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Squire & Partners celebrate raw materials at The Department Store Studios

Squire & Partners has launched The Department Store Studios, a new local workspace next door to their award-winning offices in Brixton.

26/10/2021 6 min read

This exciting new development creates a platform for growing businesses with a range of flexible workspaces – from individual desks to private studios – and a host of serviced social and meeting areas.

The Studios is also home to a neighbourhood bar, restaurant and screening room (you had us at bar!). Created as a natural addition to The Department Store, The Studios is a highly sustainable development that will support local businesses by offering a programme of events curated to share skills, inspire creativity and expand local networks.

Having moved its 200-strong office to The Department Store in 2017, Squire & Partners knows first-hand the benefits of working at the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood. Sustainable commuting, an improved work/life balance, supporting independent high streets and engaging with the local community all mean that the hyperlocal model benefits people, cities and the planet. Primarily conceived for local businesses and entrepreneurs, The Studios’ model of private office spaces and individual desks also supports a ‘hub & spoke’ model of regional workspaces acting as satellite hubs to a central HQ.

Externally, designs draw on the robust Edwardian structure of its older sibling, The Department Store, which was built in 1906 as an extension to the Brixton Bon Marche. ‘The two buildings are not physically connected but they do meet in a courtyard in the centre,’ Squire & Partners’ Maria Cheung tells us. ‘We’ve drawn on the robust, industrial feel to create a completely new, contemporary building that has the same raw aesthetic and finishes.’

The central cobbled courtyard has, at its centre, a beautiful, mature oak tree (which is affectionately known as Russell by all at Squire & Partners).

Façades are crafted with a textured snapped brick, offset by smooth concrete lintels framing openings across the building. A base of dark engineering brick marks the street level, softened with planting and outdoor seating. ‘The snapped brick casts some really lovely shadows, which change throughout the day,’ Maria points out. ‘There are not very many non-linear, straight pauses, which gives the building more interest than a big square would have.’

Large, faceted bay windows create a rhythm across the elevations, with dark metal frames referencing the industrial Crittall windows found in The Department Store. The building form is set back to the north and east elevations to respond to the surrounding residential streets, creating generous landscaped roof terraces for tenants. Workspace floors can be accessed via a fully glazed reception on Bellefields Road and the restaurant entrance on Stockwell Avenue.

Designed as a highly sustainable low carbon development, The Studios features a prefabricated cross-laminated timber (CLT) structural frame, which absorbs carbon dioxide and provides in-built soundproofing, fire safety properties and airtightness. ‘This was the choice of material right from the very start,’ Maria tells us. ‘In terms of sustainability, it’s absolutely brilliant. The combination of brick and timber really sets the language and the feel of the space.’

Elsewhere, 120 sq m of green roof and planted terraces enhance local biodiversity, while 28 photovoltaic panels create renewable energy on site.

Designs for the workspaces focus on sustainability and celebrate the honesty of raw materials. Establishing a stripped back aesthetic, textured CLT and brick finishes are exposed throughout, offset by a pale grey screed floor. Large windows are openable across the façades to lessen the need for artificial heating and cooling. An advanced lighting system ensures that natural daylight from all four sides of the building is only supplemented when necessary.

The workspace area of just under 2,000 sq m holds 292 desks on the workplace floors, and a further 30 in the Members’ Lounge.

Each workspace floor has a landing area with wayfinding and a generous floor to ceiling height, which takes its cue from the proportions of The Department Store next door.

Large openable bay windows draw natural light into three sides of each floor, creating bright open floorplates. Workspaces comprise a mixture of individual desks and private studios for six to 72 people. Members benefit from shared facilities including phone booths and bookable rooms for private meetings, sociable kitchens, dining tables and lounge areas. ‘The floors are open and benefit from cross-ventilation, which is really nice,’ Maria points out. ‘Particularly with people coming back to work, it’s great to have fresh air, greenery and outdoor space.’

Workspaces are designed in a simple loft style based around a raw natural palette and exposed services suspended from the timber ceiling. Added domestic comforts include large rugs, a plethora of plants, stunning artwork and soft furnishings in colours inspired by the seasons (and by Russell!).

