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Wates reinvents Chelsea cinema on famous King's Road

In the prestigious west London neighbourhood Cadogan Estates is turning a 1930s icon of the famous King’s Road into a cutting-edge development.

Project: 196-222 King’s Road
Client: Cadogan Estates
Contract value: £72m
Contract type: Bill of Quantities
Main contractor: Wates Construction
Start date: April 2018
Completion date: April 2022

It’s best to be well groomed if you don’t want to look out of place strolling down the King’s Road in Chelsea.

Art galleries vie for space with designer clothing boutiques while well-heeled locals hunt for places to lunch.

In the 1970s it was from a shop on the King’s Road that fashion icon Vivienne Westwood and punk band the Sex Pistols first came to the world’s attention, and it has remained a noted centre of style ever since.

Halfway along the thoroughfare stands the Curzon Cinema. Its Art Deco facade, designed by celebrated architect William Edward Trent, has been a highlight of the west London neighbourhood since the 1930s when it first opened as the Gaumont Palace Theatre.

Now its owner, property company Cadogan, is overseeing a huge redevelopment of the cinema and surrounding blocks. It is investing £92m in a project that will see the cinema, a residential apartment block, pub and office space partially demolished. In their place will emerge a mixed-use scheme featuring 47 affordable and market-rent new homes, high-end offices, new and improved retail space, plus a 600-seat cinema and rooftop bar.

Awkward Waitrose

The redevelopment is being spearheaded by Wates Construction and the firm’s project director Neil Lock under a £72m contract. Mr Lock has experience of working on complicated redevelopments in this part of London, having helped deliver the technically challenging extension to the nearby Victoria & Albert Museum.

“There are so many different aspects to this project,” he says. “There are several different buildings that we have to work on, but crucially the Waitrose store that occupies part of the ground-floor area has to stay open throughout our work.”

That requirement makes the scheme very awkward indeed. There are essentially four buildings that make up the bulk of the existing site’s footprint: Regal House, a 1980s retail block occupied by Waitrose with office space above; the Trafalgar pub building, which dates to the 1930s; Friese-Greene House, a residential building at the rear of the cinema; and finally the cinema itself.

By keeping the store open, the team will need to shuffle around the site like a full-size sliding puzzle, clearing one area before moving onto the next. Normally the Waitrose store is accessed through the Regal House doors on the King’s Road elevation. However, this will change later in the construction period, with the general public entering through temporary access further along the road.

“It is a very busy store,” Mr Lock says. “We have worked with the Waitrose team to make sure we minimise our impact and they can get their deliveries in when needed. Waitrose is an important retailer for the area and our client Cadogan.”

Making every day count

At first glance, the Wates team’s four-year programme to complete 196-222 Kings Road seems more than enough time. But that would belie the complicated work schedule involved, not to mention the challenge of bringing huge volumes of materials on and off a site in this part of London.

The team has taken a small slither of the King’s Road as a delivery lane and will also use Chelsea Manor Street for a similar purpose. Even so, it is still a tricky task co-ordinating the schedules of a complicated project, a busy supermarket and local authority requirements without adversely impacting any of the stakeholders.

“We are on site for four years, but we will need all of that because of the phasings and limits [of] the [council’s] construction traffic management plan, as well as needing to tie in with deliveries to the Waitrose store,” Mr Lock explains. “We spent around six months getting the traffic management plan agreed. The [council] team wanted it to be clear and exact, covering every detail. It was difficult to get agreed, but the works will be well managed.”

While the project team continues with the strip-out of the asbestos throughout the upper floors of Regal House, construction has commenced in Hemus Place at the rear of the project. Here the initial excavations for the building’s basement are under way, with steel sheet piles being installed down to 8 m and propped.

“In that section of the build it isn’t a particularly deep basement, just one level, but it does need to be propped as we are working on it,” Mr Lock explains. “There will be around 1,200 cu m of material excavated from this shallower section, but as much as 21,000 cu m from the main basement beneath the main section of the building.”

That deeper basement is set to be formed using a secant pile wall around its perimeter to depths of 20 m into the underlying London Clay. The final basement depth will be 11.5 m below site ground level.

Moving that amount of material from any site is a tricky prospect, but from this tight patch on one of the busiest roads in the middle of Chelsea, it constitutes a real headache. It’s one of the reasons the Wates team has worked long and hard with Cadogan and the local authority to develop its traffic management plan.

Concrete-steel partnership

The main original art deco facade of the cinema building is being retained and the team will install a temporary steel frame to hold that facade in position, while preserving its ornate rendering throughout the demolition and construction process.

The bulk of the building’s frame will be of reinforced concrete construction, although some sections will be structural steel – particularly across the basement where the 600-seat cinema and plant facilities will be housed.

Here, four 14 m-long steel roof trusses will span the void to create the cinema box. It will feature a 1 m-thick raft with a 300 mm-thick slab. Further slabs throughout the building will be 200 mm-thick post-tensioned concrete or composite slab throughout the office space.

“The offices will be a metal deck composite slab but the residential areas will be concrete,” Mr Lock says. “We think it suits the residential side better that way because it makes it easier to mitigate any vibration or acoustic issues.

“There are retail units, offices and a busy pub and so using concrete and the acoustic performance that it offers makes more sense. Obviously the difficulty in accessing the project will mean the trusses will be brought to site in sections and bolted together here. There are around 2,000 bolts in total.”

There are still more than three years until the project is due to be handed over. Come the spring of 2022, Chelsea’s historic cinema site will have been transformed into a development fit for the King’s Road.

Cadogan’s £500m warchest

Property development and management company Cadogan can trace its history back almost 300 years, and its west London offices, shops and properties amount to 38 ha of prime Kensington and Chelsea real estate.

Keeping that amount of prime property in trim takes some doing, and the company boasts a £500m warchest ready to be invested across its holdings over the next five years. Some £92m of that is being ploughed into the redevelopment of the Curzon Cinema.

“It is a key part of our pipeline of work,” says Cadogan head of building surveying Jane Henshaw. “We have been working on developing this site for years. Retail is changing. This development is all about bringing vibrancy to the area and making sure we help the existing businesses stay at the top of their game.”

The project was initially opened to bids in 2016, with the shortlist whittled down to five invitations to tender. Following a review and interview, the Wates team took the project with a start date of Easter 2018 under a traditional Bill of Quantities contract.

“The fact that the team worked on the Victoria and Albert Museum project, and that Wates has its own ‘in-house’ mechanical and electrical team, helped tip the balance,” Ms Henshaw says. “We like the traditional form of contract – we find it offers us certainty and works well for us. There is no BIM requirement on this scheme – it wasn’t anything that we felt we needed.”

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