There’s virtually no space left for housing within the entire city of London, yet the city’s population continues to grow every year, requiring at least 250,000 new dwellings annually just to keep up. There’s a high concentration of single-family homes taking up valuable plots, and the city has made it difficult for developers to build upwards. The homes that are available tend to be extremely expensive, inaccessible to all but the wealthiest buyers. What else is there to do? If more architects follow Laura Clark’s example, the answer might require some creative thinking to squeeze housing out of the most unexpected places.
During the three decades of its abandonment, nobody would have wanted to live in this subterranean space beneath London’s Crystal Palace Parade, a stop on the city’s transit network adjacent to Crystal Palace Park. Built in 1929, this space was used as a public restroom for over fifty years, and when it was closed in the 1980s, all of the toilets, urinals and sinks were left in place. It wasn’t pretty, yet Clark saw its potential right away.
She first spotted the space in 2005 and envisioned turning it into a bar or tiny movie theater, “something quirky and fun that would breathe life back into a neglected part of the local landscape.”
Ultimately, Clark decided to take on the project of transforming the derelict restroom into a sleek one-bedroom home for herself through her practice, Lamp Architects. It took her six years just to persuade local authorities to allow her to purchase it, and then contractors balked at having to labor in the stuffy, stinky underground space. She ended up doing most of the work herself, ripping everything out to start fresh.
“I’ve always loved the idea of micro-regeneration,” she told The Telegraph. “For me, that’s about saving sites with an interesting history, but which have been abandoned and forgotten.”
The space measures just about 600 square feet and features glass block skylights that pierce the sidewalk above, so when you’re beneath them, you get a hazy view of pedestrians walking by. With all interior walls removed, it now comprises the men’s and ladies’ restrooms along with the accompanying attendant’s offices, and the stairway to the ladies room is now a garden.
Now that it’s complete, with all of Clark’s belongings inside, you’d never guess what it used to be. The space is surprisingly bright despite being underground thanks to those skylights, which flood the entire length of the entire with daylight. White subway tile references the space’s former purpose, but the renovations have obliterated all traces of public restroom funk, and you can’t even tell where the toilets used to be anymore.
The white walls give it a sense of spaciousness despite its small dimensions, contrasting with glossy red cabinets and a gilded accent wall behind the bathtub. The sunken outdoor space feels like a secret garden, shielded from view of the public by the original wrought iron fencing.
It’s quite an incredible reclamation of a previously unwanted space, proof positive that there are still inexpensive places to be found for houses in London — as long as you can push visions of thousands of emptying bladders out of your mind while you’re cooking.