The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) is pleased to announce the completion of a £6 million renovation and modernisation project to upgrade a series of historic buildings at the 3 Mills Studios complex in east London. LLDC appointed Gort Scott who worked in collaboration with Freehaus as architects, and Gilbert Ash Ltd as main contractor for the renovation project. The project has created over 10,000 sq.ft of new workspaces for production teams at 3 Mills - one of London and the UK’s foremost film and television production studios – alongside enhancing public accessibility to and enjoyment of the site.
The 3 Mills project encompasses the adaptive and creative reuse of three key buildings: the locally listed Gin Still, the Grade II listed Custom House and the Rush House. The project brings disused or under-used buildings back into use as new lettable spaces for creative businesses, and greatly improves the environmental sustainability, climate resilience and economic viability of these important heritage assets.
For over 30 years, 3 Mills Studios has provided a stage for numerous world-class TV series and films, and has been home to the BBC’s Masterchef since 2014. The project looks to expand capacity at 3 Mills through the creation of new spaces to promote creativity and support new businesses and employment opportunities. Thanks to funding from LLDC, the Mayor of London and the UK Government, the project represents a significant investment in east London’s growing TV and film industry.
The 3 Mills site, on the banks of the River Lea in Bromley-by-Bow, is a unique remnant of historic London and is the city’s oldest surviving industrial centre. First recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086, the grain mills became a major supplier to London’s bakeries and alcohol industry, and helped to fuel the 18th century Gin Craze. The site became a dedicated centre for film and TV production in the 1980s and today provides nine sound stages, eleven rehearsal spaces and over 75,000 sq.ft of filming space. The site, which has been owned by LLDC since 2010, still comprises a series of listed and locally listed buildings, including a listed cobbled street and the Grade I listed House Mill, the largest surviving tidal mill in Britain.
The works have been made possible by funding from the Government’s Getting Building Fund via a £3 million grant allocated by the Mayor of London, and a further £1.9 million funding provided through the LLDC’s Community Infrastructure Fund.
The Gin Still
The Gin Still dates from 1850 and was the main gin distillery on the site. To preserve the industrial character of the building, the design concept comprises a new structure inserted into the historic envelope to create ‘a building within a building’. This new element is a simple, elegant yet robust kit of parts consisting of bolted steel components and joisted floors, with adaptable levels of enclosure and separation between spaces. Decorated in bold colour, these new elements of structure establish a clear dialogue between new and historic fabric, which includes a striking retained 10-metre high copper gin still in the atrium foyer.
The ground floor will support the film studios by providing spaces for costume making, puppet making, make-up and rigging, while the upper floors provide flexible workspace for production teams. The new workspaces are designed to support a range of layouts, maximising flexibility and enabling spaces to be adapted for different uses and capacities.
The building design employs a passive first approach and utilises the historic building’s impressive volume and thermal mass, restoring its historic ventilation strategy to provide spaces which are naturally ventilated. New services are entirely electric and designed for future connection to photovoltaic systems, as a part of the studio’s long-term plans to decarbonise the estate, which will then provide a building which is zero carbon in use. New windows and rooflights flood the interior with natural light reducing reliance on artificial light and energy use, while also improving the thermal performance of the building’s envelope. The roof has been thermally upgraded, with woodwool insulation inserted around the previously covered historic rafters which were exposed during the works. A significant quantity of materials generated during demolition were also re-cycled.
The Custom House
A key element of the scheme was the restoration and refurbishment of the Custom House, which dates from 1820. Prior to the works the Grade II listed building flooded at every high tide, rendering it completely uninhabitable and at serious risk of severe deterioration. By employing innovative flood defence systems and carefully chosen materials, the empty building has been bought back into use, protecting it against the future effects of flooding and improving the climate resilience of a significant heritage asset. Original features have been sensitively restored and new servicing infrastructure has been carefully integrated with the historic fabric. Purpose designed heating elements and light fittings across the ground floor, which also integrate new services, maximise flexibility for different layouts while minimising potential flood damage. The flood resilience requirements drove an approach to the interior scheme, which is both pragmatic, providing surfaces which are waterproof and can be easily cleaned, and creatively restore a sense of identity and dignity to the historic spaces.
The Rush House - Screening Room
The Rush House, although unlisted, is a contemporary to the Gin Still and makes an important contribution the Three Mills Conservation Area. As well as forming the backdrop to many of the scenes filmed for Masterchef, the building also comprises a screening room used to preview footage – or ‘rushes’ - shot at the studios. As a part of the project the 60-seat Screening Room has been completely overhauled with a new interior, services installations and state of the art audio visual equipment. Elements of the Rush House were also remodelled to provide a dedicated separate entrance and reception area: this will enable the Screening Room to become a multi-use cinema and presentation space, providing a dedicated venue for screenings, learning events and conferences by businesses and the general public.
Knight Frank Property Asset Management and Knight Frank PROMISE (Facilities Management) have the mandate to run and manage the 3 Mills Studios estate on behalf of LLDC and market the studio space.
LLDC, which is responsible for the nearby Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, is working extensively on wider regeneration schemes including the regeneration of Bromley-by-Bow, and last year completed a £9 million scheme to improve the river wall and flood defences on the site.