As the eastern districts of London gentrify, architects, developers, and residents are doing their best to repurpose existing structures, which are often industrial. In the city’s Stratford neighborhood stands a three-story, 66-foot-tall, 984-foot-long, and 52-foot-deep steel gantry that originally housed mechanical units for a massive air conditioning plant for nearby facilities. Though those units are long gone, local real estate developer Delancey wanted to turn the site into a creative hub, lining up prospective artist tenants. For this project, called Here East Gantry, the local office of Hawkins\Brown Architects opted to retain the plant frame and slot in 23 studios, creating a human-scale cabinet of curiosities.
Though every studio would have either a 270- or 860-square-foot footprint, or “plot,” Hawkins\Brown wanted each module to be a singular, self-enclosed entity, complete with a distinct form, roofline, and room partitions—and custom-built to meet each artist’s unique requests. But the firm also wanted to build the studios using a kit of standard—and thus budget-friendly—parts.
“This project has a narrative: It looks at a method of fabrication, which is flat packing, and then it looks at [crafting] an assembly that you can send it in a box, like an IKEA house.”
Florencia Pita Juror, R+D Awards 2018
Hawkins\Brown architect Jack Stewart said the team began devising a toolkit of joints and other building elements using WikiHouse, an open-source, parametric design program created in 2011. The program allowed them to adjust each unit to different specifications, down to the angles and widths of each member and joint. Then, with the push of a button, they sent the cutting files generated from the program to a remote CNC-milling machine, which churned out the puzzle-like plywood pieces for the 23 building chassis.
“As a firm, we were able to hand the data directly to a milling contractor, who could then deliver the kit of parts to the assembly team on site.”
Jack Stewart Architect & Digital Technology Specialist, Hawkins\Brown