Like the class Streetcar by Tennessee Williams (or those classic restaurants made from converted street cars), this unbelievable adaptive reuse project called Village Underground involves a strange overlap and blend of fantasy and reality right in the heart of London. The contrast between the dull drab industrial neighbors and each colorful lofted subway car is stunning. Buying them was remarkably cheap, but trucking, lifting, installing and retrofitting them was a seriously expensive undertaking.
Working office spaces set up on top of a roof seem like a realistic proposition … but these offices are composed graffiti-covered ‘tube carriages’ (as they say in Britain) one would expect to see rusting in a gravel lot or falling slowly apart underground. Instead, they bustle with new life and vibrant artistic rooftop activity.
Masterminded by international arts charity Village Underground, these (albeit small and narrow) avant-garde office areas are leased to creative small-business, art-related start-ups looking for something a little bit off the beaten track. The non-profit, tube-loft renters range from musicians and visual artists to theater groups and jewelry makers.
And really, why not? A subway car has strength, durability and material quality well above the average prefab home – and of course is built to human scale and equipped with heavy-duty windows, built-in doors and everything else needed to create a livable and workable interior environment.
There is some genius, too, in choosing this sort of design approach for architecture intended to draw creative types: in all likelihood, those who shy away from the spaces probably are not the kind of people they want renting them anyway. Village Underground has similarly stunning and strange spaces in other countries as well.
“Four tube carriages and two shipping containers were converted into co-working spaces. A few months later, the perfect location was found: the top of an old railway viaduct in the middle of Shoreditch, East London. Great Eastern street was closed for the day and they were hoisted into position by crane. Next to the viaduct was an old Victorian warehouse which had been a coalstore for the railway but had fallen into disrepair. We put a roof on it, cleared out the rubbish, sandblasted the walls and laid down a floor to transform it into the venue that we have now. The main renovations took place over a year, just in time for opening in April 2007.”