, but fears police property services may be determined to sell.”
Which his predictions were correct when the building was later sold to JD Wetherspoons a popular chain pubs and hotels who are well known to purchase buildings with a great deal of history and then converting them into their pubs decorating them with history about the building and its surrounding area creating a rich atmosphere. The founder of JD Wetherspoons, Tim Martin, made a quote on the Wetherspoons website saying, “We take immense pride in the restoration and refurbishment of wonderful buildings into Wetherspoon pubs. We feel that it is right to celebrate the history of the buildings.” An idea that makes its customers feel like they’re in their local pub rather than the generic look that you associate with a “chain”. The architect who carried out this renovation, Lawrence Beckingham Field, who has worked alongside Wetherspoons in many of it projects across London has carried on the tradition by decorating the walls with a story of New Malden alongside an extension and a memorial garden for a 23-year-old officer who was shot and killed back in 1881 this became a huge tragedy to the community with over 1500 officers coming to pay their respects at his funeral.
“What is demographic Architecture” “Architecture might be called demographic if it could encourage or aid the people living or working in them to engage in democratic politics, but buildings cannot shape political behaviour.” I would agree with part of Ockman’s statement about democratic architecture but when it comes to “The Watchman” we see on countless occasions that it doesn’t matter if you don’t live or work in that building it may just be that the building itself has generated such a huge amount of history that it can still have a major impact in aiding people to want to get involved in politics. A perfect example of this is before the Watchman became a pub the original application proposed be that part of the police station be demolished to make room for an extension to hold a public house as well as 2 flats on the upper levels a one bed and one two bed flat but from 137 neighbours, a site and press notice consultation the planning department received 4 petitions with 672 signatures and 9 letters of objections along with 13 reasons for concern including “Harmful to area and street scene, Increase in litter and graffiti, Noise and disturbance and that the proposed would encourage increase in anti-social behaviour and crime”. Whether it be the history of the building or even just the location of the building I think that it would all come under the Ockman’s statement of encouraging a person to engage in democratic politics even if in this sense the politics is not the same as he intended it to be.
Being one of the two only pubs within a 500m radius, the other being just across the road a pub called “the fountain” a local pub that’s been a part of the “Greene King” the “leading chain operator” (Karina Dsouza, 2019 since 1998 another building that’s grown to become one of the faces of New Malden) this was until 2018 when Greene king’s 20-year lease with the building was coming to an end which closed later that year in June after the decision to not renew the lease was made. I’m sure many of the locals to New Malden like to ponder whether If the watchman were not to open would Greene king of renewed the fountains lease to carry on serving the locals of New Malden their evening entertainment? Although hindsight’s a beautiful thing the pub unfortunately didn’t and an application for redevelopment of the site which would reduce the square meterage from 413 to 214 by removing the garden, carpark and also all the extensions that has been added to the pub in the 20th century leaving only its original 19th century build and turning into 43 new flats which is Ironic really seeing as the Watch-house within its early stages of the application it was refused planning to turn the upper two floors into 2 flats due to the number of petitions they received with one of the main points that the “proposed extension was excessive in size” with another point being that there was “inadequate parking provided” yet this new development just across the road that’s proposing 43 new flats is only providing 17 parking spaces. Whilst also taking a U-turn on these ideas they have also decided that as Liz Meerabeau, chair of New Malden residents association, says “lose amenities such as the car park, the pub garden and the flower stall, which brightened that corner” also when removing the pubs original car park that would also mean putting a stop to the farmers market and Korean festival which is a big part of New Malden’s culture this will become a great loss to the locals not just to lose these assets but also the stopping of them could lead to the visitors that come to New Malden specifically for the market or the festival to stop.
