JW3 was the result of a 2002 tour of America’s Jewish Community Centres by philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, whose Clore Duffield Foundation provided funding. Because the ambitious project had no precedent in London, we sought to create a building that would be flexible enough to contain a wide variety of changing uses.
The key challenges were in its location next to the busy Finchley Road, its sloping site and the high level of security needed in case of terrorist attack. We resolved these by setting the main buildings back from the highway and by providing access to the main, four-storey pavilion via a bridge. This configuration created a large piazza that provides a sheltered and versatile outdoor space, allowing the building to be naturally ventilated without traffic pollution. The final element is a slender, nine-storey residential tower, offering breath-taking views across Hampstead, which helped to meet local housing need and gave the scheme a financial boost.
The pavilion houses a library and café, auditorium and screening room, classrooms and exercise rooms, as well as a nursery and offices for the organization itself. Flexibility is key, so a room may host a dance or aerobics class in the morning and a book group later that day. The multi-purpose hall with retractable bleacher seating and semi-sprung floor provides space for up to 200 at wedding banquets, 285 in tiered seating for drama and music or 400 for hip-hop concerts or parties.
The external materials are robust and finely detailed, with reconstituted white stone for prominent flanks and soft buff brick for the side and rear windows, ventilation panels and doors are framed in patinated bronze or anodised aluminium. Internal materials are tactile and durable; exposed concrete beams to the soffits are inset with timber veneered or painted acoustic panels.
The building demonstrates our expertise in providing fresh thinking in any sector and in creating buildings that can be used by many people for different and changing purposes. Open and inspirational rather than formal or intimidating, it is a lively community centre for people of all ages to create and enjoy Jewish culture; a secular building, but one that respects religious traditions, where culture is both created and enjoyed. It won numerous awards on its completion in 2013, but its greatest success has been in the number of visitors it has received: 225,000 people have been through its doors every year, four times the original target, establishing JW3 as a new cultural beacon for the whole of London.