A number of you may recall that, back in May 2015, we covered an amazing project story for Tower Hamlets Foodbank. Designed by Gensler, the scheme had come together on the back of a great deal of generosity and goodwill from people and businesses throughout this industry. In fact, so impressive were the accomplishments at Tower Hamlets, that the project received recognition at that year’s Mixology awards.
So when our friends at Gensler and BW: Workplace Experts came to us with a brand new, equally noble, altruistic scheme, we were never going to say no.
Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust has launched an exciting new development that sees the transformation of its centre in Deptford, South London, into a thriving, creative, coworking space for start-ups and small businesses.
Gensler and BW collaborated with the Trust to create Your Space, a coworking environment designed to empower and support its users.
Gensler donated their time and expertise to reimagine the existing space. The design intent from the outset was to create a motivating setting, which fosters networking, development and collaboration, building on the Trust’s fantastic work, following on from Stephen Lawrence’s tragic death in 1993.
The Centre, designed by David Adjaye, opened 10 years ago as both a memorial and a place of inspiration in honour of Stephen. It is the home of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which was founded in 1998 and which supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to follow and succeed in their careers of choice. The transformation of the centre into coworking space will fulfill one of the initial aims of the centre, which was to provide entrepreneurs with a space to kick-start their business aspirations.
This was a tremendously satisfying project to be involved in – it is a space that makes a difference
Working closely with the Trust, Gensler joined forces with fit-out contractors BW, and together they were responsible for reaching out to the vast network of manufacturers, suppliers and tradesmen to bring the designs to fruition. The aim was to create a bright and positive interior that was sensitive to the original design, producing one of the biggest pro-bono building projects in the UK to date.
Gensler’s Chris Crawford, who gave so much of his own time, working in the evenings and weekends in order to realise the project, BW’s Peter Flynn and Baynes and Mitchell’s Yvonne Onah, who was part of the alumni here at the centre, are happy to show us around this remarkable transformation.
Gensler’s design team sought to create a space that represented progression, aiding the Trust in its vision to grow their work and secure Stephen’s legacy. Embracing natural daylight, connectivity and the need for collaboration, the design is an evolution of the emotional response the centre once evoked. With an open and bright interior concept, the new coworking hub is a manifestation of the emotional and physical healing process, and the Trust’s journey since it was founded 20 years ago.
Working across all three floors of the building, Gensler focused on opening up the space to create a feeling of collaboration and flexibility within the coworking facility, whilst being sensitive to and retaining the spatial purity created by the original design.
Speaking of the original design, we ask Chris to tell us more about the origins of the project. ‘It was definitely a powerful statement,’ he considers. ‘but the Trust wanted to focus on the positive aspects of achievements and the impact it has had on people’s lives. The entry into the building needed to be welcoming whilst evoking a feelings of connectivity, positivity and a celebration of life.
‘Some of the interventions we’ve made here include replacing the front door with a fully glazed system, installing the Your Space logo and moving the reception desk much closer to the entrance to create a better sense of arrival. Previously, the entrance space was quite empty and although it was used as a flexible exhibition space, it felt underutilised, without a strong sense of purpose or activity.
‘We knocked through a wall, which divided the space here, so that there is now a very definite sense of arrival. To the right is the original monument to Stephen – which includes several of his architectural drawings. Stephen was an aspiring architect – and the Trust’s hugely successful Building Futures programme supports others to realise that dream.
‘We’ve been involved as part of the Trust’s advisory board and as an architectural partner to provide work experience placements and mentorships for some time now. We were told that they were looking to introduce some kind of coworking into the building – and were asked to come in and take a look. They asked us which space within the building did we feel would be most appropriate to use and, when we toured the building, we realised that the answer was…all of it!
‘We thought that we could easily take a single room, put some desks and a teapoint in there and then call it a coworking facility. That wouldn’t be a particularly appealing prospect to prospective clients – we wanted to offer a lot more than that.
‘When we first approached the project, we didn’t just want to make instant assumptions. We set up an opportunity for various alumni – who had been through the programme here and who knew the building really well – to talk about the important features of the building that held meaning for them, how they’d improve the building also what would appeal to them as prospective users of the facility. We then took those proposals and ideas and combined them into the scheme – so it really was a collaborative approach.’
‘When the alumni was asked to do proposals – and there were seven or eight of us who were asked to contribute – one of the things that came up time and again was that it would be great to get more natural light throughout the building,’ Yvonne tells us, ‘and I think we’ve been able to do that by making this ground floor space really open and interactive.’
Gensler has also installed new windows between the main atrium and the rooms, which sit deeper within the building. This is to increase sightlines, incite curiosity and bring that aforementioned natural light further into the building.
‘We really started by taking the orange colour – which is taken from the Trust’s brand – to create this orange volume, which now connects all three floors, providing real energy throughout the building,’ Chris points out. ‘There were a lot of cellular spaces here on the ground floor and we opened this up – so you now get a real sense of the scale of the building. Previously, you had no idea what was going on elsewhere in the building.’
Working with the Trust, Chris and the team have created a variety of spaces and work settings throughout the three floors, from the open and agile members’ studio and assigned desks within the residence area on the ground floor, through to the smart meeting rooms and up to the cool and bright event space – complete with fantastic roof terrace – on the 2nd floor.
The design team has used natural timbers like Baltic Birch to add warmth and texture on custom furniture pieces, while the look and feel is smart and contemporary. The ground and 2nd floor facilities are also flexible and dynamic – allowing them to be reconfigured to suit a variety of individual and collaborative needs, from informal meetings through to seminars and town hall meetings. And, as Chris mentioned a little earlier, all are tied together with that brilliant orange.
As Your Space will provide affordable space for entrepreneurs, start-ups – and particularly those working within architecture and the built environment, architectural symbols and elevation markers have been playfully integrated into the environmental graphics and wayfinding signage.
‘Seeing the emotional reaction of the staff and alumni at the centre to the reworked space, and knowing what a difference it will make, has been incredibly rewarding,’ Chris says. ‘I feel very privileged to be in a position to support talented young people achieve their aims, and that’s made this project so worthwhile and meaningful. We hope the new design will inspire those who experience it, as we have been inspired by working on it.’
BW managed the sub-contractors and suppliers throughout the project, all of whom committed time and money to the project. This required fastidious planning and numerous meetings to ensure the smooth running of the build and maintaining the highest standards. This approach paid off with the delivery of a Defect Free Scheme at Practical Completion – which, as Peter can explain, was no mean feat. ‘We ended up with 48 sub-contractors and 34 suppliers contributing pro-bono to the project,’ he tells us. ‘It was absolutely brilliant. It might not be how we’d want to work on every project we’re involved in, but considering these companies were giving everything pro-bono, it was pretty incredible!
‘This was a tremendously satisfying project to be involved in – it is a space that makes a difference. The refurbishment of this building will have a huge impact on the young adults here.’
The launch of Your Space will help the Trust to take a new step towards realising its vision by opening up to entrepreneurs and start-ups, providing them with affordable spaces to develop their ideas and create valuable support networks. The new facility really does commemorate Stephen – and celebrates the good that has been achieved in his name.
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