From former NCP car parks to views of the Thames, a look at the latest projects for new workspaces.
Words by Cathy Hayward
Photography by David Churchill
For more than 80 years NCP car parks have been the bastion of the British town centre, the familiar yellow and black signs indicating the entrance to the industrial grey concrete, often subterranean, structures. But in recent years NCP car parks have been put to other purposes: fashion brand House of Holland booked out London's Brewer Street NCP to host its catwalk shows for London Fashion Week, while Evans Cycles took over Cardiff's Dumfries Place NCP to host Urban Duel, a BMX racing event. And Art Drive exhibited its collection of classic BMWs at Shoreditch's Great Eastern Street NCP. But nobody had chosen an NCP car park as an office. Until now.
Make Architects, the studio founded by Ken Shuttleworth in 2004, was looking for a new home when it was offered a lease on a 1,300 sq m NCP basement car park in Middlesex House, Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia. Unusually the ceiling was high - 3.5m-3.7m - and Make immediately saw the potential for a subterranean studio, says the practice's Sean Affleck.
The design of the main open-plan area has maintained the utilitarian, industrial look and feel of the car park - with exposed services, pipework and timeworn columns. Many of the original features have been retained, such as the exposed concrete (now sealed), various redundant piping, metalwork and the original Thirties' Crittal windows along the ramp edge, now restored. Images of the original car park and the project in progress are displayed around the loos to help to connect the designers to the building's origins.
The 171 Make staff and visitors to this unique space walk down the old car park ramp, still visible beneath stepped platforms, to the studio. This 'outdoors' space also provides ample break-out space for meetings and presentations and is used as a gallery to showcase creative talent. A lightweight, translucent ETFE canopy spans the ramp from the street down to the studio, creating a light, bright and welcoming enclosed space, but with a real feeling of being outside.
Inside the main office, the open-plan desking reflects the non-hierarchical company structure. The numerous concrete pillars presented a design dilemma, says Affleck. If desks were grouped away from the pillars the space would be limited, so circular desks are positioned around each pillar, creating a collaborative and unique environment that also makes best use of the space.
The structure did provide certain constraints, which resulted in some interesting design elements. A raised floor would have reduced the ceiling height, so the power had to come from the ceiling. The circular desks are fed with power from the pillars, while hanging power sockets on extendable cables mean that people can work collaboratively and flexibly, moving the breakout furniture to suit their needs.
The old NCP ticket office has been transformed into one of four meeting rooms. It leads out into another lightwell, this time a space for the air-con plant for the entire building. This not only matches the industrial feel of the studio but also means the room is flooded with light.
The studio is inherently sustainable thanks to the retention of much of the original car park structure together with the installation of an underfloor heating/cooling system that regulates the temperature of the studio and LED lights. Affleck is already a passionate advocate of the car park-turned-office with projects in development of two other car-park spaces in London.