When The Haberdashers’ Company, incorporated in 1448, sold its building in the City of London and purchased a site in Smithfield, opposite St Bartholomew’s hospital, it was a brave decision. The 550-year-old livery company is steeped in tradition, so how would its members take to a new building?

However, the decision to engage the design skills of Sir Michael Hopkins’ architectural practice was inspired – for here is a team that understands modern design in traditional surroundings.

The practice’s credentials include designing the fine Queen’s Building at Emmanuel College in Cambridge where integration into an historically sensitive setting was a major part of the brief. The Queen’s Building, which featured extensive use of American oak in the joinery, flooring and ceiling, was widely acclaimed and won a Carpenters’ Award. This was followed by the parliamentary building Portcullis House, again featuring American white oak, which won a Timber Industry Award last year (formerly the Carpenters’ Award).

Now, once again, Hopkins’ use of American white oak has produced a spectacular result at the new Haberdashers’ Hall. From the modest entrance foyer at 18 West Smithfield, into the colonnaded courtyard, the oak starts a run of continuity that extends throughout the building. Exterior joinery is subtly introduced into the austere design of the courtyard, where the colour variation of the oak brings a natural look. Solid oak flooring in the main reception rooms with huge scale oak doors starts to give feelings of promise towards grandeur. Even the lavatories are oak panelled and fitted to an extraordinary standard. How could you possibly call them ‘loos’?

Then comes the impressive reception gallery – the commercially-minded Haberdashers’ Company offers its new home to outsiders for events of up to 200 people in a livery hall that is simply an orgy of oak.

James Greaves, Hopkins’ director in charge of the projects explaining the roof, says: “A braced timber diagrid is used to hold up the roofs of the livery hall and the reception gallery. The diagrid is constructed from a kit of parts comprising composite timber struts, with stainless steel shoes at each end, and various configurations of fabricated stainless steel struts and ties. Diamond shaped slatted oak acoustic panels infill the grid.”

In this case the composite timber struts are laminated softwood with a white oak underside to ensure that the exposed structural elements blend with the non load-bearing oak panels.

All the ceiling timbers were treated with Arch Timber Protection‘s BBA-approved Dricon following the architect’s request that they be protected with a fire retardant that was non-hygroscopic in nature and that would leave a natural finish following treatment.

Ruddy Joinery supplied and fixed the roof timbers, acoustic veneered roof soffit panels, oak panelling, doors and frames, joinery within the lavatories, hardwood floors, historic pine panelling and the reception desk. As Ruddy’s sales and marketing director John Hailstone explains, the contract involved its drawing office working closely with Michael Hopkins and Partners in developing the various designs for manufacturing purposes.

“Joinery was produced in our factory at Flitwick where up to 12 joiners and machinists worked on the job at any one time,” said Mr Hailstone. “And at peak times we had more than 20 men working on site fixing the joinery.

“A particularly interesting part of the contract was the luncheon room, where we took delivery of historic pine panelling, adapted it to suit and manufactured new panelling to match – including intricate carving,” he continued.

Ruddy’s major suppliers for the project were Reliance Veneer Co Ltd for veneers, WT Eden Ltd and S Silverman & Son (Importers) Ltd for sheet materials, FR Shadbolt & Sons Ltd for panelling and doors and Leaderflush & Shapland Ltd (now LS Group) for paint finish doors.

American white oak was supplied by Brooks Bros (UK) Ltd and Timbmet Ltd. Sir Michael Hopkins said that: “American oak was preferred over European or English oak because it is without the ‘busier’ wave-pattern graining.”

Talking on site, one of Hopkins’ design team said more simply: “We just liked its look.”