West Architecture Take Their Church Refurbishment to the Next Level

The bold design studio West Architecture took on the adventurous project of constructing a suspended plywood mezzanine in a former Methodist Church in Islington, London, to convert it into a private open-plan living space. They have recently completed Phase II, the second stage of the original development, updating the space as part of the evolution towards the client’s desired minimalist living arrangement.

Obscured glass, opening vents and a sliding screen control ventilation, light and privacy

The entire 100m² apartment has been spruced up, with a new kitchen and bathroom added, and the floors have had the original resin re-poured to give a new shine. Despite the changes, the architects have striven to remain true to the heart of the original space; this was a key part of the project, one that took 4 months to execute on site, but which took over a year and a half to navigate through planning permission.

The project keeps the spacious, airy feel of the original church space

Most striking is the addition of a new room in a previously unused roof space, access to which is granted via a new staircase leading from the main room. The design of the room is ergonomic, light and airy. It is constructed as a stressed skin plywood box, reminiscent of the design of the original mezzanine. In echoing the structure of the original space, the refurbishment stays true to the earlier ethos.

The new stair viewed from under the existing mezzanine

We spoke to Graham West, founder of West Architecture, about this unusual project.

The Plus: How did you build on your first refurbishment of this space?
Graham West:
The second phase of works continued the materiality of the first plywood project both visually and structurally, whilst not attempting to mimic its design.
TP: What materials have you used, and why have you used each of them?
GW: Both projects are almost entirely constructed from plywood, mostly birch faced with some elements formed in spruced faced plywood, such as the sliding screen to the bedroom window. The staircase for the original mezzanine and the handrail for the new staircase are both made of untreated mild steel. They share a common language, and the rawness of the steel is a good counterpoint to the plywood.

The materials used in the new bathroom echo those used elsewhere

TP: What elements of the church have you chosen to adapt?
Much of the original fabric remains. We removed areas of the ceiling for the insertion of the original mezzanine, and inserted a large dormer into the roof for the new bedroom. Wherever possible, existing timber trusses and purlins have been re-used and reinforced with additional timber rather than using steel.

TP: How do you see this relationship between sustainability and architecture developing in future?
Buildings use a huge amount of energy both whilst they are being built and when they are in use. Typically architects already address energy in use, however innovative methods of construction and the re-use of existing building stock will reduce the carbon cost of construction.

Storage and a walk in wardrobe hidden in the roof space

TP: What kind of home did you design this to be?
The client, Morgwn, desired as minimalist a space as possible, with plain materials used to frame and focus everyday activities. The end result is very much a reflection of her simple lifestyle.

TP: So what does minimalism mean to you?
There is a difference for us between minimal and minimalist. Minimalist seems like a predetermined style choice which we avoid. Minimal means the project is distilled down to its most essential elements and the end result is the most plausible outcome. This is how we work.

A roof light follows the pitch of the original roof over the staircase

TP: So if you could pick any building to build a similar renovation project around, which one would you pick?
We would love to insert a home, gallery or exhibition space into an existing industrial building.

TP: And if you weren’t an architect, what do you think would be your calling?
It’s difficult to answer this question without sounding pretentious. I would have to say an engineer, since I started out in engineering before training to become an architect.

The project was designed for minimalist living

Wardrobes and a concealed door to the bedroom read as a single wall of flush panelling

The new kitchen located under the existing mezzanine

Long Section
First Floor
Second Floor

Photo credits: Ben Blossom