Meet the Architects behind the Oriana Project

Keystone lintels - ESA architectsScott Denham from IG Masonry Support met with Design Director James Gott and Associate Director Artur Zontek of ESA Architects, the men behind the Oriana project.

ESA Architecture is over 100 years old and was acquired by Capita in 2012. ESA is one of the UK’s leading architectural practices with over 90 staff and offices in London, Cardiff and Manchester. They focus on providing excellent design and delivery of architectural services. Their projects span offices, residential, retail, heritage, hospitality, transport, interiors, urban design and mixed-use sectors and range in value up to around £100 million.

ESA is a multi-faceted practice and embraces small projects to new build residential and commercial. They deliver sustainable, high-quality and inclusive environments that deliver value for their clients, whilst also providing communities with places and spaces which aspire to form a positive impact on peoples’ lives now and into the future.


What keeps you alive to Architecture?

JG: I still get a thrill when a project completes onsite and I get to see the ideas that have started life as a idea in my mind evolve to manifest in reality. It is this transition from a sketch to a space you can inhabit and emotionally connect with that still drives my engagement with architecture. With the scale of projects such as Oriana this process escalates to form the walls of the urban spaces in which we live, work and play. I believe that architecture keeps its fascination because it is the synthesis of a collaboration of many people bringing their unique skills and interests together into psychical expression. It is because of this that every project offers something new and leaves an enduring marker of this process.

Oriana is a very good example of a multi-faceted project, it is about retail and residential in Oxford Street

IG Masonry Support, Oriana, Oxford St, LondonDescribe the appeal of the Oriana Project?

JG: Oriana is a good example of a multi-faceted project where residential and workplace uses coalesce with the country’s busiest and 

most famous shopping street. The challenge was to create quality multiple use city centre spaces, living, working and shopping. It is a great example of a series of potentially conflicting social activities coming together successfully and forming an expression through architecture. The constraint

s for the Oriana project were highly complex so the journey with Oriana involved understanding all the constraints and finding a narrative that harmonised these into a coherent form.

Did the client impose a blueprint from the outset?

JG: Absolutely not. The original meeting was a blank piece of paper from a design point of view. It was a difficult site to construct and as the scheme evolved it turned into mixed-use scheme with retail, office and high-end residential. It was commercially driven architecture that understood that high quality design adds considerable value for the client. The project was highly complex in its form which added to the constraint of what could be built within the envelope. I would liken it to a Greek town that develops in a series of 

open and closed boxes and it became a virtual mountain of connected forms which finally delivered a narrative of residential, courtyard terraces and secret spaces.

Do you have a favourite among ESA’s many award winning projects?

JG: Oriana has got to be one of my favourite projects. It started in 2008 and was only completed in 2017. I had a 9 year involvement with Oriana in what has probably been my most drawn out and complicated project to date. AZ Oriana would also be a favourite for me. It was incredibly multi-faceted, combining bits of new build with old and encompassed everything that architecture has to offer. It presented challenges dealing with different façades and elevations including that of Oxford Street itself. Oriana ticked all boxes for an architect because even though it evolved so much from the conceptual ideas, it was built pretty much as designed. There is so much life going on in the West End that you don’t see unless you live there, it’s really a secret haven.

How did IG Masonry Support Systems help you solve the project’s challenges?

IG Masonry Support brick slip columnsAZ: When we started to look at the technical aspects of how to build this complex design we investigated several different scenarios. Originally, we felt we would do everything in precast concrete but access restrictions, the dense population and heavy traffic forced us to reconsider. We had no onsite storage and high capacity cranes were not an option so we had to consider how we could deliver elements onsite and these needed to be smaller and lighter. The solutions from IG Masonry Support systems offered vastly reduced weight than precast and the individual brick detailing elements were smaller and much easier to handle onsite.

AZ: During the design process we found a visit to the IGMS factory to be really beneficial. We discussed the problem with IG’s engineers and agreed practical solutions. It was also helpful to see the process of manufacture first hand and discuss how we could use the different shapes of bricks and different application of Masonry Support lintels. I think it’s fair to say this type of interaction with the material supplier added value to our design process. The use of Brick Slip Feature Lintels and IG Masonry Support is growing rapidly.

Oriana would be one of my favourites. It was incredibly multi-faceted with bits of new build and bits of old build and encompassed everything that architecture possibly can.

What do you find appealing about brick work and its future application?

oriana, oxford st, london, ig masonry support, brick slip columnsJG: As a young architect in the 90’s I was opposed to brick as I felt it was traditional and didn’t celebrate contemporary architecture. For the first 10 years of my career I rarely specified brick, then I had a project situated in a conservation area and really looked at brick closely for the first time. During this time, I discovered the beauty of brick and value of materials that weather and develop a richness over time. I found some of the contemporary architecture that I had loved became dated because of trends in materiality and form and I started to re-evaluate what created timeless architecture. The successful historic use of brick made me realise brick had longevity beyond the cult of the new, appreciate the introduction of colour to a scheme with the natural tones of clay and understand the many variations of brick with hard or soft edges. For the Oriana project different types of brick were used in conjunction with different mortars. Contemporary glazing design sits well against brick detailing and has led to the renaissance of brick use. Good architecture should be timeless and there is a real option to use brick creatively.

AZ: IG Masonry Support offsite Brick Slip System solved the very real problem of non-availability of specialist brickwork skills onsite. The flying beams in our Oriana design could not have been built in the traditional way so we had to look for modern methods of construction. I love brick, it gives texture and scale, and 20 years down the line the weathering will look good.