KnoxBhavan has separated its studio from its dwelling, but a relaxed feeling remains in the efficient new premises
At KnoxBhavan Architects’ new Peckham studio, an outsized concrete picture frame draws passersby across a chequerboard of grass, the maker’s name perched on the canopy above – less signature or sign board, more a clue for the curious. That window to this converted house in a neat Georgian terrace offers more than most shop fronts; stairs drop away revealing a huge wooden table behind delicate lines of patinated steel banisters, models are set between doors to each side. If you bend down (is that too obviously nosy?) you can see what glitters under the ceiling, a geometric concoction of light and perforated bronze plates.
For the whole life of their firm Sasha Bhavan and Simon Knox have been nurturing their practice from their south east London home. Even when they built a studio for their close team it felt like a family enterprise with the main meeting room in their living room. It worked for their growing children, and seems to have worked for the clients whose homes they also designed.
But there was a bigger plan, perhaps for slightly larger projects but most of all to build their own home. Or more precisely two homes, one a house 10 minutes’ walk away on the plot of their first studio; the second for the practice office. Here all the lessons from the first office would be put into practice – most noticeably how to create a temperate space which didn’t demand heavy jumpers and blankets in winter and fans in the summer – though provision for this is nigh on invisible.
The old terraced house, with its warren of rooms extending into the back yard, had been owned by KnoxBhavan’s stationers. When the practice took over they started from scratch, digging down into the basement for a model room and kitchen, extending the full length of the building on the ground floor to create space for the team and splitting the top two floors between a meeting room and a flat.
Each space has a different character within the lexicon of spatial and material depth that characterises KnoxBhavan’s works. A long work station runs back through the building, flanked by storage behind Douglas fir doors. Each desk has a cupboard behind to store drawings and documents, a luxury in the modern office (one in the kink of the plan also hides away the MVHR unit). But the 8m long oak work station itself is a magnificent piece of engineering that can be configured in many ways. It can be a single smooth surface like a dining table. But with each desktop in two parts it can be used sitting or standing or to raise the screen for the user, all smooth from the foot pedal with a gas lift, and wiring for monitors stashed inside the legs. For drawings an extra surface pulls out to give an L-shaped desk.
On plan the office space might look like a double runway but it is far more complex. A mirrored reveal peers into the meeting room and the deep, ducted, roof is moulded up towards bright rooflights. Dappled light fills the back as red and gold carp ripple in a pool the width of the building. South-facing windows are shaded with scalloped waves of stainless steel mirror-polished fins. Soft brick courtyard walls, ground and bench are unmortared in parts, ready for creeping green ‘mind your own business’ to take root, and pleached crab apples line the back wall. Two-tone glazed green slips sink deep into the carp pool. ‘We wanted work not to be a drudge,’ says Bhavan.
The circular concrete stepping stone came from KnoxBhavan’s old office. Other attempts at re-use were more tricky, the stationery shop’s wooden panelling covers the meeting room walls but cost almost as much to recondition as to make new, as did a nearly-new island unit in the flat that clients were going to chuck. Ideas are easier to re-use, so marble is in evidence in the office loo and shower. It is in their own home, so too are the invitingly generous tables for office lunches and for the flat upstairs, and doors slide into wall spaces.
Knox and Bhavan’s son Fergus, who is completing his Part 3 at the Bartlett, took the lead on the super-thin mezzanine that squeezes in an extra layer for a (slightly bouncy) meeting room at the front of the building – with structural engineer Tim Lucas of Price and Myers. Fergus water jet cut the steel straps and hook scarf jointed them as concentric squares. They act in tension to support ply joists mid beam and tie back to the ring beam. The shapes are picked up in light diffusers of folded brass plates.
KnoxBhavan was bound up with creating every object – from rudimentary prototypes of the lifting desks to working out details of the concrete pour of the frames at the front with their six workmen. You can’t clearly separate making from design here, nor beauty from the everyday. It is the sort of place you’d want on your street, to peer into and wonder about.
Gross internal area 170m2
Construction cost £300,000
Cost per m2 £1764
Architect Knox Bhavan Architects
Client Knox Bhavan Architects
Structural Engineer Tim Lucas, Price & Myers
Main Contractor Direct labour, site managed by Knox Bhavan
Services Engineer Paul Bastick Associates