Visiting the Horlicks Quarter last week was a reminder of the scale of work involved in bringing an old building, never intended for residential use, into a new lease of life.

The factory building, built in two phases in 1908 and in the late 1930s, is to become home to 161 flats along with some ground floor communal spaces.

Once you’re inside one of the half-built flats, deep set windows and high ceilings are the only real clues that this is a conversion. It is most unlike the conversions we see at endless redundant offices.

The building was only locally-listed so developer Berkeley Homes could plausibly have swept it away and built a few new blocks instead.

But what is refreshing about this development is to see the imagination with which a building, meant for machinery and workers can go through a total reconstruction on the inside while looking better than ever on the outside.

A vast lightwell, topped with vaulted glass panels on the roof, will bring daylight through the centre of the building so the front doors will open onto a 15m-wide open space, rather than enclosed corridors. The ‘Horlicks’ lettering on the roof is new but the old letters may still be incorporated around the scheme – although it was acknowledged it will be difficult to keep them in order!

A war memorial for the town will not only be given a new home, but will be the centrepiece of new Memorial Square gardens, framed by part of the old building and part of a new one.

If you compare the features of the Horlicks scheme to one of the most high-profile redevelopments of our times, there seems something of a mis-match.

Back in the late 1990s, plans to retain the unlisted twin towers of the former Wembley Stadium to create an entranceway to the new one, were an impressive way to incorporate that site’s history.

However, those plans were quickly dispensed with as developers produced a new stadium that, while it has an arch, offers little architectural value that would put it above any rival stadium of its size around the world.

It’s remarkable that the Football Association, given all its history, couldn’t find a way of referencing the most famous sporting venue in the world in any clever or imaginative way, while a housebuilder can turn an old factory building into something amazing.

Thames Lido has proved how the most unlikely of buildings can be successfully reinvented with the right amount of creativity and, at Horlicks, Berkeley has gone way beyond what many have done. Meanwhile our national football authority showed no interest in maintaining any fragment of the most iconic building the sport has ever had.

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