Cassion Castle Architects completes retrofit of run-down Victorian workshop block for Pearson Lloyd’s new design office.
Thanks to the vision of Cassion Castle Architects and Pearson Lloyd, what was a dilapidated Victorian block in East London is now a dynamic modern studio, giving Pearson Lloyd a new permanent home in the heart of Hackney for their industry- leading design office.
Spanning five former stables-turned-workshops on Yorkton Street, the new office is set in an area with a long association with making and manufacture. Today, most of the premises once occupied by furniture makers, musical-instrument artisans, wood turners and other craftspeople have been replaced with residential units. The restoration of Yorkton Workshops is thus an act of preservation, reinvigorating the area’s design heritage, and linking Pearson Lloyd to a lineage of making that dates back over a century.
Spread over two storeys and two wings – a historic workshop building and a more recent warehouse structure – Yorkton Workshops encompasses a variety of spaces, including versatile studios, workshops for making and prototyping, meeting rooms and a dedicated area for exhibitions and events.
The new studio has enabled Pearson Lloyd to consolidate its office, workshop and design archive onto a single site for the first time in five years. Because the studio’s projects range from North America to Europe and beyond, London is in a key strategic position for Pearson Lloyd to serve its international client base. This opening represents the studio’s continuing commitment to the city that has been its home for over 20 years, creating new opportunities to engage with the industry and local community, as well as giving the studio the space and flexibility to operate in a Covid-safe manner.
Retrofitted, reclaimed, recycled
When Pearson Lloyd acquired the building in 2017, it was a mess; a haphazard collision of old and new, with a mishmash of overlaid alterations and adaptations that had been made over the decades. Part of the Victorian building had been replaced with a modern utilitarian structure some time in the 1990s, likely in response to a fire, leaving 6,000 sq ft of usable – but uninspiring – space. As a former workshop block that had housed an assortment of makers and craftspeople for centuries, it had a heritage that Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd identified with and wished to continue, but it was ill-suited to the needs of a multi-faceted 21st-century design studio operating internationally.
The easiest approach would have been to knock it down and start from scratch, but Cassion Castle Architects and Pearson Lloyd agreed that restoring and retrofitting the building – although much more challenging and architecturally complex – would be a far more sustainable, low-carbon approach, as it would preserve the embodied carbon in the existing structure. On average, between a third and a half of a structure’s carbon emissions are concentrated in the construction phase, so the reuse of a building has significantly less impact than a new-build.
Cassion Castle Architects was in a unique position to work on this retrofit scheme,
being able to operate as both architect and main contractor. This dynamic unlocked the potential of the site, in that detailed design decisions could happen
concurrently, repeatedly, and seamlessly with construction, allowing for a
collaborative making approach.
This determination to minimise environmental impact influenced the design approach from the outset; Pearson Lloyd and Cassion Castle Architects worked hard to minimise the demolition needed, the potential landfill generated and the new materials introduced. They ensured existing materials were retained or reused wherever possible, repurposing bricks, steelwork and timber joists from the demolition phase, supplemented by materials sourced from reclamation yards wherever necessary. The floorboards, for example, were reclaimed from a Victorian factory site in Mile End.
The retrofit approach was not only environmentally the right choice, but it also created the opportunity for a much richer interior. The interplay of existing fabric and new material lead to hundreds of bespoke details for the design team to tackle and celebrate. Original brickwork seamlessly intersects with contemporary concrete and smooth sheets of birch plywood – a balanced and harmonious meeting of old and new at macro and micro scales.
Another priority was to achieve optimal user comfort as passively as possible. To ensure optimal insulation, all retained elements of the external envelope, including the concrete ground-bearing floor slabs, were upgraded to modern standards and new roofs were added throughout. Natural cross-ventilation prevents overheating, whereas north-facing window openings and -east -and south-facing roof lights with integral blinds reduce solar gain. The need for air-conditioning has been overcome by the inclusion of naturally cooling exposed-masonry walls. Low-energy lighting has been installed throughout – powered with renewable energy supplied by a photovoltaic array on the roof.
There was a compelling creative benefit to the retrofit approach, too. Preserving the original industrial character of the buildings has given the workshops a clear contextual connection to the surrounding structures, and emphasised their relationship with the architectural heritage of the local area. By carefully combining Victorian and modern elements, they have created a balanced, engaging space that meets the studio’s modern-day needs without sacrificing its historic character – the latest iteration of a structure that has been evolving for over a century.
