At first sight, the introverted warehouse under the Westway flyover didn't have obvious potential to become a thriving creative hub. Yet this building has been reborn as Great Western Studios, an incubator to hundreds of creative businesses. Northern Light floods through the central atrium of the new building, illuminating the work spaces and exhibition areas of artists, sculptors, jewellery makers, fashion designers and architects. That people like these are drawn to the building is affirmation of everything the design set out to achieve. We caught up with the team who run the space as well as some of the residents to see why the space works so well for them...
KRISTI MINCHIN, GREAT WESTERN STUDIOS
With only two meters separating the roof of the building from the A40 Westway and The Grand Union Canal only five meters from the walls of the building, the triangular structure of Great Western Studios is in a unique urban position. Part way between Notting Hill and Paddington in West London, the space was originally an old paint factory, which the owners enlisted award-winning architects, Bryden Wood, to turn into studio space for the artistic community back in 2009. After the successful completion of the first project, Bryden Wood was commissioned a second time in 2017 to add a further two storeys to the building to create a total of 104 studio spaces.
GWS’ Marketing Executive, Kristi Minchin, says she was initially attracted to the building by the talent and creative energy of its occupants who include artists, architects, fashion brands and creative tech companies. ‘You could talk to forty people in one day and they are all working on completely different projects and it’s all happening under this one roof. I love that so much.’ GWS offers a range of different studios from 150 square foot units for 1 to 2 people and runs all the way to 10,000 square foot units for 100+ employees. Minchin says, ‘Businesses can grow in the space. Lots of people do upsize - that’s what the building is designed for,’ she adds, ’there’s also quite a lot of demand for the for the smaller atrium facing spaces too as they are good shop fronts. People like that because everyone who comes into the building will see you.’
In a space with so many vibrant creative businesses, I wonder about collaboration opportunities. ‘Yes, we encourage people to come to the socials to network and mingle. We throw two big parties per year in the atrium or the courtyard,’ says Kristi, ‘or sometimes we’ll just book a table in the local pub or our cafe.’ And it’s not just socials and yoga on offer, the management team are also looking to offer business help and guidance to the residents, ‘We’ve got a free talk coming up next week by a business coach, which will be great for the startups. We’re also actively trying to encourage skill sharing.’
Great Western Studios really is the epitome of what a modern workspace should deliver to its occupants, from its light-filled, five storey central atrium and chic industrial design, all the way through to its sense of community and focus on the wellness of the hard working people within. Kristi tells me, ‘people always come to Reception and say, ‘’Oh my God. This is amazing. I didn’t know this building was here.’’ It’s such a beautiful space.’
Businesses can grow in the space. Lots of people do upsize - that's what the building is designed for...'
CHRIS TROTMAN & ANNA BURLES, RUN FOR THE HILLS
‘West is Best,’ says Chris Trotman, Creative Director of Run For The Hills when I ask why they set up shop in W2, as opposed to joining the creative masses in the East End. His wife and business partner, Interior Designer, Anna Burles, adds, ‘more trees, more parks and we’re close to Notting Hill and Maida Vale. It’s great.’ What’s more, they enjoy every Londoner’s dream of a ten minute cycle commute from their home in Queen’s Park to their GWS base.
Run For The Hills specialises in branding and interiors, making the most of Chris and Anna’s shared aesthetic, ‘at the quirky, edgy, end of design.’ Hospitality projects from bars to restaurants, and even a boutique cinema, are where their complementary skills intertwine. ‘One informs the other,’ says Trotman. ‘There are lots of benefits...while my team work on the menu design, signage and website etc., Anna’s team is concepting the interior.’
Their GWS tenure began in 2012 when they simply rented two single desks in a shared space. Now, having grown in size, they occupy two adjoining studios. Anna tells me, ‘We love being on the ground floor. You see other people, their shopfronts. We like feeling part of the action. It’s a great space to work in.’ Whilst not having an external canalside view like the studios on the opposite side of the building, the central atrium floods the tables in the communal area outside their space with lots of natural light. ‘In the summer, it’s so sunshiney, some people wear shades,’ she says. Understandably, the stunning atrium is Burles’ favourite thing about the building, ‘it gives light, it gives a sense of space.’ She also particularly likes being at their end of it, which is tucked away at the opposite end from the main entrance as, ‘it’s got that slightly knocked back, industrial, vintage look.’ Chris agrees, calling the exposed steel beams, ‘Industrial Chic.’ He is also a huge fan of the breakout area’s big, wooden tables, which he sees as an extended part of their studio. ‘Clients enjoy coming here,’ he says. ‘We often have kick off meetings with about 20 people from contractors to suppliers etc. We push the tables together, buy croissants from the cafe and it’s great. Our clients even hang out in the cafe afterwards and have lunch.’
A quick look around their studio, which is filled with interior must-haves for their clients; from large mirrors to rolled up rugs - not to mention, the showstopper: Elvis, an adorable French bulldog - leaves you with no doubt these are busy and successful people with a space that works for them, helping them to create award-winning work. Chris confirms this notion, ‘It’s serious businesses in here. People doing serious business. It’s a real work space.’
Anna completes the happiness triangle, ‘We’re really happy. We really like it here.’
‘it gives light, it gives a sense of space.’
HALEY MCLANE, HALEY MCLANE: INTERIOR DESIGN
Being in the game of designing offices for startups, Haley McLane knew exactly what she wanted from her own space and it wasn’t a homogeneous desk rental. Previously she had been working out of a converted whisky distillery in the US city of Boston, so she wanted something that would stand out from the crowd. On arriving in London, she looked at a lot of other potential office suitors and found they were mostly ‘a bit shabby.’ However, as soon as she saw the GWS space she was blown away by the quality of the build and its finish.
