In January 2014, Delfina Foundation reopens its doors to unveil a major expansion, designed by Studio Octopi, making it the largest artist residency provider in London. The £1.4m redevelopment doubles the residency capacity, increasing the number of residents at one time from four to eight, as well as creating 1,650 square feet of additional exhibition and event space. Currently located at 29 Catherine Place in an Edwardian townhouse in Victoria, the Foundation expands into the adjacent building, giving it a combined area total of 4,564 square feet.
Award-winning architects Studio Octopi and Cairo-based Shahira Fahmy Architects were selected as finalists for an architecture competition held by Delfina Foundation and Nous Collaborative in July 2012. In keeping with the Foundation’s key mission of facilitating cultural exchange with the greater Middle East and North Africa region, the competition promoted a design partnership between architects based in the UK and the greater Middle East. Whilst the original concept was a collaboration between both firms, Studio Octopi has led the development and overseen the construction.
Adhering to one of the core concepts of the Foundation’s history as a provider of ‘homes’ for artists, the architects have retained the domesticity of the two houses, exploring the significance of the hearth in a home. Across cultures and throughout history, the hearth has been an integral part of a household, becoming synonymous with notions of domesticity, and placemaking. Fireplaces are kept in their entirety on the lower floors, and the recesses and hearth stones are retained in the artists’ private spaces.
The designs also set out to maintain the juxtaposition of public and private spaces. The introduction of glazed panels in the floors and walls allow for their integration. Diagonal views across the buildings and through the floors expose the Foundation’s ecosystem at work, as well as opening up the two buildings and bringing in more light throughout the space. With flexible artist workspaces throughout, the five-storey property boasts an expansive gallery / workshop space on the lower ground floor; reception, dining area and kitchen on the ground level; offices and library on the first, whilst the residents’ quarters occupy the two top floors.
Adopting the role of architect cum archaeologists, Studio Octopi have created an environment which is unassuming, layered and contextual, while peeling back the layers of ornamentation and finish to expose the period craftsmanship of the buildings. New insertions are made with a light and considered touch, while detailing is discrete and at times whimsical. Brickwork to the reveals of the new openings is left exposed and overhead concrete lintels retained in their natural state. By leaving materials in their raw state, a reminder of the building’s beginnings is introduced. A sense of permanence is imbued in the two townhouses, linking the present with the past and consequently looking ahead into the building’s exciting future.
Director, Aaron Cezar: “We are thrilled by the transformation which Studio Octopi and Shahira Fahmy envisioned for Delfina Foundation. The expansion creates a home for artistic research, production and exhibition that will be unparalleled in London, while maintaining the intimacy of engagement that has been central to our work with artists, curators, and communities. More so, the conceptual design has the notion of conviviality at its core, creating a space for encounter and exchange. Over the course of the last eight months, it has been a pleasure to work with Studio Octopi and our contractor City Interiors to realise our ambitious development. We are very excited to open our doors again.”
Studio Octopi: “The Delfina Foundation team has been an empowering client. Their vision for the future of the Foundation has enabled us to work in a unique way. The scheme aims to act as a palimpsest, to retain the integrity and character of the existing buildings while simultaneously creating a series of spaces for residents, staff and visitors to use and enjoy. The building process has been a true collaboration between the client, design team and contractor with experimentation and flexibility at the forefront of this process. We are very proud of what has been achieved and have the Foundation to thank for this.”