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Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

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A refurbished 1970s warehouse provides an important addition to Leicester’s burgeoning cultural quarter, writes Laura Mark

ARCHITECT’S VIEW • CLIENT’S VIEW • ENGINEER’S VIEW • PROJECT DATA • DETAIL • PLANS • SECTION

Recently put on the map by its football success, Leicester isn’t well known for art, but within the city there is a thriving creative scene. The city’s cultural quarter was once just home to an independent cinema designed by Marsh:Grochowski, Rafael Viñoly’s Curve theatre building and Ash Sakula’s LCB Depot, but over the past few years it has become the base for a plethora of studio spaces and artists’ workshops. And now the Leicester Print Workshop has taken up home in the area.

It is the first building you come across as you approach the area from the station, its name clearly printed across the brickwork of the previously nondescript 70s industrial shed, now transformed by Takero Shimazaki Architects. The building also signals a new era for the long-established workshop, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Its previous home was on a terraced street in the Highfields area of the city, just outside the centre. It was cramped and offered little room for outreach or workshops and was also isolated from Leicester’s growing art scene. For one of the country’s leading print facilities (and one of only four funded by the Arts Council) this was not ideal.

The workshop had originally wanted to use a local architect, but after a bit of advice from Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ Simon Smithson, it consulted London-based Takero Shimazaki, whose practice went on to win the job.

‘We felt like we had an emotional connection with them,’ says workshop director Lucy Phillips. ‘They were the only architects that were really interested in visiting our old facilities and getting to the bottom of how we used the space and what we wanted from the project.’

The detailing has elevated it from a purely functional space to one that has delight and architectural style

It wasn’t going to be an easy process – the timescales were short and the budget tight. Having initially come in at around £850,000, the scheme went through nearly a year of value engineering to get the construction cost down to nearer £500,000. But it doesn’t smack of a scheme that has had every last ounce of detail and design squeezed out of it. It’s clear to see it has been done cheaply – the finishes are basic, with blockwork walls and concrete floors left exposed – but this is a functional space designed to be personalised by the artists who use it. The detailing has made the difference here, and elevated it from a purely functional space to one that has delight and architectural style.

Downstairs the space has been mainly left open plan with smaller rooms to the side providing specialist areas for the differing print techniques. It also includes a small classroom area for school groups – something the workshop was unable to provide on this scale in its previous home.

A mezzanine level has been added to create an upstairs. Here, the architect’s original drawings depicted a large open-plan area, but with the intention of breaking it down into smaller studio spaces, budget permitting. Shimazaki provided drawings and details for how the space could be arranged, and then the walls were put in by the workshop team itself, using volunteers to help with building, painting and cleaning. The small studios are effectively white boxes, each with windows looking out on to the central space. They have been kept plain so the eight artists who rent the spaces can customise their own studios.

A large void cuts through the whole building, allowing it to be enlivened by the activities going on within. From upstairs you catch a glimpse of the entrance, reception and work going on in the large shared printing space beneath; from downstairs conversations can be caught between the artists working above. It offers a feeling of community on even the quietest of days, with the layout providing places of interaction. ‘We can now all have lunch together,’ says Phillips. This could never have happened in the organisation’s previous building and enhances the day-to-day routine of those working in the space.

Shadows remain of the building’s former industrial use. Its steel structure and industrial lifting gear add a touch of colour to the spaces, which are otherwise predominantly white. The beams and columns are now cluttered with postcards, sketches and inspirational clippings affixed to the steel with magnets. The shed’s former windows have all largely been taken out and blocked up, but ghost outlines have been created in slightly recessed brickwork where they were. New strategically placed windows create a connection to the surrounding streets and fill the inside of the building with natural light.

The building not only provides new space, it has changed the way the organisation works, giving it more of a presence in the city. ‘We’ve had to become more public,’ admits Phillips. A new gallery space and a shop face out on to the street, creating a welcoming entrance facade.

This could have been a dull conversion. Phillips confesses some of the other practices’ designs felt ‘more like a doctor’s surgery than a creative space’. Shimazaki, however, has brought delight and created a space that feels right for the print workshop.

With this addition it feels as though the cultural area Leicester is trying to create is coming together. ‘There’s not enough gallery space in the city,’ says Phillips. ‘That is what holds it back from becoming really well known for its art. It makes it difficult to attract and keep artists … a lot of what is being done is at a grassroots level.’

For Leicester to properly become known for its art, it will need to create more spaces of this type. But this building, with its active street frontage and clever reworking of an existing site, provides a blueprint for how to do it. It is about much more than the simple building – it is about a wider story of regeneration and new life.

Ground floor plan

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

First floor plan

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Sections 

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Detail

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Working with what is already there on site, t-sa focused on the existing and historical artifacts to create the architecture for LPW. This was partly as a result of the tight budget, however it is t-sa’s core belief that new build projects are not the only way to make a significant, economically sustainable and long lasting architectural contribution to cities. 

The original warehouse itself was in a state of disrepair and the overall site environment and contribution to the wider area was negative. The visibility of the artists and occupants and their activity became central to giving this neglected site a new lease of life and engaging passers-by, as well as between various internal spaces. 