She particularly liked how all of the studios were completely customisable, so she was able to bring her own vision into how her space would look, but ‘as soon as you step outside, you get to be part of someone else’s bigger vision,’ she says, gesturing up to the large atrium and studios above. ‘That is so cool.’ She was also attracted to being part of a wider community of artists and designers. ‘It’s so motivating to look out and see people grinding away - everyone here works so hard.’ She’s right. As you walk around the central space there are models clad in towelling robes waiting to shoot Orlebar Brown’s latest swimwear campaign. Then there are the chalked up notice boards advertising jewellery designer, Daisy’s latest sample sale. It’s a hive of creative activity. ‘You just wouldn’t get this type of inspiration if you were working out of a shed in your garden,’ McLane says, and as if to substantiate her claim, there’s a gruff bark from Wilma, a miniscule, wire haired dachshund and GWS favourite who has entered the central area. Haley smiles, ‘the glass fronts of the studios are like vignettes into other people’s worlds. I love that. It’s so inspirational.’
She is a strong believer in how an office is a physical representation of who companies are publicly and internally, GWS’s delivery of both urban beauty and an industrious artistic community answers her brief one hundred percent.
‘the glass fronts of the studios are like vignettes into other people’s worlds. I love that. It’s so inspirational.’
KHALIFA ABUBAKAR AND SHAUN OBINNA IHEJETOH, WEST PORT & COMPANY
Architects Khalifa Abubakar, Shaun Obinna Ihejetoh and Colin Cheng became friends whilst studying at Edinburgh College of Arts in 2006. After honing their craft at a number of renowned practices in the UK and abroad they came together in 2016 to form the RIBA Chartered architectural practice, West Port & Co. They are now working on a variety of projects from residential extensions, student housing and even a boutique hotel on the Isle of Skye.
GWS is their first HQ. Prior to taking the space they were doing a mix of working at home and in coffee shops. ‘Moving in here has made me realise that there are some really bad office spaces out there,’ says Shaun, ‘but this place makes you realise that an environment can make you work harder and make you happier. You spend so much time at work, it’s really important. I feel really happy coming here. It’s a place that is conducive to creating great architecture.’
Khalifa agrees, ‘having a space has made a huge difference. The open nature of the building really helps me. I like walking around to see what the other studios are putting up on their walls. It really motivates me to keep on going and be creative.’ All of the GWS studios have glass walls, which means every stuck up Post-it note or storyboard is showcased to the world giving away just a little bit of what lies beneath. It keeps the light moving as well as a sense of inspiration between the residents.
‘We originally wanted a studio in the atrium, but they were all taken. People love them,’ says Abubakar. West Port & Co’s office is on the outside of the building where they have the most London of views: the concrete underside of the Westway, a bus depot filled with bright red, double-decker buses and the railway tracks that will eventually be home to Crossrail. ‘It’s actually a really quiet environment,’ Obinna Ihejetoh says, ‘we always forget we’re under the Westway.’
Shaun and Khalifa also live locally in Primrose Hill and Kensal Rise so benefit from short commutes. ‘The location is not your typical Farringdon creative space, but for me that’s a bonus. It’s a bit more subdued,’ Obinna Ihejetoh says, ’it feels more real, a bit more like London.’ I ask them about their favourite aspect of the building and in addition to the atrium and cafe, it’s actually a detail that’s a real nod from one architect to another…‘I love the view as you walk down the canal and the building is warped into the Westway,’ says Shaun. ‘The canal curves one way and the road sweeps dramatically in the other direction. It’s just so beautiful in an urban way.’
Khalifa adds, ‘We’re really young in our profession and are forever learning, so it’s great to see how Bryden Wood have dealt with the Retrofit sympathetically. It’s great to see how they have attempted to do things we wouldn’t have thought of.’
THE BRYDEN WOOD PERSPECTIVE: PAUL O'NEILL
When embarking on the project to reimagine and develop the building into Great Western Studios, we knew ‘the constraints of the build would be it’s making,’ says Bryden Wood Board Director, Architecture, Paul O’Neill. The aim was to create a great building which would respond to its context/environment and that is certainly what Bryden Wood have achieved. The initial challenges posed by the building’s proximity to the Westway and Grand Union canal, as well as the limited site space for construction, have birthed a space of both aesthetic and functional dynamic, equally capable of fulfilling it’s practical goal of providing creative office spaces to West London creative businesses.
According to O’Neill, the biggest challenge of the project was the building of phase 2 over the fully occupied, existing (phase 1) building. He says that whilst knowing the building would be in use by creative industries did give a sense of freedom regarding the design, ‘it was clear that the building needed to deliver value to ensure we created affordable workspaces.’ These, he notes, are still in shortage in West London. ‘It’s stylish yet affordable,’ he says of GWS, ‘and a perfect contrast to the generic, co-working businesses which have established themselves over the past five or so years.’ The ground floor studios are ideal for startups, whilst an upper story, canal-side unit makes an excellent workspace for an office of 20 plus.
O’Neill loves the diverse collection of creatives and businesses the building has attracted and says he’s ‘glad it has provided GWS and its tenants with a safe, welcoming, happy environment which is conducive to hard, serious and creative business.’ From an architectural perspective, his favourite thing about the building is the gentle curve alongside the canal side elevation. ‘Look again at sites/buildings that may not seem the best option,’ he urges developers who may be considering taking on similar projects. ‘ And let the architects do their work.’