A House for Artists review – affordable, impactful housing that inspires on all fronts | Architecture
Yesour typical new building looks like this: corridors and halls, often windowless, lead to apartments where everything is the minimum required by regulations. There is little wit or thoughtfulness in the layout or enjoyment of the individual spaces – just the pursuit of the shortest path to squeeze through as much accommodation as possible – nor in the stuff the building is made of. Exterior walls, whether finished in thin brick or some other facing material, give the impression of being glued to each other. There is no sense of substance, just a timely assembly of building products that, if you pat them down, will likely sound dull and hollow. You have to be sure that these results of opaque technical and regulatory procedures will not burn, leak or fall, but you have no specific reason to do so.
A House for Artists in Barking, east London, designed by the young architectural firm Apparata, is the opposite. The drive from the street to the house is via exterior stairs and balconies which give you fresh air and views and a feeling of space and connection to the neighborhood. There is enough space for residents to inhabit balconies with plants and personal items while still leaving room for traffic. The ceilings are high and the walls in the apartments are mostly glass, which allows light to enter. The large windows and doors can be folded down in good weather, so that the interior and exterior spaces come together.
There are no halls or corridors inside the building’s 12 apartments, most of them with two bedrooms, which increases their feeling of space. There is a certain flexibility in their layout, with the possibility of moving the kitchen and adding or removing a bedroom to accommodate children who are arriving or growing up or moving, or an elderly parent who is moving in. The idea, says Apparata’s Astrid Smitham, is to reflect “the diverse configuration of people’s lives today.” Little is wasted. If something is needed for functional reasons, such as a route to escape the fire, it is also taken as an opportunity for fun.
The structure is in solid concrete, whose slightly shiny coating prevents it from scratching in the rain, and whose cement content is reduced using alternative materials, in order to minimize its carbon footprint. It is reassuring to be substantial. You can see and feel the weight of the building. The ceilings of the apartments are also exposed concrete, which helps you know that you are in something human-built, with materials that have a physical presence.
This unusual apartment block comes from unusual origins. It’s, as the name suggests, for artists, the result of a six-year effort by arts organization Create London to provide affordable rental housing, at 65% market rate, for creatives. It was produced in collaboration with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Grayson Perry lent his support, as “advocate and sounding board”.
The goal of the project is not only to provide affordable housing for cash-strapped creatives – whose skills range from printmaking to photography to video art – but also to bring something to the neighborhood. , to harness a little of the well-known ability of artists to bring a little life to a place. The ground floor is a glazed community space, where artists can create and exhibit their work, or organize classes or parties for adults or anything that could contribute to the life of the neighborhood. (Well-lit apartments are also good places to work, but renters don’t get individual studios.)
The apartments are also not designed only as isolated residential units, but also as parts of the community of the whole block. Residents will be encouraged to take responsibility for its management. On one floor, there are double doors in the party walls between the apartments, soundproof when closed, which can be opened to join the lounges in one large collective space. The layout of the block, with three apartments on each of the four floors above the ground, accessible by these common balconies, promotes communication between the apartments.
An artist’s house is a work of simple pleasures and simple good things. Its design is based on an intelligent interpretation of fire evacuation regulations; by providing exterior balconies on both sides of the island, it eliminates the need for interior corridors.
He also has architectural intelligence. We thought about laying the joints in the concrete, so that they help create the illusion that the building is made of large blocks of masonry, which reinforces the impression of resistance. It looks like pillars and beams – basic elements of architecture at least since ancient Egypt. But then, just when it might get too serious for its own good, it lightens the mood with circles and triangles cut into the walls as if it were a child’s toy, with other triangular shapes on the roof line.
He manages to speak to the disparate elements of the William Street neighborhood, a recent regeneration project that is right next door. It’s a bizarre combination of large, dark gray blocks, strangely like the less charming estates of the 1960s, and rows of small, sloping-roofed brick houses. A House for Artists, with its triangles and oblongs and medium scale, has something of both, while being more appealing than either.
It is a cheerful and impactful building, at the same time big and small and big and intimate. It is robust rather than exquisite, severe more than comfortable, but still a place where one feels at home. Create London sees it as a prototype: now that they have their Barking example, they want to take the idea elsewhere. Hoping more like this are built, and not just for the creatives. Any new accommodation has something to learn from A House for Artists.