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Bridging the gap

A new development in west London shows how it is possible to make usable space from the most unlikely of sites

The snaking concrete monolith that is London's Westway, otherwise known as the elevated section of the A40(M) - the main arterial route from west London to Oxford and beyond - is one of the busiest roads into London, carrying 74,500 vehicles a day. Unfortunately, since its construction in 1970, it has left a legacy of derelict, unutilisable voids beneath its structural frame. As Michael Heseltine, then parliamentary secretary to the Transport Ministry, said at the opening: 'There are two sides to this business. One is the exciting roadbuilding side, but there is also the human side. You cannot but have sympathy for these people.'

As part of an attempt to humanise some of these spaces, to liberate brownfield areas of land (and to make a bit of money), Kensington and Chelsea council, which owns the site, has packaged up some of the land for development situated directly underneath the gigantic spans of the roadway.

Although tennis courts and sports facilities have already been built, newly completed commercial units by Great Western Studios have shown an inventive use of limited and difficult spaces. When Giacomo Matte Trucco designed the Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, he did not know what he was starting. Not content with an office with a test track on the roof, Great Western Studios has created a series of studio spaces with an entire motorway on its roof.

The scheme comprises 97 workshop/studios gathered around a 600m 2central courtyard, and it is this courtyard which has the underside of the Westway as its soffit. Other facilities, arranged around the perimeter, include a 100-seat theatre, performance space and screening room, meeting rooms, galleries and courtyard cafeteria.

Natural light filters into the concealed 15m-high courtyard space from high-level perimeter glazing.

Because of the proximity of the west coast mainline (the site occupying one of Brunel's 1830s railway sidings), good acoustics are essential.

The double glazing incorporates acoustic laminates, and the density of the Westway deck is such that no sound is transmitted through it into the building.

Ironic travel arrangements mean that all tenants will have the opportunity to avail themselves of Ford's ThinkCity electric car-sharing scheme (when it finally hits the market) 'available for hire at short notice and minimum of fuss'. Bicycles can also be hired for local trips (Portobello Road is only a mile away).

Externally, the building is not much to write home about but the creation of something out of nothing gives this scheme merit.

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