The British sculptor Anish Kapoor is known for expansive, architecure-scale works. Now he has the studio to match.
For the past 20 years, Kapoor has been creating sculptures from his studio in a converted dairy factory in south London. Take Cloudgate, Chicago’s famed stainless steel “bean,” which, at 42 feet long, weighs around 110 tons, and Memory, a Cor-Ten steel sculpture made up of 156 parts that weighs 24 tons (on the lighter side for Kapoor). When the artist installed the nearly 500 foot-long, 10-story Marsyas in the Tate in 2003, the Guardian called it “the biggest sculpture at Tate Modern and probably the biggest in any art gallery in the world.”
Five years ago, Kapoor approached architect Michael Casey of London-based studio Caseyfierro about renovating his studio as well as the buildings he had purchased next door, which altogether take up an entire city block. At the time, Casey says, the space was still in its raw, original form: a typical 1950s tin-roof building with no insulation, a rudimentary heating system, and glazed-over windows offering little natural light. “I thought we should make it into an in-between space between a studio where you work and something with the qualities of a gallery space.”
Casey wanted to upgrade the space to be more functional and comfortable, but he also had to take into consideration the particularities of Kapoor’s extensive design and fabrication process. How do you design for such huge, unwieldy works of art?
They key, he says, was creating workspaces that are flexible to different aspects of Kapoor’s process. “As an architect you think about the whole process, and at first we thought let’s make it one big span and you can do anything you want,” says Casey. “But then we realized that each work is its own process and each has its own materials and some material can’t even be in the same room as another.” For example, Kapoor and his collaborators might be polishing a piece or creating a bonding agent–“a mucky, dirty grimy existence,” says Casey–for one piece, while another team is simultaneously creating an architectural model of an exhibition space. Each of those processes is better off with its own sectioned-off space.
The solution was to divide the spaces up into multiple studios and renovate them one at a time–a process that ended up taking five years to complete. The architects started with the old dairy factory at the north end of the street, dividing it into three separate studios. They removed first floor to create a space with 30-foot ceilings and gave the walls a fresh coat of white paint. Clerestory windows that span the entire length of the building’s north side bring in plenty of light from overhead.
The second phase was to build three smaller studios in the buildings next door. In one, the architects restored an exposed steel I-beam structure from which Kapoor could suspend large sculptures (per his brief, the beam needed to support 3 tons of weight). In the other spaces, the architects converted a mezzanine for laying out maquettes and a gallery-like space for testing different exhibition environments. In the previous space, Casey says, the artists would have to create the largest works in separate pieces that couldn’t be put together until they arrived at the exhibition space. Now they have the volume to construct it in full and set it up as it would be in a gallery.
After five years of off-and-on construction to comply with Kapoor’s schedule, the spaces were completed in October 2015. Casey describes the construction process as “very incremental,” but says it gave his team time to consider what each next space needed to accomplish and learn from the construction of the last. “From the building we started out with to the one we ended on, they are all so different,” he says. “It would have ended up a completely different studio if we had done them all at the same time.”