Archway Studios

Archway Studios in London, UK by Undercurrent Architects, 2012

According to Undercurrent Architects, over 10,000 arches comprise the Victorian railway infrastructure that cuts up the city of London. Their design of the aptly named Archway Studios—a live-work space—positions the building under and adjacent to one of these arches, thereby exploiting the potential for the other 9,999. This particular one is part of a 19th-century railway viaduct in the Southwark district. The load-bearing brick vaults of the viaduct are accompanied by some rusting steel above; both appear to have influenced the architects in their design.

The three-story structure looks like it merely sits next to the viaduct, or caps one of the openings. But it actually extends underneath, sitting atop a rubber foundation and separated from the brick above via an independent liner and plenty of acoustical blanketing. This results in a fairly open and light living space on the ground floor, but that is only half the story. A section through the building would reveal an "L" shape—one leg level to the ground and one leg pointing up, extending past the railway's guardrail, as the building actually does.

The vertical leg contains a bedroom and bathroom one floor above, accessed via a spiral stair, and the work space above it still, up a straight-run stair. A skylight caps the volume, and combined with the shape of the floors below, daylight extends all the way to the ground floor. Natural light also enters the interior through the narrow windows that are located in the gaps between the surfaces of weathering steel that cover the vertical volume. These windows are very important, given the confines of the site and the need for privacy.

The rusty steel skin is easily the most striking aspect of the design. The way it appears to drape itself from the top of the building and peel back to admit daylight as it extends to the ground recalls Undercurrent's Leaf House, but turned on its side. In addition to their organic forms, each house takes its inspiration from their surroundings (industrial infrastructure, trees) and creates an interesting dialogue between inside and outside. The Leaf House's freedom of structure is not available with this London site, but the architects let the interior follow the archway, making the residents aware of their unique situation.

Photographs are by Candice Lake.