Work in progress

Space takes on a whole new meaning at Anish Kapoor’s developing studio. For architect Caseyfierro, the industrial conversion has taken eight years – and counting

1950s industrial aesthetic maintained with new Profilit glazing.
1950s industrial aesthetic maintained with new Profilit glazing. · Credit: Jim Stephenson

Perhaps it’s just as well Anish Kapoor now has a completed South London studio from which to progress his artistic research. One of the UK’s most prolific artists, his experimentations with colour and its ability to create illusory depths of field has recently been rewarded with the exclusive rights to the use of British tech firm NanoSystems’ Vantablack, the blackest pigment ever created, formed of light-sucking nano ‘tubes’. Synthesised to disguise stealth satellites, and only stabilised in an autoclave at high temperature, its less defensive uses are to be investigated by Kapoor – a task made a whole lot easier now architect Caseyfierro has finally completed his citadel-like Camberwell base.

Partners Michael Casey and Victoria Fierro, who met the artist through a mutual friend, have been engaged on the commission  since 2008, but Kapoor has been on the site for over 20, slowly buying up the industrial triangle between a housing estate, supermarket and a local school as his renown and number of commissions grew. He owns six of the seven buildings, amounting to over 3100m2, which accommodate about 25 staff  engaged in painting, sculpture, casting or mirror polishing – disciplines reflecting the artist’s eclectic modes of representation.

  • The original 1940s dairy building.
    The original 1940s dairy building. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • The original saw-tooth roofed industrial unit.
    The original saw-tooth roofed industrial unit. · Credit: Jim Stephenson

For Casey and Fierro, who met while working at Herzog & de Meuron, the task was to draw out the needs of an artist with a highly developed creative and aesthetic sense, who was unclear as to what kind of physical space he might need. Caseyfierro meanwhile was faced with 1950s industrial units that were not only completely distinct from one another but in various states of ­repair, uninsulated and unheated. All needed  to be brought up to the standards necessary for a state of the art, flexible studio space for one of the world’s most prominent artists. The vast, calm, white, wholly refurbished and modernised volume they have created over the last eight years is testament to the slow, iterative design process that characterised an intense client/architect relationship.

Casey says that, with artist Bill Woodrow occupying a single industrial unit sandwiched among Kapoor’s, they were spared the obvious architectural desire to unify the studio space, factory-like, under one roof. First completing the offices at the southern prow of the site in 2008, they went for piecemeal upgrading and modernisation, working back to it from the longest, widest and longest-held unit, a former diary at the north end. With hindsight, Casey considered this approach far better reflected Kapoor’s working methodology, creating distinct spaces for different activities; and with the artist working in mediums from the science of mirror polishing to binding raw earth in fibre glass, the necessity to maintain clear separations is understandable. But there were programmatic considerations too. The industrial units, some split over two storeys, worked against the artist’s desire both to carry out larger pieces of work, and for the space to act as a research, archive and entertainment/reception facility as well as a working studio. All these needs, some divergent, were ultimately bedded into the final design.

  • Studio V: the refurbished sculpture-making space, but with a sense of the original retained.
    Studio V: the refurbished sculpture-making space, but with a sense of the original retained. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Studio I acts as Kapoor’s reception, meeting and testing area at ground level. Above is his dedicated painting space.
    Studio I acts as Kapoor’s reception, meeting and testing area at ground level. Above is his dedicated painting space. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Saw-tooth roof removed, Studio VII’s Profilit glazing brings its ceiling in line with Studio VI’s 6m brick datum.
    Saw-tooth roof removed, Studio VII’s Profilit glazing brings its ceiling in line with Studio VI’s 6m brick datum. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • The original Studio VII, with its 3.5m ceiling height.
    The original Studio VII, with its 3.5m ceiling height. · Credit: Jim Stephenson

