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Archway Studios

Archway Studios in London, designed by Undercurrent Architects is a remarkable architectural project. The building is a three story, dual use residence and work space, surrounding a 19th century railway viaduct. The building’s unique design and appearance helps it to stand out even when dwarfed by inner-city neighbors. As one of 10,000 arches that dissect neighborhoods across London, it is a model that can be adapted for broad community benefit and regeneration.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-02-750x1000 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

While the outside appears to be a rusted, weathered arch, the indoor surroundings are something quite different. The studio is set into the arch, so the space spans upwards, rather than sprawling outwards, creating a loft-like approach.

Spiral staircases and old-fashioned, ladder like stairs take dwellers through each floor in style. Sky-lights fill the studio with natural light and give the space a modern feel.

The building seems as a gut response to the intense Victorian industrial heritage of the site. The dense overcrowding of those times appears to be a cue to literally squeeze habitable space from the site, almost accepting the resulting form as a consequence of the process. If that is the suggestion of course, it is an illusion. The building is pure artifice.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-03-759x569 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Site conditions were tight, with a narrow plot, limited access to light and views, and the railway as a source of noise and vibration.

At the heart of the living quarters is a double volume space with accommodation flowing off it. This space is top lit and is flooded with light. Lacerations in the side walls provide other glazing slots with a fully glazed end wall providing light in abundance.

The structure itself is also very interesting. Steel semi-monocoque elements were fabricated off site, more in the spirit of a ship than a building. The photos here, provided by the architect, give an interesting insight into the fabrication process.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-07-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Undercurrent Architects:

Archway Studios is a live-workspace built in and around a 19thC rail viaduct. The project works with the constraints of an inner-city, industrial site next to a train line, and the challenges of a fortified design that engages its surroundings.

The building subverts tight site conditions, transforming a narrow plot with limited access to light, aspect and views, into an uplifting space that offers release in spite extreme constraints.

The building’s unique design and appearance helps it to stand out even when dwarfed by inner-city neighbours. As one of 10,000 arches that dissect neighbourhoods across London, it is a model that can be adapted for broad community benefit and regeneration.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-05-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Design themes:

  • pocket sites; squeezing everything from the little you have to start with
  • heavily constrained sites; overcoming constraints and arriving at a design which is more than problem solving
  • brownfield, industrial sites brought back into use
  • hybrid buildings; part structure, part inhabited infrastructure
  • hybrid uses; live/work studio
  • technical challenges of sound and vibration; building an acoustic shell
  • buildings (and policies) that address the physical impact of infrastructure on the city centre in inhibiting movement, access, growth and evolution
  • buildings (and policies) that address the impact of infrastructure on the neighbourhoods through which they pass
  • Change of use contrary to Planning Policy, against Planning Department recommendations, overturning through Committee
Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-08-759x506 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Policy context:

Archway Studios is part new structure / part inhabited infrastructure – a pocket site, connected to a railway arch and viaduct in Southwark, the southern centre of London. The area is severely impacted by overground train lines converging towards the centre, crossed by others running parallel to the River Thames, cutting north-south connections and links to and from the River.

Historically, infrastructural systems priorised the macro needs of the city in connecting the inner and outer areas. However there is now pressure to address the secondary effects of these infrastructural corridors, especially where their physical presence inhibits movement, growth and evolution of the centre.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-09-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

And in London, there is a desire not only to solve problems associated with its infrastructural systems, but also to bring out the attractive and unique qualities that exist due to them. This means drawing out their unique character – for example: Victorian era viaducts in 21st century use; Dickensian nooks nurturing underground culture; laissez-faire qualities encouraging spontaneous, ad-hoc innovation, cutting-edge street art and architecture.

Southwark council realise the need to make the area more socially accessible. They have tried to overcome the barrier formed by the viaducts and to re-connect communities split in 2 by train lines by finding uses for the arches that mitigate the physical divisions they create. At a policy level, this means they have more relaxed planning rules which enables new thinking – leading to new spaces, cultures and communities.

At the macro scale, this is taking place with development clusters located over railway transport hubs – for example the Shard built over London Bridge station. At the micro scale, the street level arches and their surrounding are attracting pop-up uses, temporary events and community led projects.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-12-759x506 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Subsequent to these temporal uses is their formalisation into more permanent occupation, with creative communities and industries starting to use the arches as galleries, art studios, workshops and market places. If the macro scale initiatives create critical mass, it is the micro scale initiatives that bring diversity and innovation.

However, a possible constraint acting against these smaller scale initiatives is that the National Rail Authority now recognise commercial opportunities for themselves and are placing barriers to private or micro innovation while offering a competing, corporate version.

As a major landholder with a cumbersome system of secondary policy, they pose a serious impediment to the success of future initiatives. Nevertheless, whether the future is led by macro or micro change, the arches will continue to be a hotbed for new ideas thriving on the pulse of the city’s transit system.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-13-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Building Design & Construction:

The building protrudes above the trainline and forms an acoustic wall to shield the sound of trains, providing the building with a presence at train level and for passing passengers.

The shell is constructed as a purpose-built sound barrier, with a multi layered, double-skin wall. The outer skin is a 6mm corten steel plate, acting as both a sound shield and an aesthetic screen. It has a gently concave shape to help to absorb sound waves. The 6mm steel plate is supported by a rigid grillage of steel ‘T’ section beams. This is a ‘stressed skin’ construction that allows the outer skin to act as a structural screen hung largely independent from the inner skin.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-14-759x505 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

It forms a continuous air gap between inner and outer skins, with the only connection at the outer edges of the wall. This isolates the interior spaces from the exterior walls & breaks the transfer path for noise and vibration. The inner skin consists of 6mm plate on both sides of a 150mm PFC steel grillage. It is a secondary sound screen; a ‘stressed skin’ wall with dense fibre matting acoustic insulation packed inside.

A thermal insulation blanket is located in the air cavity between skins. This frees the secondary insulation layer to focus solely on acoustic requirements. There are no openings or penetrations in this wall. A vibration dampening membrane is adhered to the inner steel surface to prevent structural resonance and to provide additional sound absorption.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-16-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

The skylight is at the top of this structure and is made from thick cavity glass that insulates train noise. It is a glazed aperture for light but fully sealed against sound. Glazing consists of 6+6mm outer glass, 16mm cavity, 5+5mm glass.

At ground level, the building is isolated and floats on a rubber foundation to absorb any movement due to vibration. The structure and inner casing is therefore wholly independent of the viaduct and avoids transmission from the viaduct to the interior space.

Archway-Studios-By-Undercurrent-Architects-04-800x1200 Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects

© Candice Lake

Project Data:

Project name: Archway Studios
Location: Southwark, London, United Kingdom
Coordinates: n/a

  • Type By Characteristic: Studio, Prefab House, Tower House
  • Type By Site: City / Town House
  • Type By Size: Small House – (51 sqm – 200 sqm)
  • Type By Materials: Steel House

Project Area: approx 90 sqm
Project Year: 2010 – 2012
Status: Built
Completion Year: 2012


  • 2013 – New London Awards – Category: Homes – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: n/a
Architects: Undercurrent Architects, London, UK
Project Architect: Didier Ryan
Project Team: Alessandra Giannotti
Engineer: Eckersley O’Callaghan
Text Description: © Courtesy of Undercurrent Architects, detail-online
Images: © Candice Lake, Undercurrent Architects

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Archway Studios / Undercurrent Architects
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