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Pearson Lloyd design their new studio with Cassion Castle Architects

Yorkton Workshops 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.

25/01/2021 6 min read

You might recall that, a few issues back, we wrote about Bene’s innovative new PORTS furniture collection, designed by Pearson Lloyd. Well, during our meeting with Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd, we took a brief walk through East London to take a look at the (then) under construction site of the duo’s new studio.

Now very much complete – thanks to the vision of Pearson Lloyd and Cassion Castle Architects – what was once a dilapidated Victorian block in Hackney has been transformed into a dynamic, modern studio.

‘After our two decades in East London, opening Yorkton Workshops is a pivotal moment for Pearson Lloyd,’ Luke tells us. ‘Not only did the restoration give us an opportunity to exercise our design approach both at scale and at a granular level of detail, it has resulted in a truly versatile studio space that will allow us to bring everything under one roof, and which gives us the space and flexibility to conduct experiments and explore bold new ideas in workplace strategy.’

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.

Spread over two storeys and two wings, 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. For Luke and Tom, 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 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 futureproof: 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 has been able to make it COVID-secure perfectly demonstrates.

This flexibility, coupled with the sheer size of the building, has proved hugely beneficial in the creation of an effective socially distanced workplace. The Pearson Lloyd team is now spread throughout a building, with scope for up to 30 people. 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.

Having worked with Cassion Castle Architects on several projects over the past 12 years, Luke and Tom 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 has a long history of working with individual designers and studios, and the fact that the practice can perform the role of both architect and contractor simultaneously was critical to the restoration. Because design and construction could happen in parallel, the restoration of the workshops became a continuous, collaborative process.

‘Working on design-led projects with an active and invested client is deeply engaging and rewarding from a design perspective,’ Cassion Castle, Founder of Cassion Castle Architects, reflects. ‘We were blessed with a site that had a lot of existing charm and wonder hidden under the surface, and good enough bones to allow a retrofit rather than a demolition and new-build.

‘Being the architect and main contractor was another luxury, letting us fully probe the potential of the building as we went, reacting and adapting to the complex site as it developed through construction. In the end it was the constraints and complexity of the existing site that made the design fly – adding our own chapter to the history of the building rather than rewriting the story from scratch.’

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.

When Pearson Lloyd acquired the building, back in 2017, it was (in Luke and Tom’s words) 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, 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 it was 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.

This determination to minimise environmental impact influenced the design approach from the outset; Pearson Lloyd and Cassion Castle 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 the right environmental choice, it also created the opportunity for a much richer interior. The interplay of existing fabric and new material leads 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.

‘From a material perspective, we were keen to approach the building in an analogous way to our furniture and product design,’ Luke says. ‘We wanted the materials to have a quality and directness that was intrinsically integrated to their function. Key choices include the wood fibre acoustic ceiling, the steel stair, the workshop floor (made from the same material as stage floors and haulage trucks) and the reclaimed and refinished pitch pine floor.’

‘Our approach was to try to strip it all back to a few essential characteristics and to include as many existing features as possible,’ Cassion adds. ‘Aside from preserving the embodied energy, this means the interiors of this scheme will be much richer because the project is a refurbishment rather than a new build. The history of the building will be ever-present.’

‘Having made the decision to work with the existing fabric of the building, the ambition was to express the old and new in as honest a fashion as possible,’ Tom explains. ‘The interior is quite expressive in its materiality. We have left as much of the original fabric exposed as we can. We wanted to maintain the sense that we are working in workshops, as this was the original function of the buildings.’

Another priority was to achieve optimal user comfort as passively as possible. To ensure the highest levels of 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, while low-energy lighting has been installed throughout – powered with renewable energy supplied by a photovoltaic array on the roof.

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. The central entrance lobby features 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 distinct yet still connected.

Photography: Taran Wilkhu

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