If you lived in London in the early 2000s, remotely enjoyed art and weren’t living under a rock, chances are you’d end up on Vyner Street once a month for First Thursdays. Just off the commercial frenzy of Cambridge Heath Road, the cobblestone street’s gallery enclave would throw open its collective doors to exhibit the most cutting-edge work in London.
A decade on, Vyner Street vibrates with a new type of creative energy: instead of just selling art, its residents are creating it. Local architect Fourthspace has tapped into a long history of collaborative spirit and live-work maker culture to craft a four-storey studio complex. It takes over the old digs of Stuart Shave Modern Art – one of the many ritzy galleries that decamped to Fitzrovia in 2008 when it became apparent that most collectors back then ‘would pale at the thought of setting foot in East London,’ as Fourthspace cofounder Steve Sinclair puts it.
Fourthspace has worked hand-in-hand with artists Kevin Francis Gray and Keith Coventry – both represented by PACE Gallery – as well as a third tenant, artist and collector Alireza Abrishamchi, to create the ambitious new AKK Studios: named in honor of its residents.
Meticulously gutting the Victorian building to preserve its original brick façade, the architects have completed these renovations to a tight budget of £150 per square foot. Two additional floors were added to the building and clad in dark zinc.
Fourthspace’s own office snugly tucks away on the top floor of AKK Studios, its all-white aesthetic giving the attic space the same sense of openness and breathability that permeates the building at large. A material synthesis binds the four floors through galvanized conduits; copper piping running throughout the building, as well as a winding raw steel staircase.
‘I remember hanging out in this room at Stuart Shave’s openings; now I get to work here everyday on my own art,’ says Irish sculptor, Kevin Francis Gray, while slicing into a prototype of his next marble sculpture for his upcoming solo show at Andersen’s Contemporary in Copenhagen. Working directly with Fourthspace, Gray was able to bring his precise vision for his new London studio space to life. Highlights in Gray’s studio design include a custom-made stained glass window by John Reyntiens and a bespoke kitchen wrapped in marble mined from the same quarry in Carrara, Italy, that is used by Gray in his sculptures.
AKK Studios’ fusion of art and architecture extends into Coventry’s space above, whose copper artworks have been fitted into the undercroft of the artist’s private balcony. Both artists received 1,000 sq ft of floor space and double-aspect studios to provide plenty of natural lighting.
Coventry, Gray, and Fourthspace are long-term residents of the street, with the latter two having occupied the building across the road before acquiring 10 Vyner. Their collective memory of the building no doubt contributed to its sophisticated renovation, resulting in a space that is equal parts comfortable and distinguished, merging functionality and flair.
Fourthspace are now working on a studio and apartment building on Vyner Street for artists Michael Landy and Gillian Wearing. Commercial galleries are also making a return, with Stuart Shave Modern Art reopening a few doors down in October 2017 and newcomer Tungsten Gallery arriving in January 2018.
At a moment when soaring rents threaten the livelihood of East London’s art scene – with local trailblazers Vilma Gold shutting its doors in spring 2017 due to financial difficulties – Vyner’s resilience and open-door camaraderie defines the street as a continued anchor of East London’s creative culture.