Created as a natural addition to The Department Store, The Studios is a highly sustainable development that supports local businesses
When London architects Squire & Partners took over a former department store in Brixton in 2017 as its office, the idea was to avoid occupying a dehumanising, cookie-cutter workspace at all costs.
Certainly, The Department Store, as it’s called – an Edwardian building – is the antithesis of what partner Michael Squire decries as “a wave of office building in London” unleashed in the wake of the Big Bang of 1986.
“These corporate workspaces became increasingly stereotypical, focusing on large floor plates, high occupancy and serried ranks of desks,” he recalls.
Since then alternatives to these sterile spaces have sprung up, as he acknowledges, with tech companies offering workplaces that are “more fun, stimulating and attractive”.
The Department Store can’t help but be an antidote to ‘corporate workspaces’. Squire & Partners lovingly restored the dilapidated building, and preserved its original mahogany flooring and tiled staircase. But what the practice couldn’t have anticipated is that it begged the question of whether a new office could ever be as atmospheric.
“Clients would come to our office and admire it but say, ‘You couldn’t achieve this in a new building’. This set us a challenge for our latest development – The Department Store Studios.”
Squire & Partners is the owner and developer – and client – of this four-storey new build, also referred to as The Studios. This houses co-working spaces – flexible workspaces and private studios – and current occupants include interior designers, a branding agency and a TV producer.
The new development nurtures links with the local community. Its ground-floor bar/ restaurant called Bellefields and screening room in the basement are open to the public. The Studios also hosts a residency programme – a chance for two young Lambeth entrepreneurs to have a free workspace there for 12 months as well as mentoring.
But how could Squire & Partners convincingly emulate the atmosphere of The Department Store in the new-build? Undeterred, Squire believed that “The Studios could aim to achieve the same level of warmth, craft and quality as The Department Store through its use of raw materials.”
The most obvious manifestation of this is The Studios’ red brick façade, inspired by the brickwork of The Department Store, while its metal window frames nod to The Department Store’s Crittall windows. A palette of industrial and functional materials in The Studios’ interiors correspond with the raw quality of The Department Store.
The Studios has a cross-laminated timber frame, visible in its interior, which introduces a warm tone to the space, as does exposed brick and undecorated plaster. Another link between The Department and The Studios is the choice of furnishings. Both buildings boast homely furniture by Ercol, Fermob Bistro chairs, terracotta pendant lights by Pott and dhurries by Laguna.
All these elements help to create a sense of continuity between the two buildings but there is no denying that they’re very different. The Studios’ interiors look undeniably contemporary.
But whatever the differences, the new-build fulfils Squire’s ambition of avoiding a ‘conventional office’ – the legacy of 1980s offices which he compares to “battery chicken farming”.
“The Studios,” he believes, “is a lovable place, where people can work ‘free range’ in a generous space and feel part of a community that supports them to do more than just their jobs.
Images by Jack Hobhouse and Jim Stephenson
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