Chris Dyson, architect
Here are two pictures of 11 Princelet St, on the left is 2006 and on the right is 2007, before and after. Only it is not that simple, because the picture on the right looks closer to how it would have looked when it was first built in 1719 before the windows were altered in the nineteenth century to create the aberrant elevation on the left – meaning these pictures could equally be labelled, after and before.
Whichever way you choose to see it, I think there is no doubt that the current version looks better, with the original grid of windows reinstated to match up with the buildings on either side. The previous elevation destroyed the rhythm of this old terrace upon the north side of Princelet St, which is now harmoniously restored, thanks to the work of architect Chris Dyson.
For several years I have been admiring Chris’ work, observing the progress of his various projects around Spitalfields, but I consider 11 Princelet St as his signature piece. So it was a treat to meet the genial architect there, in the building that is both his home and where he has his practice too.
It was in 1995, that Chris and his wife Sarah first enquired after the house which was derelict at the time, then they waited ten years before being invited to submit a sealed bid to the receivers within two weeks and got the house by a cat’s whisker. Salvaging as much as possible of the structure (including the rear elevation, staircase and some panelling), Chris reinstated what had gone in consultation with architectural experts – with Dan Cruickshank’s advice, he rebuilt the facade using new yellowish London bricks stained with bitumen. Walking around now, through into Chris’ practice in the workshop at the rear, I was struck by the elegant proportions of the rooms and the exciting sequence of different spaces he has devised. This is a million miles away from any “conversion”, everything feels completely natural, as if it always was like this.
Chris Dyson’s training at Glasgow School of Art and his experience working alongside architectural luminaries Jim Stirling and Terry Farrell, sharpened a natural ability to create humane well-proportioned spaces and a balanced aesthetic drawing upon an understanding of traditional skills and principles of vernacular design. In Spitalfields, it is a question of preserving the original quality of buildings while finding the best way of making them work as functional spaces today – a question for which Chris has to find a different answer every time.
Let me admit, I am hoping to persuade Chris to come and take a look at my old house. Currently, it is as I moved in and needs an experienced eye to work out how to fillet the twentieth century alterations from the property (including a plastic kidney-shaped bath where the kitchen table should be), and give the place its dignity back. In the meantime, while I am saving up, I shall be telling you the stories of each of the different properties that Chris is working on in Spitalfields, as they come to completion.
Architecture, I’m told, is one of the professions worst hit by the recession but Chris’ practice is flourishing – he has become the architect of choice for the renovation of old houses here and based upon the evidence of 11 Princelet St alone, it is a reputation justly deserved.