Hackney, London

The history of Belsham Street, a Victorian terrace of light-industrial workshops, dates back to the 19th century. The location has experienced a variety of uses and patterns of development, resulting in a complex and incoherent urban setting. Directly to the north is a large car park and big-box shopping centre, while to the west the Trelawney Estate consists of open green space bookended by two 12-storey towers of social housing. This setting is a stark contrast to high-end fashion retailers such as Burberry and Pringle, which are located to the east.

The site is a two-storey commercial building within this milieu. The building previously housed a commercial printer, a furniture maker, and was used as storage before being acquired by a group of artists. The project involves the complete redevelopment of the existing building, together with the addition of a new rooftop level. The resulting building has something of the character of a Renaissance palazzo – that sophisticated conflation of workshop, office, tavern, warehouse and house that collapses the boundaries of family life by extending accommodation to workers, apprentices, friends, extended family and business associates.

Separate studios for an artist and designer occupy the ground floor, accessed from an adjoining right-of-way. These contain offices, production areas and an acoustically separated workshop. One four-bedroom duplex and three two-bedroom apartments are arranged over the two floors above around a central stair.

The preferred approach by planners in East London for extending existing buildings is to emphasise a clear distinction between original and new. The aim of this project is to make this distinction more ambiguous in order to develop a singular expression for the building.

All new structural elements are formed from cross-laminated timber panels, which are left exposed as interior surfaces. On the exterior, the new level is clad in reclaimed brick with a small planted setback. Large aluminium and timber-framed windows continue the rhythm of openings along the street and are detailed with deep reveals to create a muscular, almost archaic expression.

Careful dialogue with local planners has enabled a fully green rooftop with an enclosed garden directly accessed from the main stair. Three half-sunken rooms, like allotment sheds, provide additional – almost secret – accommodation. The rooftop becomes a semi-private common space for the building’s occupants, expanding the quality of life offered by inner city living.

Client: Withheld
Location: London, United Kingdom
Status: Completion 2016
Photography: Maris Mezulis