In 2004, we were approached by the artist Vijay Nambiar to build a studio for him on a backstreet in Deptford on a site that was then being used as a scaffolders’ yard. His brief was for us to design a simple room to paint in, free of distractions, that only let light enter from the north – indirect light giving cool and controlled value shifts when painting.
Our response was a rectangular box built in cross-laminated timber that mirrored the adjacent terrace but didn’t copy it directly, with light entering through a huge openable ETFE skylight. This single window, the largest of its kind in the UK, was positioned to act like a big hungry eye, sucking in light from the northern sky. The building was then clad in zinc, its seams lining up around each corner, the effect of which is both compelling and forbidding from the outside: a wrapped envelope containing … who knows what? But the real joy of this enigmatic building lies on the inside, where the simplicity of the space becomes a virtue in itself and the perfect orientation of the skylight fills the room with a light that is as calm as it is picturesque.
It took 9 years to bring the Studio to completion – a relatively long time for such a relatively simple building, perhaps. However, throughout this time we worked to the exacting specifications of the client, with whom we collaborated on every detail, from the pigment less polyurethane screen resin floor to the eyewash station that takes the place of a sink. Overall, we learned that achieving simplicity is not necessarily quick or easy, but it is entirely satisfying.
Photography © Jonas Lencer, Judith Stichtenoth