The Arches Project
Since 2017, Boano Prismontas and Meanwhile Space have worked in partnership with the GLA, Lambeth Council and Network Rail (now Arch Company) to deliver a design-led strategy that aimed to activate disused spaces across London and provide business incubation opportunities.
Boano Prišmontas designed a digitally fabricated structural system which adopts dry-joint techniques to infill and make use of a wide range of abandoned pocket spaces, such as railway arches, undercrofts and multi storey car parks. The aim of this project is to create a kit of parts that can be easily assembled and eventually redeployed. The project’s value lies in its nomadic, temporary and sustainable approach.
Boano Prišmontas and Meanwhile Space seek to work in synergy with developers and councils for short and mid-term urban regeneration strategies that support the quick creation of affordable workspace for local businesses and startups.
Meanwhile Space launched the “Arch Challenge competition” in 2017 to find a “kit of parts” solution which would challenge the standard Network Rail costs to carry out the basic internal lining of the arches vaults - a solution that can only be locally installed by certified contractors. The competition brief aimed for a design that would improve the thermal quality of the space, be water tight, cost effective and safe. Most importantly, the design had to be freestanding, fully demountable and reusable, to allow the capital investment required for a meanwhile use to be reused in many subsequent arches or similar spaces, once the initial contract term had expired or when an earlier break is required.
The design proposed by Boano Prismontas was chosen as it is freestanding, provides a secure space internally, creates a warm and dry space, it is self-buildable, repeatable and cost effective. The structural system is a plug-in space, a room-within-a-room that is built by replicating its modules as much as possible to infill the vault of the arches.
The digitally fabricated structural system is comprised of two elements:
The boxes. Modular CNC-cut plywood units that are repeated to infill the space as much as possible and stacked on walls to support the beams as well as the external polycarbonate cladding.
The beams. Modular CNC-cut plywood pieces joined together to cover a maximum span of 7.2m. They are the support onto which the insulation sheet is clipped on.
The boxes are sized to host the polycarbonate facade, which allows to fill the internal space with natural light. The polycarbonate panels also spill light on the street showing a glimpse of the activity taking place inside the space.
The Arches project can come with various internal finishes and include different internal features such as bespoke CNC-machined doors, furniture pieces and a peg wall. The construction cost for a new arch is cheaper than the cost of basic-finish new build, and a new arch can be completed in a very short time, making the project an attractive choice for dealing with an array of difficult spaces nationwide.
The structure is entirely made of certified birch plywood sheets. All pieces of this ‘puzzle’ are the result of a careful study and prototyping phase that assessed the best ratio between element size and weight, structural integrity and ease of construction. Each structural piece is also geometrically efficient when cut with a CNC machine, minimising material wastage to bare minimum. Boano Prišmontas have created several design pieces that make use of the offcuts and the plywood dust resulting from the CNC process is also used as a material substrate to create boards of bio-plastic material (mycelium).
Redeployability and Self-buildability:
Another important aspect of the project is the fact that each component - from the plywood structure, to the facade cladding and insulation sheet - is meant to be re-deployed when dismantled. In fact, the dry-joinery techniques allow the structure to be assembled without the use of screws, nails or glue. Each piece simply slots together and the assembling/dismantling process can be carried out by unskilled workers. The act of construction itself becomes a way to involve local communities, charitable associations and youth clubs, making the project a catalyst for positive social impact.
The urban vision and the social impact:
The railway arches are a unique urban asset as they host all sorts of retail activities and productive spaces such as studios, laboratories, workshops, mechanics, shops, micro breweries, and co-working spaces to name just a few. Railway arches are the backbone of the “productive London”. The Arches Project aims to preserve and promote the diversity of uses by quickly creating a spacious, warm and dry space that delivers affordable workspace for local businesses.