The sequence of later studios displays, it seems to me, a less nuanced design response to what is going on here, and a tougher and more direct understanding of the Kapoor operation, which itself had moved on and grown. There is no fiddling with existing roof structures. The existing traditional saw-tooth roofs with north-facing clerestoreys were demolished to make way for the largest uninterrupted space available, with new central skylights dropping light into the middle of each bay. Powerful extract fans pull air through each space, allowing separate industrial activities to take place in each area.
Even at the level of detail, everything in these later spaces has become tougher and more uncompromising. The high-level windows facing the street are no longer refined frameless glass, but Profilit – a set of cast glass vertical channels which diffuse the light, but whose industrial character also refers back to the original structures.
Standing in a quiet south London street with my back to a school building, I was suddenly aware of activity across the road. The big doors of the end building opened and a forklift truck rumbled its way in, and then out, carrying a shiny red object protected from the rain with some clear plastic. A young woman trotted out, laughing, and ran to open a huge door further down the street. It opened to reveal a warmly-lit world inside – a magic Easter egg of a place, full of colour and light. Two girls from the school appeared next to me, entranced and smiling at this glimpse into the life on their doorstep.
It is perhaps the most endearing quality of the newly completed set of building conversions for Anish Kapoor that they confirm the sculptor’s presence in his neighbourhood, and his investment in this particular bit of south London.
This is not a private and sealed personal world. It is a working environment with, one hopes, inspiring lessons about the potential of art and its workers for the girls across the street. Over a 20-year period, a set of industrial sheds has been transformed into this heady sequence of spaces.
I believe that it is fortunate for the project that the buildings were not all available at once, making phasing necessary”
Its architect, Michael Casey of Caseyfierro, confesses to an initial instinct to convert the sheds on this triangular site into a sequence of spaces with an ‘in’ at one end and an ‘out’ at the other. Gradually, however, through the process of phasing the work as bits were available, it became clear that this was not a linear process, but a series of workshop spaces whose use would vary as Kapoor’s work developed. It is this realisation, and the creation of the sequence of big industrial doors to the street for each unit, that makes the street a working part of the buildings, and the buildings a working part of the city.
I believe that it is fortunate for the project that the buildings were not all available at once, making phasing necessary. Even now, there is one further unit to be developed. There is an interesting study in difference here – differences that developed as succeeding phases were built; differences that enrich the theme with variations.
Studio I, at the wider north end of the site, was the first major project. Here, the architects defined the nature of their intervention in a clear way, preserving the existing structural roof bents but carving away redundant floor structure and introducing a new monopitch roof at the furthest end.
Spatially, it has the stunning volumetric surprise and sequential narrative beloved of architects. It is also in many ways the closest of any part of the complex to a gallery: the introduction of the cool, translucent north-facing clerestorey and the simple detailing where wall meets floor could be straight out of a new gallery, as could the detail around the toilet and stair, where vinyl riser meets vinyl tread with only a corner bead between them (well, it’s not a public building with responsibilities for visual contrast). The introduction of underfloor heating below the new slab also gives this space a relatively gentle ambiance, and has made it Kapoor’s choice as his own studio.
The external sliding-folding doors in the later studios are even more robust than in the first studio. The simplified stair detail in Studio I has given way to the use of a standard industrial nosing. And underfloor heating has been replaced by big industrial space heaters at high level.
Otherwise, the architects have continued the elegant and effective collage of existing and new materials. Lighting throughout is exposed fluorescent tubes, sensibly fairly warm in colour temperature. These are designed to give an overall light level of 700 lux. The lighting seems to work best in the tallest spaces, where the sharp glare of the individual fittings is clear of eye-level work, and is somewhat removed visually from the task of burnishing polished surfaces.
Michael Casey insists that this complex is not a gallery. And yet he also says that when photographing it, they tended to turn away from the big space heaters. I would have included them, myself, as well as the gantries and chains that are such a part of this operation, both functionally and aesthetically. Those are precisely the ingredients that make this studio complex not a gallery, and a very fine one.