Fierro explains that the artist’s own ­perception of the project changed throughout the iterative design process. The original 1940s dairy building, Kapoor’s main painting Studio I and reception, is the most gallery-like of all the spaces, both volumetrically and in terms of finishes. A single-storey building with a second floor and portal frame added later, the architect’s intervention is most clearly seen in the monopitch roof on the northern end topping an enormous 17m by 4m clerestory window. This animates the formerly blank north elevation, crisply detailed so its glazed face is flush with the fletton brickwork. Half of the first floor has been removed to align with the clerestory and generate a huge 9m high gallery. Exposed, riveted steel columns support Kapoor’s dedicated painting studio, below which a raised glass box nestles in the front corner overlooking the space, side lit by three new translucent, diffused glass lights, similarly detailed and flat to the existing brick face. A polished concrete floor hides newly installed underfloor heating but sets the general approach for the remaining units. An existing steel portal frame, duly boxed out in fireproofing board, attains a level of abstraction, lit by a new north rooflight running as a strip along the length of the painting space.

As the development progressed, the architects saw Kapoor’s view on the building he’d used for 20 years evolve; wishing to preserve more of the sense of its industrial past while keeping the marks of his own occupation over that time. The response to this is best seen in Studios IV-VI, where Caseyfierro also had to accommodate Kapoor’s desire to work at a larger scale. On these three units, the industrial saw tooth roof was removed in its entirety and replaced with a new flat roof with the same north light, but raised 3m to line up with the brick datum of adjacent Studio III, offering new levels of utility. Here new I-beams span north/south to flank walls, picking up the loads of the new roof but performing an additional function too. Below them hang secondary steels running lengthwise, engineered to take up to 3-tonne loads at mid span and act as a gantry from which Kapoor can suspend his larger sculptures and move them around the studio.

Above the structural beams, hollow purlins also perform a perfunctory structural purpose, discreetly hiding cable runs for the dense lines of fluorescent tubes. On the east elevation to the street, the industrial aesthetic is well referenced with 3m high Profilit frosted glazing panels denoting the new roof line, its structure intimated behind it.

  • Steels not only support the new insulated roof and glazing, but act as a gantry for moving heavy sculptures.
    Steels not only support the new insulated roof and glazing, but act as a gantry for moving heavy sculptures. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Internally, high 700lux light levels flood the working space. Partition walls are built to take heavy loads.
    Internally, high 700lux light levels flood the working space. Partition walls are built to take heavy loads. · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • 1950s industrial aesthetic maintained with new Profilit glazing
    1950s industrial aesthetic maintained with new Profilit glazing · Credit: Jim Stephenson
  • Kapoor’s studio: paint it – black.
    Kapoor’s studio: paint it – black. · Credit: Jim Stephenson

Internally, the old industrial workshop is better evidenced. Kapoor wanted to keep the memory of the original building during the refurbishment, so the architect preserved walls amid the new interventions. As an active workshop, the studio feels rougher and less complete, to accord with Kapoor’s desire for the space to be well-used and imprinted by the production within. Critically, the need for the building not to impede the creative process wasn’t just about roughness but even led to the positioning of light fittings throughout – always hard to the ceiling soffits so as not to constrain the ability to fabricate larger pieces. It’s an ethos also reflected in the design of the internal stud partition walls which, though not loadbearing per se, are built with two sheets of ply on either side and then plastered – serious walls with capacity to carry heavier artworks.

With no change of use, the planning application ran smoothly, says Caseyfierro, as indeed did the construction contract. The building was procured under the Intermediate Form of Contract and construction carried out by contractor Hoxon, who had refurbished the offices at the south end. Kapoor, it would seem, is happy with his new studio, procured for a reasonable £1300/m2. The artist has commissioned Caseyfierro for a new scheme, still under wraps, and the contractor remains engaged on the firm’s upcoming refurb of Bill Woodrow’s block, sandwiched in the middle of Kapoor’s.

In the meantime, something huge, amorphous and earthlike is rising out of Kapoor’s Studio V.