Name: Gasholders
Location: Kings Cross, London
Client: Argent

Franchi Celebrates Collaboration with WilkinsonEyre

A Central London Landmark


This case study tells the story of the collaboration between Franchi and architects WilkinsonEyre, as part of a landmark architectural scheme led by Founding Director Chris Wilkinson (1945-2021). It is the story of translating an architect’s moment of inspiration into a unique but practical object enjoyed in everyday use.

Kings Cross is the largest urban redevelopment scheme in Europe, and the rich industrial heritage of the area is integral to its renaissance. Among the most distinctive and beautiful features to be retained is the triplet of Grade II-listed, cast-iron gasholder guide frames which were originally constructed in 1867. The triplet was abandoned as heavy industry moved to the outskirts of the city, and was dismantled in 2001 to allow for the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Designing a Unique and Memorable Handle


To reuse the structures, WilkinsonEyre worked with developers Argent on proposals for a residential scheme composed of three drums of accommodation at differing heights to suggest the movement of the original gasholders, which would have risen up or down depending on the pressure of the gas within. The scheme provides 145 apartments, a private gym and spa, a business lounge and an entertainment suite with screening room, bar reception area and private dining room. Apartments are accessed through a central courtyard, each drum volume with its own atrium and core. These are linked by a series of circular walkways which surround the courtyard, where light is reflected in a central water feature. The ‘pie’ shaped configuration of the plan forms open-plan apartments with expansive views and a variety of orientations.

In plan, the interlocking circles of the triplet resembled a traditional watch mechanism, giving Chris Wilkinson the idea that the  internal finishes of the building should have the finest possible details, and that the ironmongery and finishes should have a glittering, jewel-like quality. This also chimed well with Argent’s aspirations that Gasholders should be the flagship development of the Kings Cross masterplan and have the highest possible quality details inside and out.

Turning the Vision into Reality


The idea for the design began with the vision that the handles would present a pleasingly tactile welcome to residents and complete the experience of the building as a totally designed entity. It started with a sketch for a flat lever handle cut in a triangle with scallop-shaped undulations on the inside to accommodate fingers; the length and intervals of the scallops were revised during the prototyping in the London studio. The overall feel aimed at was a combination of luxury and durability. The circular stub echoed the overall planning of Gasholders as interlocking rings when seen in plan. This and the rose grew slightly in diameter during the prototyping phase to become a more weighty and significant piece of architectural metalwork.

Prototypes were made by in-house model-makers at WilkinsonEyre in polyurethane and subsequently designs were sent out of house for a version to be milled from brass. Once a satisfactory shape had been arrived at, Franchi took over the development of a workable production version. Brass was chosen as it complemented a rich internal colour palette and details such as the brass inlay set into the concrete floor – providing an enduring and timeless aesthetic for the scheme.

Franchi has been supplying high-quality hardware and security products to the London property and construction industry for over 50 years. Since 1990, they have been assisting architects and designers with ironmongery specifications for some of the most prestigious building projects in the UK.

Whilst delivering the contract to provide all the internal ironmongery for the apartments, Franchi were also appointed to assist Argent with the front door ironmongery, in partnership with WilkinsonEyre. Having previously worked together on successful prime residential projects, the developer and architect were confident that Franchi’s expertise and flexible processes would aid the development of bespoke ironmongery, and thus enhance the project.

During Franchi’s initial discussions with WilkinsonEyre on the material to be used, unlacquered polished brass emerged as the preferred option, to complement the colour scheme within the apartments and because of its suitability for patination – the process of ‘gracefully ageing’ the surface of metals over time. This would enable each door handle to take on a unique finish, in keeping with the rich industrial heritage of the building.

Franchi also developed the mechanical side of the product during the planning phase; the operation and door fit of the rose element required to ensure a smooth operation, and a locking system that was fit for purpose when using a heavy solid brass lever handle. This included researching the life cycle needs of the product and developing fixings and spindles that ensured continuous operation.

From the sketches and line drawings supplied, Franchi progressed the lever handle design to the 3D modelling stage for production using the selected brass. After revisions and approval of 3D production visuals, the process entered the milling stage at the Franchi factory. This involved state of the art Computer Numerical Control (CNC) technology. CNC milling is a machining process that utilises computerised controls to manage the movement and operation of multi-point rotary cutting tools. A prototype of the cut door handle in brass was then hand assembled and polished for comments and approval by Chris Wilkinson personally, before completion of the CNC process and the hand-finishing of all 153 units for the Gasholders apartments.

At the same time, Franchi were co-ordinating all the other ironmongery elements for the door including lock, hinge and closer, to ensure consistency of finish and to meet technical requirements. Finally, Franchi liaised with their joinery partner to complete the full ironmongery package before shipping to site.

"What pleases me in particular is the distinctive individuality of such a small functional object and the pleasure it brings the user."

Chris Wilkinson, Founding Director, WilkinsonEyre

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