Due to the fact that the watchman was previously a police station with its extensive history dating back to the 1890’s the process when coming to planning was never going to be a straight forward deal but Wetherspoons having become quite familiar with the planning process and how strict they can be this doesn’t seem to faze them into avoiding these sort of situations having over the years dealt with situations such as their latest encounter purchasing a grade 2 listed building, the state cinema, Essex back in 2015. A former art deco cinema that opened up back in 1938 being able to seat 2200 customers which later closed 50 years later in 1988 and since then becoming used for a church and a nightclub. In 2000 Mike Ostler reported that the states listed status was upgrading from a grade 2 to a grade 2* just months before being sold to Morrisons with a clause that they had to maintain the cinemas condition until later being sold again in 2006 which according to Neil Speight they failed to carry out their promise saying, “The State, in Grays which has been empty for a decade, has fallen into disrepair since it was sold to Morrisons as part of the deal which allowed the firm to build a supermarket and car park.” The new owners suggested they had plans to restore it, but 9 years went on and nothing was done until Wetherspoons purchased it in 2015 which in accordance to the planning requirement they intend to restore not only the building but the original organ too making it a “centrepiece”. For sensitive projects like the Watchman and the State when it comes to planning and the neighbouring areas whilst many people embrace the change, like Thurrock’s MP Jackie Doyle-Price with her supporting comment “I’m always keen to welcome new investment in the borough and the arrival of Wetherspoons will help catalyse the night-time economy that Grays needs.” And also labour parliamentary candidate Polly Billington “It’s good to see something happening to the State after years of neglect. However, the building should be more than just a pub and should benefit the whole community, if possible.” with additional claims that they’re also asking whether they could also provide live music and comedy shows to help keep some of the original entertainment factor alive some unfortunately do not see the change as a good thing like Albert Gosnal, an activist who set up a page on Facebook dedicating it to trying to save the state cinema. He gave a comment to the Thurrock’s Gazette saying “It would be very sad, and somehow I do not think it could ever be a success as the town as a place to be sociable was killed when they built Lakeside.” This comment referencing the shopping centre in Grays.
Like the state cinema, the Watchman came across the problems early on in its planning process, as mentioned earlier on the first application was denied turning the upper floors into flats as the scale of the project was too excessive 3 years later Wetherspoons later got planning permission to start building after the architect Lawrence Beckingham Field refined the plans removing the flats from the upper levels and extending just the ground floor keeping it all in line with the existing pitched roof (right) whilst doing this also creating a new entrance into the extension whilst also setting the extension 11 metres back from the east neighbours property. Many of the conditions that would lead to the application being accepted had a lot to do with the noise that would be created by the buildings use which was that the building was not to exceed 5db a metre from any of the façade that backed on to the neighbouring houses, whilst working with Spectrum acoustic consultants, lead to the implementation of extra acoustic insulation was added into the design. The layout of the interior also plays a big part in becoming a natural sound block which as you can see by my diagram on the left, the placement of the areas where the customers would interact with each other all face towards the road with the exception of the ones that face into the yard which as I stated before sits 11 metres back from the neighbouring house to ensure any sound that travels though is lost as it travels across the yard. You then have all the other rooms such as the cellar, toilets and storage act as a natural sound block and finally the kitchen which is also set back from the neighbour’s garden by 2 metres. As one of the biggest concerns was noise levels a couple more conditions were put in place such as they were not to be permitted to have any TV’s on the walls or audio systems and the pub must not be in use to customers outside of the opening hours which were 9:00 – 23:30 Monday to Saturdays and 10:00 – 22:30 on Sundays and bank holidays until May 2018 when they were granted extended opening hours which were 8:00 – 23:30 7 days a week.
For the social aspect of the building it becomes almost a necessity for the space to allow its customers to gain a sense of feeling welcomed and comfortable almost as though you were at home, giving them the ability to relax and enjoy themselves, which is kind of funny seeing as when you think of a police station these feelings are probably the last that you would associate with and you could probably go as far to say that sometimes you would feel intimidated by being inside and you most definitely wouldn’t feel at home, well… I guess that all comes down to how many encounters you have had. All these feelings that are felt when you walk into a building, depending on what the purpose of it is, all comes down to how the building is designed to make you feel, and depending on whether the feelings that are portraited is how it was intended is how a building can become either a success or a failure. According to an article written by Shirangi Vats on “Impact of Architecture on human psychology” she says that “An architect can control human behaviour with his design by understanding the way that a building’s design can influence a person’s behaviour, thus, modifying the individual’s mood and perception, whether the environment is natural or man-made.”
