Balancing the familiar with the unexpected: Helen Berresford rethinks London's railway arches

25th June 2019

London’s Victorian railway arches are often used for hosting light industrial facilities and storage but how can we transform dark and damp arches into functional, modern workplaces?

New London Quarterly has published an article by Helen Berresford, Partner and Head of ID:SR, which looks at how the combination of ingenuity and lateral thinking can help create bright, innovative workplaces, while celebrating London’s heritage.

The article can be found below.


Helen Berresford, head of ID:SR Sheppard Robson, argues that there is scope to rework some forgotten parts of London's transport heritage.

The curves of Victorian railway arches are deeply woven into the capital's urban fabric as well as Londoners' consciousness, often creating deep and dimly lit spaces and passages. While retailers have skilfully repurposed these characterful pockets of London for shopping, eating and drinking, cavernous arches are rarely used as modern office space.

However, working with the Monmouth Coffee Company to transform five railway arches in Bermondsey has made us think harder about the potential of these often hidden spaces. Monmouth set us a brief to take the dark and damp arches and bring together modern workplace and food preparation space in the form of offices, a roastery, training facilities and a retail unit. This rethinking of the space — a far cry from the light industrial facilities that usually occupy these structures — still had to retain the distinct character of the arches, balancing the familiar with the unexpected.

We started by creating the essential ingredients for good, healthy workplaces. Natural light seeps into the space through large punched windows at either end of the arches, connecting the deep plan with the outdoors. The other pragmatic design moves included lining the interior with white, functional, corrugated steel to stop the damp seeping through to the interior space.

After getting these basics right, we started to think about how to celebrate the character of the spaces encased by the arches. We enclosed the office spaces to create a quietness required for focused work, but we still wanted the Monmouth team to feel the drama of working in such a characterful space. The range of work settings — from clusters for the different Monmouth teams, to quiet meeting rooms and flexible work settings —all sit underneath a black canopy-like structure. This gives a sense of enclosure while preserving the scale of the vaults, allowing subtle overhead lighting to be integrated within the structure.

The canopy creates this relationship between the rawness and heritage of the space and the sleek lines that are a nod to the modern office. In contrast to the industrial environment, beautiful craftsmanship is incorporated to lift the space further: bespoke cabinets and desks by Uncommon Projects add refinement and finely detailed surfaces that act as a counterpoint to the texture and grit of the arches.

The project — massively helped by a client not daunted by doing things differently — revealed that railway arches are pretty adaptable structures. The series of spaces, once interconnected, lend themselves well to weaving together the various different uses, with the structure clearly demarcating spaces for different activities, which — not unlike a much purpose-built office — cater for agility and flexibility.

Helen Berresford RIBA

Partner, Head of ID:SR

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