10th Mar 2017 — Sustaining London’s Creative Workspace

Sustaining London’s Creative Workspace

Chris Carthy


Four SWA projects secure affordable artists’ studios and galleries, including our environmental retrofit of Space’s Deborah House Studios in Hackney.



Over the last two years we have designed four projects that secure the affordability of creative workspace in London. We’ve developed a keen appreciation of the precarious lives of the capital’s artists: against the forces of residential development and gentrification, little stands in the way of cheap studios and warehouses being swept up for regeneration – leaving creative workspace dwindling.

With a rampant housing market and government deregulation encouraging the conversion of working to living spaces, flats are often worth four times more than equivalent-sized artists’ studios. It is said that 35% of artists’ studio buildings are under threat of loss over the next 10 years. Our recent projects with Space and Cell Projects have the challenge of workspace affordability firmly in mind.

There has long been a housing crisis in the capital. Lately this has been joined by a crisis of workspace.

Before & After – Deborah House Studios

At Deborah House Studios in Hackney, we worked with Space to transform a decaying and leaky former shoe factory into a brightly daylit, insulated and robustly industrial centre for art. A rooftop extension with 13 new studios below a living roof has increased Space’s rental income, whilst providing extra affordable workspace and helping insulation the floors beneath. Upon completion, the studios were snapped up in one afternoon.

Our proposals at Brickfield Studios in Tower Hamlets have converted a disused printworks – once notable for producing the Morning Star newspaper – into a new hub for large-format art and design. The printing hall is divided into a series of strikingly bright industrial-scale workshops, already popular with sculptors for their generous height and individual loading bays.

Loading bay to industrial scale studio – Brickfield Studios
Rationalised front-of-house with connecting gallery – Triangle Gallery

Our third project for Space reconfigures a muddled front-of-house to create a new street-facing gallery and foyer. The scheme opens up an institutional-looking HQ, inviting passerby in to showcase the art, furniture and lighting of Space’s artist tenants.

Through three commissions we reflected with Space on how aligned artists’ needs are with sustainability: keep the warmth in; make best use of natural light and the sun’s warmth; push bills down; create resilient, economical, long-lasting places; and make the best of existing buildings before putting up new ones.

Finally, we recently secured planning permission to revitalise Cell Projects Space, a former factory turned critically acclaimed gallery showcasing cutting-edge visual art. How to keep a legendary institution suitably enigmatic, whilst presenting a sharper image to increasingly demanding visitors? Our design wraps the building in layers of rusted steel to improve its street presence – not least after dark – to create a first impression befitting the unique gallery beyond.

As unique responses to their particular situations, these four projects tackle problems of precarity in London’s creative places in different ways. We’ve been heartened that all is not lost for affordable workspace, that the life of these much-loved creative hotspots can be sustained.

If you would like to know more about SWA’s projects for arts and workspace organisations, please give us a ring.

First impression befitting the gallery – Cell Projects Space