In this case, being a pub, a failure to create an atmosphere that makes you feel welcomed would lead to customers not wanting to spend their time and money which would eventually lead to the place closing. Design features change within the Watchman depending on where you are within the pub for example to the right you have an image from the Watchman that shows you the bar on the right hand side and on the left you have part of the seating area this image is a perfect example, by the bar as you can see you have a large skylight alongside the brighter lights, a screed floor and taller ceilings to make you feel more spacious giving you the sense that you want to interact with others not just those who you’re with to show you this is where you’re served. Then on the left hand side you go to the more intimate areas where you would usually interact with your own group this is where features such as: atmospheric lighting giving you the feeling that the ceiling lower, more relaxed and the use of textured wallpapers with carpets to give you the feeling as if you’re in your front room come into play all these are carried on throughout the pub with a few extra features such as lower ceiling, fabric on the wall wrapping up onto the ceiling, wall fixtured lights, making sure the tables have a decent space between them and booths back to back with high headrest to block out the vision of other making you feel as though you’re alone. All these give the place a character, a character that you would associate with your own home. A place where you feel safe to relax and “let your hair down” all photos cleverly placed giving the customer something to look at and discover the history throughout their stay keeping them intrigued which according to Tom Strother, an interior designer and co-founder for Fabled studio , “It’s the small details that make a restaurant great and whilst they’re details that guests may not necessarily notice at first, they reveal themselves once you start to look in more detail and absorb your surroundings.”
Even with all these design features that are implemented within the watchman I can’t help but to still find it ironic how a police station, especially one of the less generic looking ones, and one that you could say just by looking at it that it had more of a personality to it than the everyday bog standard police stations that you see and how it could go from being a symbol and a main asset when it comes to being able to uphold the law and with its presents in the area would come with the ability to make the area feel safe can be turned into an establishment, that was argued by many in the area during the application process, that it could potentially encourage one of its main causes for disturbance and a rise in crime within the area which according to AlchoRehab 40% of all convictions are down to abusing alcohol. Which with those facts you could understand why the locals wouldn’t want another free house in the area.
Although it is a high percentage in crimes that are committed whilst under the influence of alcohol abuse there are many precautions a company like Wetherspoons can and do to help prevent situations escalating into committing a crime and some of them include rules such as they should refuse to serve anyone who should appear drunk, the ability to take drinks off of anyone who appears drunk and having security, those who in the pub help those who may have been served too much due to poor judgement and those of are on the door to prevent from people entering if they’re already to intoxicated to prevent them from drinking anymore. All these precautions are put in place to ensure that an application like the watchman can be approved to give people a space in which they can go to and socialise instead of going home to an empty flat where they’d feel lonely or a place where you go to meet your friends after a long week at work or even its just somewhere to take your mum and dad out for dinner and even though the Watchman’s original purpose was to make the people in the area feel a sense of security its new purpose gives a place to the community that I feel has been successfully designed to allow an individual to feel as though it’s their home away from home and has created a safe environment once again. “Many people find it hard to open their hearts and share their feelings and problems. However, social interaction where people can express their feelings and share their problems with other people has a beneficial outcome on human health.”
It doesn’t matter when the renovations take place whether the applications submitted in 2007 in New Malden or 2015 in Thurrock there will always be someone who has an attachment to the building whether that be because of a memory that the building helped generate or even if it’s just the architecture itself, I guess that’s the beauty of architecture it and even though it could become a problem as an architect you have to admire that someone would want to fight for your design but you also have to realise that architecture has to grow and something that is designed 127 years ago may not fit the requirements of today’s needs it’s with these kinds of challenges that leads to a better designs. The ability of taking a cherished piece of architecture and expanding it in a way that doesn’t just fit the requirements but also compliments the original piece so that it can satisfy everyone whilst also carrying on inspiring new people to want to learn about its history and how it’s come to be what it is.
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