The finished building imaginatively matches form to function. The domestic-scale Victorian part has been adapted to house more intimate studio activities such as meetings and events, whereas the larger and more open 20th-century factory wing holds the Pearson Lloyd workshops and primary studio space. A central entrance lobby holds a bespoke industrial steel staircase painted bold red, which grabs the eye from the moment of entry. This leads up to the first floor studio space and meeting areas – generously spacious thanks to raised ceilings – and to an outdoor garden and roof terrace that act as a bridge between the building’s functions and eras, allowing the two wings to be read as distinct but connected.
Design in collaboration
Having worked with Cassion Castle Architects on several projects over the past 12 years, Pearson Lloyd co-founders Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd knew that it would be the ideal practice to collaborate with to develop their initial design concept, with the experience and creativity necessary to deliver such a complex project, ensuring continuity of design and the refined quality of the final product.
Cassion Castle Architects has a long history of working with individual designers and studios, and is as comfortable collaborating with clients to shape, optimise and deliver a shared creative vision as it is taking sole responsibility for a scheme. Yorkton Workshops offered an opportunity to demonstrate the growing practice’s ability to take on ambitious, complex projects at scale.
The fact that the practice can perform the role of both architect and contractor simultaneously was critical to the restoration. When architects are involved only in the design phase, there can often be a gulf between vision and delivery as the contractor cuts corners, takes easier routes, or is obliged to adapt plans to negotiate unforeseen obstacles. Having Cassion Castle Architects actively responsible for both aspects of the project ensured the design was realistic without any loss of creativity, and that the build remained true to Pearson Lloyd’s initial concept. The attention to detail at Yorkton Workshops is evident in the finished space.
Restoring a structure like this – which has been modified, damaged, repaired, added to, and reimagined in countless ways over the last century – demanded a highly adaptive approach. A sequential, linear method of planning and construction would have allowed no room for the unpredictable and exacerbated the challenges encountered, ultimately leading to suboptimal outcomes and greater costs.
Because design and construction could happen in parallel, the restoration of the Workshops became a continuous, iterative act of collaborative making. Together, Pearson Lloyd and Cassion Castle Architects responded to the structure as they took it apart, trialling different approaches and evolving their ideas as construction progressed. This approach has been employed since the dawn of civilisation: by modifying, adapting and extending buildings, sites (and ultimately cities) become richly layered palimpsests of old and new.
The responsiveness of this approach meant that architect and designer could work together to reconcile the fabric of the building to Pearson Lloyd’s needs, ensuring the finished workspace was tailor-made for the practice. This has proven especially valuable in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as layouts could be easily adapted to accommodate social distancing and more widely distributed working areas for the Pearson Lloyd design team.
A strategic-workplace laboratory
For Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd, Yorkton Workshops has presented the perfect opportunity to demonstrate Pearson Lloyd’s design philosophy in action – by applying it to their own workspace.
Over the last 20+ years, the studio has dedicated itself to ‘Making Design Work’ – identifying and building functional, beautiful and efficient products, environments and systems that respond to the challenges of the day and enhance our experience of the world.
Yorkton Workshops reaffirms this commitment. Although the space is tailor-made to meet the needs of a modern-day design studio, Luke and Tom have ensured it is not locked into that role. For them, the restoration of Yorkton Workshops represents not only an investment in Pearson Lloyd’s future as a design practice, but in the creative fabric of London as a whole. Yorkton Workshops is effectively future-proof: it can accommodate single or multiple tenants, internal spaces can be modified to open- plan or enclosed as needs change, and it is readily adaptable to manifold workplace typologies – as the ease with which Pearson Lloyd have made it Covid-secure demonstrates.
This flexibility, coupled with the sheer size of the building, have proved hugely beneficial in the creation of an effective socially distanced workplace. Pearson Lloyd’s team of 12–16 people are now spread throughout a building with scope for up to 30. They have developed new desking solutions in-house that make working and collaborating at a distance easier, and, like many organisations emerging from lockdown, Pearson Lloyd has incorporated its learnings into the studio’s modus operandi, with home working and remote meetings now a permanent part of its everyday operations.
Flexibility is also key to one of the workshops’ primary functions. As one of the leading studios in the design of workplace furniture and systems, Pearson Lloyd wanted a space at a scale where they could road-test new design concepts, prototypes and workspace solutions at scale – a real-world lab for their ideas. Featuring a number of their own furniture designs, Yorkton Workshops is in effect the realisation of Pearson Lloyd’s own thinking about ‘People, Place and Product’ – designed workplace strategy in action.