Kitchens and tea points feature in-built appliances for food and drink preparation, and informal dining and lounge areas. Natural and dark stained timber units, tables and chairs are complemented by pops of colour on soft furnishings, artwork and planting.

Meeting room interiors are tailored to create spaces for high and low tempo tasks, with bespoke wall hangings aiding acoustic performance. Colour palettes for meeting rooms again correspond to the four seasons with a curated selection of rugs, artwork and chair finishes adding individual character.

On the third floor, a large communal roof terrace is landscaped with plants and furniture to host social interaction between members and a chance to get some welcome fresh air during the day. The space is fully serviced with power to enable pop-up events to take place. The fourth floor, configured as a single floor for a tenant, has its own private roof terrace, which wraps around two sides of the building.

Meeting room interiors are tailored to create spaces for high and low tempo tasks, with bespoke wall hangings aiding acoustic performance. Colour palettes for meeting rooms again correspond to the four seasons with a curated selection of rugs, artwork and chair finishes adding individual character.

On the third floor, a large communal roof terrace is landscaped with plants and furniture to host social interaction between members and a chance to get some welcome fresh air during the day. The space is fully serviced with power to enable pop-up events to take place. The fourth floor, configured as a single floor for a tenant, has its own private roof terrace, which wraps around two sides of the building.

At street level, the fully glazed Members’ Lounge provides a relaxed clubhouse environment for member tenants or local freelance workers needing space by the day. Separated from the restaurant by a central brushed steel bar, the workspace is designed to be adaptable for coworking and informal meetings during the day as well as dining or events in the evening. Seating is created in light-filled window booths, private curtained banquettes, at freestanding tables or in relaxed lounge areas. Exposed services are suspended from the timber-lined ceiling, with softness introduced by bespoke rugs, sustainable fabrics and artwork.

The Studios’ main reception features a custom-made desk by Isomi and a notice board displaying news and information about member events. As well as a lift to all floors, an open top-lit stairwell in exposed CLT provides access down to the basement – where a screening room plus generous bike storage, lockers, showers, toilets and changing areas are provided – and up the workspace floors.

On the ground floor, Bellefields is a neighbourhood bar and restaurant offering modern cuisine inspired by the seven seas of the Mediterranean. The menu celebrates raw ingredients and favourite dishes from family holidays over three generations. Interiors follow suit with a palette that celebrates the honest expression of natural materials including textured brick and exposed timber, with accent colours inspired by the seasons.

‘The restaurant is divided into a lounge area, where people can come in and hot desk by the day or hold meetings, and a really nice neighbourhood restaurant,’ Maria points out.

Courtyard dining areas use bistro style furniture in a bright palette of contrasting colours, while planting, heating and feature lighting create an intimate atmosphere. Internally, dining spaces draw the outside in with a natural palette of materials including tables topped with responsibly sourced Carrera marble, wooden dining chairs and terracotta pendants. Sustainable materials include vegan leather banquettes and linen curtains, which use significantly less water and dye than cotton or velvet. Commissioned artwork by Anna Kövecses references simple organic shapes and colours, inspired by the food and topography of her childhood living by the Mediterranean.

Sustainability has been a driving force from inception through to delivery of The Studios. Indeed, the building is expected to achieve an ‘Excellent’ rating by BREEAM.

It was important to Squire & Partners that The Studios built on the award-winning work in the local community already established by the practice at The Department Store via creative collaborations, mentoring and support for local organisations. Back in January, The Studios launched its first residency programme – a chance for two young Lambeth entrepreneurs to have free workspace for 12 months, with access to a host of amenities and mentoring to start and grow their creative idea. Applicants aged between 18-30 were asked to submit a brief outline of their plan to grow a fledgling business or social initiative, and a statement of what they hoped to achieve during the residency period.

A shortlist of six candidates was interviewed in March 2021 by a selection panel, with the first two residency places being awarded to Gabriella Lafor for Line Stream (supporting media careers for Black British talent) and innovative textile designer, Coco Cripps.

Photography: Jack Hobhouse & Jim Stephenson

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