House of Vans London

The House of Vans London is a new mixed use creative venue for Vans enthusiasts and those interested in skateboarding culture. It has been established as a place to participate in the cultural lineage of skateboarding that has defined the Vans brand since 1966, combining skateboarding, art, film and music. The new venue includes an art gallery, ‘Vans labs’ creative spaces, screening room, live music for 850 people, a premium café, numerous bars and a three tier indoor concrete skate park. It is the largest permanent venture by Vans globally and the first European edition of the House of Vans, following the first in Brooklyn NY back in 2010.

The House of Vans London sits within the 150 year old brick arches of the railway lines heading out of Waterloo station and next to London’s famous graffiti street, Leake Street. The site was previously used by the Old Vic Theatre. The area of the site is approximately 2,500 square metres and contains 5 separate long tunnel spaces.  The site was previously used by the Old Vic Theatre. Due to the site being located within the historic arches of the railway lines above, restrictions were clearly set to disallow any form of structural fixing or disturbance to the existing brickwork – the irony was not missed with Vans ‘Off the Wall’ having occupied the site.

Entrance facade

Floor plan

Black Sparrow Presents were tasked by Vans with orchestrating every aspect of the delivery of the House of Vans to London. They approached professional skateboarder and designer Pete Hellicar as the obvious choice to design the new underground skatepark and mixed use venue for Vans. Pete immediately joined forces with architect Tim Greatrex to provide a unique partnership for the design and delivery of the new London venue. Pete and Tim also worked closely with professional skateboarder and designer Marc Churchill (Line Skateparks) who designed specifically the form, layout and the technical delivery of the concrete skatepark.

The requirement from Vans was to provide a cultural hub for skateboarding, art, film, and music. Utilising the layout of the tunnels, the site was delineated into the four main functions of the brief so that each were housed within a specific tunnel. They were separated into the following: a tunnel for art – a gallery with artist’s labs to create and display art exhibitions; a tunnel for film – a cinema and screening room; a tunnel for music – an 850 capacity gig venue; and a tunnel for skateboarding – a skatepark for all levels of skateboarding ability. The overall aim was to create a space that incubated creativity. Concept discussions between Pete and Tim led on to the linking of skateboarding and architecture and how in particular a skateboarder samples the environment he is about to ride.

Images are courtesy of Tim Greatrex

This was incorporated into specific design interventions of the site for example the main entrance counter, the transitioning ramp into the space, the skatepark areas, the cinema seating and the café kitchen enclosure – all incorporate elements of skateboarding forms. These re-appropriated forms are influenced as far back from the origins of skateboarding from California which includes the citywide rudimentary forms of concrete banks and transitions, and from the early years of skateboarding within vacant swimming pools and large concrete pipes. The entrance counter takes the form of a swimming pool section, complete with pool coping stones and a ‘love seat’. The entrance descending ramp has concrete banked sides rising from a point to a full wall face and acts as an enticing surface to skateboard, whilst the café/kitchen enclosure form reflects the large scale concrete water pipes skated in the US. These elements were used to enliven the visitor and to create a sense of tension with the skateboarder who would want to ride these forms but are disallowed.

The plan for the skatepark was for it to accommodate three tunnel spaces to allow for varying layouts and abilities. The main space is the concrete ‘bowl’ predominantly for professional use, the second area is the ‘street scene’ for medium ability and the third is the ‘mini ramp’ skate park area for beginners or relaxed users. The five separate tunnels of the site are unified with the large and impressive rubber floor. The iconic sole of the Vans shoe inspired the layout of the hexagon and diamond pattern, with the strip of hexagons of the sole made to align with an enfilade of arches to delineate a main axis and corridor through the Venue.

Images are courtesy of Tim Greatrex

The skatepark was also an important lighting consideration and challenge as skateparks are usually outdoors. Even illumination had to be given to all surfaces so to not hinder the skateboarders use. The use of outdoor metal-halide flood lighting directed up to reflect down off the vaulted ceiling provided the non-glare high surface even illumination for professional use, but also emphasises the beautiful brick ceiling to visitors. Pendant lights hang low over the café tables to create a sense of intimacy to bring down the scale within the larger space and an enfilade of illuminated arches and bays was created to encapsulate the gallery space. Legend US skateboarders Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi both commented how the lighting of the skatepark and the rest of the spaces achieved a highly functional and beautiful result.

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