Image Follows Function

Project

A new artist studio for a sculptor and printmaker nestled along a small industrial mews in New Cross, London. Their different practices required very different work spaces; the sculptor required a big light-filled workshop, whilst the printmaker needed a smaller, darker area to work with UV sensitive materials.

Rather than trying to find a common ground between the scales and requirements of each artist, CAN designed the studio as if it were two adjacent studios on the mews; a large industrial workshop and compact domestic studio. The external styles of the volumes are purposefully opposite in style and represent the opposing scales of the artist’s work. The tiled volume houses the smaller working areas, kitchen and bathroom and the workshop is in the larger steel and block volume. Internally, the open-plan space is subtly divided by the change in roof scale and the sculptural element that houses the bathroom. It makes the most of this form and arrangement to maximise sunlight in the kitchen spaces and northern light in the studios.

To maximise space with a limited budget the studio uses a combination of ‘off the shelf’ materials and materials the clients had accumulated from their practice. It elevates ordinary materials to the extraordinary – for instance, the use of scaffolding to create the roof structure.

The gabled forms take their cue from the generic industrial shed and the 18th century wash-house once located on the site. The tiled gables are ornamented with a double crow step. The volumes are off-set to create an external working area at the rear which also brings southern light into the kitchen through a set of double doors.

Interview

How did you approach the project in relation to its site and surrounding environment? x

How did you approach the project in relation to its site and surrounding environment?

The footprint of the building was already set as there was an existing concrete slab from a previous (unbuilt) studio on the site. We used this as a basis for the new studio, extending and trimming it back where necessary. The studio faces onto an industrial mews made up of industrial car garages and workshops. The studio is designed to be completely closed for security at the front and to be more open at the rear where it looks onto a small courtyard and garden. The mews has no consistent visual identity so we had freedom to propose something new. The tiled volume takes some of its design cues from an 18th century wash house which once sat on the site.

To what extent does the project embody the very notion of form follows function?

The project follows the mantra ‘image follows function’ more than ‘form follows function’. It does this by designing the exterior of the studio as if it were two adjacent studios on the mews; a large industrial workshop and compact domestic studio. These visually separate forms represent the opposing scales of the artists’ work. Internally, the open-plan space is more subtly divided by the change in roof scale and the sculptural element that houses the bathroom. It makes the most of this form and arrangement to maximise sunlight in the kitchen spaces and northern light in the studios.

What key references inspired/influenced the project?

We researched two very different typologies, the large industrial shed and the small domestic studio. The concept was to crash these two together to express the artists opposing work. I have attached some reference projects: an industrial shed, a tiled domestic studio, Morphosis’ 2-4-6-8 house (which inspired the structural intricacy of the roof) and St Teilo’s Church originally built in the 12th Century in Llandeilo Tal-y-bont, Wales. (which was a starting point for the two offset volumes).

St Teilos
St Teilos
Domestic studio
Domestic studio
Morphosis
Morphosis

What tools were used in the development and articulation of this?

We like to generate ideas and options quickly and use a combination of 3D computer modelling and hand sketching over the model to develop the finer detail. We use physical models when most of the design is decided as presentation tools for the client.

What was the time frame of the project from its conception to its ‘realization’?

Roughly 1.5 years

What tools and drawings did you use to reveal and discuss the project with the client?

We started off with some 3 dimensional conceptual drawings. These developed into more traditional plans and sections. The final design was then further developed through elevation options. The final design was then represented through a physical model.

If you could isolate one key image, what would this be? Why?

The Roof-off Axonometric Drawing. This shows all of the key elements of the project, revealing the structural intricacy of the scaffold roof and individual character of the two volumes.

What is your take on the relationship between architecture and its image?

Images of a project are seen by far greater numbers of people than those who actually visit the building (especially if the building is private as in this case). Although the experience of a building will always be the most important, the ‘image’ of a building represented through photographs and drawings is a close second. This is especially pertinent in this project which has a strong narrative and visual identity.

How do you use photography to talk and narrate the architecture?

By working closely with the photographer to ensure they understand the conceptual and spatial drivers behind the project. This is usually a very fruitful relationship as they often see things someone more closely involved with the design process might miss and visa versa. If the concept is strong and the original idea hasn’t been diluted through the building process the building will speak for itself through the photographs.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

As mentioned above, quick testing of ideas is important to our design process so we find a combination of computer 3D modelling and hand sketching the most useful design tools. A knowledge of how a building is put together is also key to a successfully resolved project.

About

CAN (Critical Architecture Network) is an award-winning architecture studio that designs buildings, environments and installations. We work with set designers, artists, engineers and makers to create characterful and unexpected projects. We begin every project with a rigorous analysis of it’s cultural and physical context and a scrutiny of the brief. This collaborative and research based approach has resulted in an ever-growing portfolio of unique projects at a range of scales. We believe that architecture can and should make the city a more joyful, inclusive and inspiring place to live and work

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