by Pallavi MehraJan 19, 2023
Not an office. Neither a showroom. PSLab London.
JamesPlumb, a creative studio in South London founded by artists James Russell and Hannah Plumb, has converted a former tannery into the poignant new London headquarters for Beirut-based lighting company, PSLab. A choreographed vista of concrete surfaces rise and sink to create pockets of stepped levels escorted by plants, across the single open workspace, emerging with gentle, brutalist interiors that seem abstract yet finished, warm yet sturdy.
The designer duo had collaborated with PSLab on a project for Aesop Lambs Conduit Street in 2015, and had come to understand each other’s way of working. “We all agreed from very early on that the key was for it to not to be an office, nor a showroom - but to become a ‘home’ for PSLab in London, and that centred around a feeling more than any aesthetic brief,” explains Russell. A heavy warehouse door invites one into PSLab London, which opens to reveal a courtyard with silhouettes of simple benches and an antique coffee table visible from the street.
A quiet brutalism. An internal concrete landscape.
Because tanneries (places where animal skins are processed into leather) require a steady supply of water for their proceedings, there existed an industry of the same in this inconspicuous street in Bermondsey, south east London, due to its proximity to River Thames. For its adaptive reuse, JamesPlumb stripped back the warehouse in its entirety to reveal a raw, industrial core, leaving behind exposed brick walls, steel columns and sunken pits that were used for dying animal hides earlier. These pits were filled with concrete to create an array of monolith plinths of various heights, which become workspaces and formal areas, or become informal block seating when they host events in their new office.
Levels become objects. Block atop block. Block through block. Block beside block.
“The mass and density of concrete dances across the space in the form of varying geometric levels: the floor becomes a bench; steps extend to become levels; plinths become floor; tables become chairs; seats merge into steps. Concrete levels, softened and detailed with timber, textiles and plants, become objects onto which PSLab can activate light and shadow in endless sequence,” mentions Plumb.
The plain white and largely grey interiors find beautiful contrast with soft accents of wood, fabric, planters and plants, exposed brick and steel columns, with simple windows throwing light onto its stepped surfaces. PSLab London also becomes more than just a workspace – it brings the garden inside with verdant, bright green, leafy planters and dense climbers, decorating and softening its insides.
Areas overlap and actions merge. A volume divided, yet unified.
The office design portrays a fluidity as functions overlap - a library, a meeting room, a living room, a kitchen, a dining table, an auditorium, an atelier, a garden, and a courtyard function coexist in one unified floor space, where “functions are defined yet intertwined. A space to comfortably hold few and many”. Some concrete surfaces are left bare for a more formal workspace vibe, while hand-dyed linen cushions sit on a few, creating a cosier, warmer mood. Stacks of prayer mats also lie around the floor space for added seating.
Made of 359 pieces of black cast iron, a sophisticated custom-designed gantry fitted with PSLab’s lighting accessories is placed above, for the brand to connect, experiment and demonstrate the limitless outcomes that they can achieve with light. The atelier’s wall rails run the length of the office, displaying maquettes, models, samples, materials and lighting prototypes, facing a three metre desk of steel and iroko. Visitors can scan a library, a playground of diverse ingredients kept on a black, floor to ceiling, gridded steelwork that becomes a spine connecting the living area and the atelier. An industrial style ladder is used to access the higher shelves, while the bottom drawers are finished with beech and patinated iroko timber.
The designers formed the kitchen as a monolith island with a sink, a collection of assorted tableware and utensils and Lebanese glassware. A 3.2m concrete dining table cantilevers into the heart of the dining room, inviting a gathering to settle on the horsehair cushions that border it. The private meeting room is given a dusky interior design, with dark walls framing a mustard yellow, 1950’s Yrjo Kukkapuro corner seat and desk piece.
Grounded. Hospitable. Activated by light.
Founder of PSLab, Dimitri Saddi, shares that “the scheme in the space was inspired by our work process - we all wanted the experience of the space to feel like the experience of working with us… The lights are not products showcased on a shelf - it is not a showroom in that sense - instead they are part of the living space itself and the starting point of a dialogue on the possibilities of light and shadow. Therefore it is very important for the space to show the optics, and this is where the gantry comes in. It is a tool to display all the latest engines and optics in their raw form. The optical instruments are separate from the luminaire form - it’s purely about light and function”.
JamesPlumb shares that PSLab London’s design was informed by a multitude of inspirations, from the greenhouses of the Orto Botanico in Palermo, the history of the building itself, and Paul Virilio’s book Bunker Archaeology to name just a few. With these we developed this sense of a ‘quiet brutalism’, an internal concrete landscape, solid and permanent, yet inviting to the hand and to inhabit. Textures, deliberate imperfections, and intentional subtle misalignments all helped to bring a more human feel. An internalisation of the outdoors was a crucial part of this - we planted the garden in a very committed way, within and set into the cuboid forms - nature and the weathering of time play an important part in softening concrete structures, encouraging touch and use,” they conclude.