The 445m² warehouse was completely gutted to allow for the insertion of new windows, floor and roof to form 790m² of new spaces. Existing historical artifacts including immense steel beams, cranes, a raw concrete floor and external brick piers and walls have been retained in place. The ‘new’ inserted or layered elements have been predominantly constructed and tied in white in colour to highlight the existing artifacts and preserve the building’s character. Externally, some of the original window openings have been re-used and others closed up with purposeful recesses to mark such actions.

Takero Shimazaki, director, Takero Shimazaki Architects 

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Source: Anton Gorlenko

Client’s view

The layout for our new printmaking centre was dictated by function; but it was the vision of our partners at Takero Shimazaki Architects that has made it into a striking, dynamic space with fabulous views across the interior and between the two floors.  

Ours is a very particular building, catering for all kinds of printmaking processes from lithography to screenprinting; relief to intaglio. We needed room for individual artists to practise and for groups to learn together. We wanted individually appointed utility rooms to allow for etching, stone graining, screen washing, aquatinting, stock and storage, and we also asked for exhibition and education spaces, framing rooms, individual studios, offices and communal areas. TSA took our practical needs and created a unique space that fulfils its function and continues to wow users and visitors.

From the very first meeting with Takero we knew we would have a good working relationship. He was excited about working in a making space, and immediately understood not only the shortcomings of our previous site – a corner shop on an Edwardian terrace – but our ambitions to create an exemplary centre that would give us the opportunities to reach out to many more people. It was nearly two years exactly from our first meeting to our launch, and during that time Leicester Print Workshop enjoyed an extremely enjoyable and harmonious relationship with TSA as we managed what was for our organisation a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Lucy Phillips, director, Leicester Print Workshop

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Source: Anton Gorlenko

Architect’s view

In November 2015, Takero Shimazaki Architects completed the transformation of a 1970s former glass warehouse to create new printmaking studios, library, gallery and education spaces for Leicester Print Workshop in the city’s Cultural Quarter. 

The project has taken two years to complete on site from initial briefing in October 2013. Planning approval was granted in April 2014 and the project was procured with a traditional building contract. The project was funded significantly by Arts Council England, together with investment from major grant making trusts and various fundraising events and activities by the artists themselves. Leicester City Council gifted the freehold of the original building to LPW. The project was a focal point of community development and bonding in the area among not only the artists but of a wider community. 

On the ground floor, LPW’s main printmaking studios activate a previously neglected part of the city and have animated this new gateway to the Cultural Quarter with the visibility of their making processes. A series of workshop spaces for etching, lithography stone graining, silk-screen washing, aquatint and a dark room are located at the rear. At the front is the new double height gallery space with the library area for members. An existing crane and its support beam have been kept in this space piercing through the upper floor offices from the void area. The upper level is predominantly artist studio spaces for hire with offices for LPW and a framing space. There is a further central void in the middle of the studio where the two floors are connected in view. 

Artist’s feedback has been received that the collaboration has transformed not only the premises but also the artists, members and Leicester itself. This has come through many aspects but not least the improvements in the public realm, street scene and in the innovation of the client body and design team to think beyond the limitations of budget to produce an exemplar of sustainable renewal in cities.

Jennifer Frewen, project architect, Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Source: Anton Gorlenko

Engineer’s view

The Leicester Print Workshop proved to be an extremely challenging project to be involved with as a result of extremely tight budget limiting the options available to supply an effective services solution, the building boundary effectively forming the curtilage of the site restricting the ability to utilise renewable technologies. 

Working closely with the architects and client allowed the services solutions to be refined and with judicial relocation of internal spaces allowed the servicing solutions to have reduced pipe runs minimising installation costs without impacting on the functionality of the building. 

The sustainability aspect of the project was addressed with the overall design philosophy of maximizing the existing structure and thus reusing the embodied energy already contained within the structure. Passive heating has been maximised by judicial use of glazing and the use of rooflights and lightwells in the structure has enhanced daylight levels even into the ground floor areas, the addition of high levels of thermal insulation has reduced the energy required to heat the building. 

Demand controls have been applied to ventilation systems, to avoid unnecessary wastage of energy by running the ventilation when the ventilation is not required. 

Heating is also weather compensated, controlled to time with optimum start and stop to reduce the numbers of hours that the heating is used, and to maximise the operating efficiencies of the heating by maximising the ability to operate in condensing mode.

Derek Walker, EDP Engineers

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Source: Anton Gorlenko

Project data

Start on site March 2015
Completion November 2015
Gross internal floor area 790m²
Form of contract JCT Intermediate Building Contract
Construction cost approximately £420,000
Architect Takero Shimazaki Architects
Client Leicester Print Workshop
Structural engineer Diamond Wood and Shaw
MEP consultant EDP Engineers
QS MDA Consulting
CDM coordinator David Neill
Approved building inspector Salus Approved Inspectors
Main contractor Brown and Shaw
CAD software used Vectorworks
Annual CO2 emissions 16.75 kg/m²

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Leicester Print Workshop by Takero Shimazaki Architects

Source: Anton Gorlenko

 

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