Almost as soon as it was first completed, St Luke's suffered settlement problems. It had been built on marshy ground and in the following two centuries was plagued by subsidence and structural unrest. By 1959 there was such a marked deterioration in the building structure that it was declared unsafe.
The interior was gutted, the roof removed leaving Hawksmoor's spire in place and opening the interior to the elements. Since then, it has been a deteriorating ruin, its decline only partially arrested by stabilisation work funded by the Diocese of London and English Heritage in 1993-1994.
Why choose St Luke's?
At around the same time, the LSO began a search for a building to house its expanding education and community programme, LSO Discovery. LSO St Luke's was the ideal venue - a beautiful historic building, only a short distance from the LSO's home at the Barbican and in the midst of a culturally diverse local community.
'Ever since we identified this wonderful building in the mid-1990s as the ideal home for LSO Discovery, we have battled to realise the dream.'
Clive Gillinson, former Managing Director, LSO
A combination of many factors made it a reality for the Orchestra to pursue it as a home: a strong artistic vision, a remarkable synergy between the LSO and UBS, who were looking for a major arts and heritage project to support, and successful applications to both the Arts and Heritage Lotteries for funding.
Its conversion to a music education centre began in 2000, and the design preserves many of the building's features - the original walls and window alcoves remain, the church clock has been renovated and the flaming golden dragon restored to its rightful place at the top of the spire.
The overall budget for the establishment of the former church as a music centre was £18 million, encompassing a redesign that preserves the building's heritage value, while creating a working space capable of supporting cutting-edge music making and education activities.
The result is a building that combines careful external restoration with a contemporary interior, designed to meet the needs of a 21st-century orchestra.
An Architect's-eye view of the rebuilding of St Luke's
Back in 1959, no-one could possibly have predicted that the desperate plight of a beautiful church would become a huge opportunity for the LSO. The Church of St Luke's in Old Street, just five minutes' walk from the Barbican, has an extraordinary history, and will now be guaranteed an equally remarkable future as the UBS & LSO Music Education Centre.
It is a unique project, using the ruined remains of a Grade 1 listed church to house an entirely novel set of functional requirements, so the provision of a much-needed facilitiy also saves a wonderful, significant old building for posterity.
For Levitt Bernstein, the project offered a chance to develop the dramatic potential of juxtaposing new with old. Indeed it is a happy paradox that 40 years of dereliction and decay have increased the potential for the radical reordering now on site.
Utilising the space
The church we entered in 1996 was in a deplorable state: no roof, a collapsing crypt and lots of interesting plants growing out of cracks and crevices! It was no wonder that English Heritage considered it one of England's most important buildings at risk.
The LSO's interest provided hope and the advantage that they wanted to use the whole volume of the church without subdividing it. We developed a design that accentuates the single volume by employing four massive steel columns, which spread out like the branches of a tree to support the new roof, independent of the original walls. The columns describe a square within the rectangular plan, an oblique reference to a similar device in many of Hawksmoor's church plans.
The Jerwood Hall reflects the building's turbulent history. No attempt has been made to disguise the state of the original walls. Plaster, monuments and decoration have gone, but their traces remain. The new structure and galleries are an unashamedly modern intervention, so the layers of the building's unique history will read like a palimpsest; and, by a happy coincidence, the rough texture of the walls is preferable acoustically to hard plaster.
The robust detailing enables the hall to satisfy a variety of functions, changing between education work, rehearsal, recording and recital through the use of retractable seating and a moveable rostra. It can also be hired out for corporate and private events, supported by an expanded crypt and basement containing further rooms and facilities.
By the beginning of 2002, the walls had been stabilised, the basement structure completed and the roof constructed. The fitting-out began and the only new construction externally, a pavilion in place of the original vestry, was clad in Portland stone.
Late in 2002 the scaffolding was removed to reveal the repaired and cleaned stonework, and St Luke's was once again ready to receive visitors. When the Orchestra first played in the building in January 2003 it was an emotional moment - the culmination of seven years' hard work.
Axel Burrough is the director at Levitt Bernstein in charge of the design of LSO St Luke's, the UBS & LSO Music Education Centre