Ash Sakula squeezed this campus of studios, workshops, and offices into a unusually narrow, inaccessible site, sandwiched between the parkland of London Fields and the brick-arched mainline railway out of Liverpool Street. Transforming an awkward piece of brownfield land into a vibrant new creative cluster, the building was the result of a competition to make a new headquarters for the Free Form Arts Trust, a network of arts practitioners, landscape designers and architects. Its name, Hothouse, recollects the botanical glasshouses of Loddiges Nursery, which stood nearby in the 18th century.
We enjoyed the challenge of this site and imagined our response as a friendly giant with his limbs intertwined with the railway arches and his face turned towards the park. This personality evolved into a kinked, elongated building like a boomerang, with one arm parallel to the railway and the other angled along London Fields, where it forms itself into a secure edge-boundary against the park.
By organising the site as a campus around an open courtyard, we created reasons for people to cross paths and meet. The roof, which we conceived of as a ‘fifth façade’, was colonised by little studios. Visible to the thousands of commuters who see the building from passing trains, these curious structures suggest a sense of the creative activity within the building. We formed studio spaces in the brick-arched spaces underneath the railway and configured the main studio running the length of the building, overlooking the park.
At the building’s opening, Benjamin Zephaniah proclaimed: "Hothouse! Long may you be hot, long may you be cool!" There was a shared understanding that we were designing to a set a of changing scenarios rather than making a paradigm for future working. This is what creative clusters are about: nurturing a shared vision and making things happen. Although Free Form Arts Trust no longer operates, the building we created together continues to provide co-working space for small creative businesses and hosts a popular summer restaurant on its roof.
Architect: Ash Sakula
Client: Free Form Arts Trust
Contractor: Mansell Construction
Project Manager: Michael Mitchell
Structural Engineer: Dewhurst Macfarlane
M+E Engineer: Michael Popper Associates
Cost Consultant: Faithful & Gould
Phase 1, comprising ground floor
GIA: 1,419 m2
Cost per m2: £1,550
Completed: August 2002
Phase 2, to completion
Value: approx £2m
Completed: October 2007
2003 Mayor’s Special Award for Planning Excellence. Ken Livingstone described Hothouse as ‘an outstanding artistic space’.
2008 Hackney Design Award Jury comment: “The building has beautiful and flexible working spaces, which are full of light and look out over the park... Although the materials are often inexpensive, they are used with joy and playfulness. This makes the building fun, and at times, really beautiful”
2009 Civic Trust Award
2009 RIBA Award for Architecture
Building is steel-framed
Rooftop gallery takes the form of a glass-louvred corridor with a glass roof that incorporates photovoltaic panels, which provide shading whilst generating power; excess power is supplied back into the grid
Greening opportunities are deployed throughout building, on facades and roofscape
Building is naturally ventilated throughout, using cross-ventilation baffled against the noise of the railway
Recycled glass has been used, supplied by one of Free Form’s initiatives, the Green Bottle Unit