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Tube & Pipe
Monday | 06 May, 2013 | 12:26 pm

A London lullaby

By Nick Wright

Reclaimed metal pipes melodies through a tight space between two hospital buildings

May 2013 - In the Bloomsbury area of London, traditionally considered the city’s medical, educational and art hub, there are countless examples of the stark clash between old and new. Particularly at Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, a dense clot of a dozen buildings, where there is redevelopment underway to modernize the campus, which was founded in 1852.

But space is tight, as expected with hospital campuses in urban areas. Case in point: Last year, the hospital completed the Morgan Stanley Clinical Building construction, which sits adjacent to the 1930s Southwood Building, separated by a pedestrian corridor. It’s less than 3 feet between the buildings in some places.

The juxtaposition of Southwood’s weathered brick facade and Morgan Stanley’s broad windows is buffered by the Lullaby Factory, a jumble of pipes, horns and tanks that climbs 10 stories and reaches 105 feet in length. It appears as though it were the industrial set of a sci-fi movie.

MM-0506-webex-tube-image1Beyond cleverly reinventing the Southwood Building’s facade, which was already laden with functioning pipes and vents, the Lullaby Factory is interactive for visitors, staff and, most importantly, patients. It carries a 10-minute melody, composed by sound artist Jessica Curry, that children can hear at listening pipes next to the cafeteria, or by tuning to a radio station from the wards. 

It’s an impressive labyrinth of old and new metalwork, as well. Architecture firm Studio Weave, London, designed Lullaby Factory to incorporate several materials, depending on their interaction with existing elements and the public.

Most of the components and gramophone-style horns are made from spun and fabricated aluminum, with the gold and copper hues induced with tinted lacquer.

“We like that it’s not always obvious what was there before and what is new,” says Esme Fieldhouse, architectural assistant at Studio Weave.

There are also old taps and gauges reclaimed from a boiler house that was in the process of being decommissioned during construction. They were reassembled with the help of sound engineers. Collaborating with nearby engineering firm Structure Workshop and fabricator AB3 Workshops, Studio Weave solved the problem of working in the tight space of two existing buildings, as well as pipework already there. They used a 3-D scan to resolve the found, proprietary and bespoke elements that comprise Lullaby Factory.

The feedback on Lullaby Factory has drawn some interesting comparisons, says Fieldhouse. Jeremy Hunt of Art & Architecture Journal, a British magazine and blog, described it as a “fantasy steampunk-story-sound-machine with architectural elements of Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace,” and Constant Nieuwenhuys’ “New Babylon,” combined with the science-fiction vision of J. G. Ballard’s “Vermilion Sands,” and Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” with the last reference most striking.

Although the Southwood Building, upon which Lullaby Factory is affixed, will reach the end of its life and is due to be demolished in 15 years, the pipework is an aesthetic improvement on a space that can only be seen from within the hospital. MM

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