Sarah Wigglesworth adds new metal skin to London factory containing artists' studios

| 13 comments

Sarah Wigglesworth Architects has renovated an early-20th century industrial building to create studios for a charity that supports artists struggling to find affordable workspaces in London (+ slideshow).

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Sarah Wigglesworth Architects overhauled the dilapidated structure for arts charity SPACE, which operates 18 artist studio buildings providing workspaces for 700 artists across London.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Situated in east London's Hackney neighbourhood, Deborah House was converted into studios in the 1980s before being purchased by SPACE in 2010.

It had gradually descended into a dilapidated condition, prompting the need for a thorough renovation.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

The project is the latest in a series of collaborations between the charity and Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, whose previous projects include a school in northern England and a London bike storage facility with a gem-like skin.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

A key objective of the project was to maintain the creative vibrancy of an area in which workspaces are frequently being converted into residences.



With a brief to improve the building's external appearance and internal conditions whilst sticking to a tight budget, the renovations were accomplished at a cost of just £363 per square metre.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

"This light-touch refurbishment of a former industrial building provides 2,305 square metres of affordable workshop space to artists," explained the studio, "and is preserving some of the rich character and identity of east London in the face of creeping gentrification and bland new development."

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

The most notable changes were made to the building's exterior, where damaged and decaying brickwork is sheathed in a new insulated skin of metal-profile cladding.

The team claims that the updated facade treatment "gives Deborah House a new image by taking inspiration from, rather than replicating, the existing building and its post-war surroundings."

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Carefully positioned openings in the corrugated metal surfaces expose sections of the original brickwork, including around the main entrance.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

New large-pane windows featuring galvanised steel surrounds interrupt the ridged cladding, and act to funnel natural light into the studios. The grid-like arrangement of the windows echoes the simple geometry of the original facades.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Deborah House was in a dilapidated state prior to renovation

A sawtooth roof that once topped the building but had fallen into a state of disrepair was removed to make way for an extension providing space for additional studios.

The simple volume is set back from the main elevation and clad in fibre cement panels that distinguish it from the rest of the building, whilst referencing the tone of the existing brick.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
The architects sheathed the damaged and decaying brickwork in a new insulated skin of metal-profile cladding

A sedum roof was added to reduce storm water run-off and provide a wildlife habitat. Skylights dotted across this flat surface introduce additional daylight into the spaces below.

Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
First floor plan – click for larger image
Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Second floor plan – click for larger image
Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Third floor plan – click for larger image
Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Cross section – click for larger image
Deborah House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects
Long section – click for larger image
  • max

    Bad project! The old one was much nicer, and the renovation could have been much more sensitive to the charm of the existing.

  • G.

    Noooo, the original was infinitely nicer. Such a shame. This isn’t architecture; I guess gift wrapping is big business today.

    • Ken

      Poor gift wrapping.

    • katel

      Can someone unwrap the charming old facade now?

  • Nate

    They lost those amazing old windows… criminal.

    • Colonel Pancake

      Thank the building codes and their ridiculous thermal standards. You’ll never see well-proportioned windows again.

  • architect@work

    I am crying in front of my laptop. Such a shame. You can do insulation from the inside, double up the old windows. There are a million ways to keep the spirit. Call me next time guys.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Another beautiful solid masonry wall that was ruined by somebody’s prior decision to paint the damn thing. It would nice if people understood how brick walls actually work before they undermine their vapour permeability and damage the structure.

  • H-J

    Sorry but I personally prefer this.

  • Manky

    WT actual F?

  • Akaka

    Why would you double insulate a wall internally reducing floorspace for the studios? It’s not like it is a listed building is it.

    Glad that a charity with probably not a lot of money to spend has found a simple, bold and cost effective solution to a practical problem that has given a new lease of life to a dilapidated building. Maybe you moaners can make a coffee table photo book about the lost warehouse facades of 1980s.

    • Harris Jay

      I think you’re missing the point here. It was part of London’s multi-layered heritage (see second from last photo in article) and now it could be anything anywhere.

      • oort

        I think HJ and the rest are totally missing the point. This is a charity trying to provide a viable workspace for artists who are hopefully not all Shoreditch flat-white drinking well-to-do hipsters. To renovate poor-quality brickwork is too costly and pointless.

        The non-thinking conservationism really needs to stop. Buildings are for people to work and live in, not just for you all to look at. To be honest that original building is of a bland type that can be found in many industrial places in London, as unique as all the bland housing in the same photo.