A House for Artists Review – cheeky, punchy, affordable living space that inspires on all fronts | Architecture

Yesour typical new building looks something like this: corridors and vestibules, often without windows, lead to apartments in which everything is the minimum required by law. There is little wit or thought in the design or enjoyment of individual rooms – just striving for the shortest way to squeeze the maximum possible accommodation – or the fabric of which the building is made. The outer walls, whether with thin masonry or some other cladding material, appear to be glued together. There is no sense of substance, just a meaningful collection of building products that will likely sound dull and hollow when knocked. You need to trust these results of obscure engineering and regulatory procedures not to burn, leak, or fall off, but you have no particular reason to do so.

A house for artists in Barking, East London, designed by the young architecture firm Apparatus, represents the opposite. The way home from the street leads via outside stairs and balconies, which give you fresh air and a view as well as a feeling of space and solidarity with the neighborhood. There is enough space for the residents to inhabit balconies with plants and personal items and still leave room for development. The ceilings are high and the walls to the apartments are mostly glazed, which allows light to enter. Large windows and doors can be opened when the weather is nice, so that indoor and outdoor spaces flow into one another.

In the 12 apartments in the block, most of them with two bedrooms, there are no lobbies or corridors, which increases the feeling of space. There is some flexibility in the layout, with the ability to move the kitchen and add or remove a bedroom to accommodate arriving or growing or moving out children or an older relative. The idea, says Astrid Smitham from Apparata, is to reflect “the diverse configurations of people’s lives today”. Little is wasted. When something is needed for functional reasons, such as an escape route from a fire, it is also used as an opportunity to enjoy.

The construction is made of solid concrete, the slightly shiny coating of which prevents streaks in the rain and the cement content of which is reduced with the help of alternative materials in order to minimize the CO2 footprint. It’s reassuringly substantial. You can see and feel the weight of the building. The ceilings of the apartments are also made of exposed concrete, which means that you know that you are in a man-made building made of physically present materials.

This unusual block of flats has an unusual origin. As the name suggests, for artists it is the result of six years of efforts by the art organization Create London Providing affordable rental apartments at 65% of the market price for creative people. It was realized in collaboration with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Grayson Perry supported him as a “lawyer and soundboard”.

Living rooms on one floor can be connected to form a large common room. Photo: Ståle Eriksen

The aim of the project is not only to provide affordable living space for poor creative people – whose skills range from printmaking to photography to video art – but also to contribute something for the neighborhood to use a little of the known ability of the artist Bring a bit of life to a place. The ground floor is a glass-walled communal space where artists create and display their work, host adult education courses or parties, or anything that could add to the life of the area. (The light-flooded apartments are also good places to work, but the tenants do not get individual studio rooms.)

The apartments are also designed not just as isolated residential units, but as part of the community of the entire block. Residents are encouraged to take responsibility for the management. On one floor there are double doors in the partition walls between the apartments, which are soundproofed when closed and can be opened to connect the living room to a large common room. The arrangement of the block with three apartments each on the four above-ground floors, which can be reached via the shared balconies, promotes communication between the apartments.

A house for artists APPARATA Photography by Ståle Eriksen
Through the round window … Photo: Ståle Eriksen

An artist house is a work of simple joys and simple good things. Its design is based on a clever interpretation of the fire escape regulations; The provision of external balconies on either side of the block eliminates the need for internal corridors.

It also has architectural intelligence. The joints in the concrete are carefully placed to create the illusion that the building is made up of large masonry blocks, adding to the impression of strength. It looks like columns and beams – basic elements of architecture at least since ancient Egypt. But then, when things get too serious, it lifts the mood with circles and triangles cut into the walls like children’s toys, with more triangular shapes on the roofline.

It is possible to speak to the different elements of the William Street neighborhood, a current regeneration project that is next door. This is a bizarre combination of tall, somber gray blocks that are eerie like the least charming 1960s mansions and rows of small pitched brick houses. An artist’s house, with its triangles and rectangles and medium-sized scale, is somewhat of both, but is more appealing than both.

It’s a bold and punchy building that’s big and small and big and intimate at the same time. It’s more robust than exquisite, strict more than cozy, but still a place that you can call home. Create London sees it as a prototype: Now that you have your barking example, you want to introduce the idea elsewhere. We hope more of these will be built, and not just for creative people. All new apartments have something to learn from A House for Artists.


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