A House for Artists reinvents affordable, sustainable living

Apparata architecture studio is behind this sustainable housing development in Barking town centre, east London

Street view of grey building with minimal windows and glass doors on bottom level.
(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Affordable housing, sustainable architecture, and artistic creativity; all roll into one in this latest project by Apparata architects in Barking town centre in east London. A House for Artists is a new multi-family residential project, conceived as a replicable model for flexible living space that promotes civic engagement and community-building. It was brought to life by Create London, an independent agency that commissions art and architecture in the public realm, and London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, and it’s a scheme that aims to shake up the way we think about housing. 

A House for Artists, as its name suggests, is set to house 12 artists and their families in a single building, designed by emerging London-based studio Apparata, headed by Nicholas Lobo Brennan, Astrid Smitham and Theo Thysiades. Create London, the organisation behind several acclaimed public-realm projects, co-commissioned the scheme.

‘Apparata’s starkly legible and playful design is civic to the core. Combining public-facing spaces and artist studios with an innovative housing model, its deliberate transparency invites the public in, while the spatial arrangement of the flats give residents the option of shared spaces and collective arrangements without compromising their privacy,’ says its senior curator Diana Ibáñez López. 

A House for Artists: a model for flexible living

Geometric concrete facade at Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Flexibility and fresh thinking was central to Apparata’s response to the brief. ‘Contemporary apartment design is still largely based on the nuclear family, when this model doesn’t reflect the diverse configuration of people’s lives today,’ says architect and co-founder of Apparata, Astrid Smitham. ‘New kinds of arrangements are needed: the possibility of an elderly parent to live with you temporarily, to share childcare with another household, or to grow a meaningful connection with neighbours. People’s lives are more varied and complex than apartment buildings commonly allow for.'

While the building’s spaces come together as a seamless whole, there is a clear distinction between public and private, with public areas, such as workshops and an ongoing arts programme, on the ground level, while apartments are placed on the floors above. The shared facilities on the ground floor, both indoors and outdoors (including patios and courtyards), not only allow the inhabitants to share public space, but also invite more people from the local community into the building, to use, interact with, and experience the space.

The building combines an open and creative nature with its strong forms out of geometric, exposed concrete, and a number of sustainable strategies (which impressively result in a building with more than 20 per cent less embodied carbon than the RIBA 2030 climate challenge target and GLA aspirational target). A House for Artists is a powerful addition to its east London neighbourhood, as well as the wider housing scene beyond.

Round window at Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Corner view of the concrete Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Side view of the concrete geometric Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Interior view at Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)

Balcony view at Guardian House For Artists

(Image credit: Johan Devlin)



Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture & Environment Director at Wallpaper*. She trained as an architect at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and studied architectural history at the Bartlett in London. Now an established journalist, she has been a member of the Wallpaper* team since 2006, visiting buildings across the globe and interviewing leading architects such as Tadao Ando and Rem Koolhaas. Ellie has also taken part in judging panels, moderated events, curated shows and contributed in books, such as The Contemporary House (Thames & Hudson, 2018), Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020) and House London (2022).

With contributions from