Revamped Koko in London promises elevated music experiences

London music venue Koko reopens its doors following extensive redesign, also welcoming its newest addition, the House of Koko members’ club

main stage at key London music venue
(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Koko has reopened with a bang. The legendary London music venue, which in the past has hosted performances from artists including Madonna, Ed Sheeran, Thom Yorke and Kanye West, is opening its doors this month, following a seven-year planning, restoration and redesign process. The refreshed space not only encompasses a facelift of its historical main stage, but also features a state-of-the-art hospitality element, perfectly tailored for the music lover – House of Koko (including Café Koko and Koko shop).

This members’ club, which will include some areas that are open to the wider public, is a balanced blend of moodiness and polish, food and drink offerings and boutique performance options, all neatly wrapped in lush, bespoke design and technology that hopes to elevate the music experience to levels previously unseen in the city. 

koko music venue exterior

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Koko owner and entrepreneur Olly Bengough explains that this reimagined version of the much-loved music culture hub has been a long time in the making. A first restoration in 2004 saw the venue able to host some 200 to 250 artists a year, but this was not enough for Bengough. How could its reach be further enhanced, he wondered? 

‘In 2015, I was looking at the surrounding buildings, including the Hope & Anchor pub, and I realised there was this opportunity to create something architecturally unique, and we could dream up an entirely new experience for music and entertainment,’ he recalls. ‘At the same time, I was travelling a lot to LA, where it was all about streaming and connectivity. So, I thought, what do the artists need from the future? What would give them a better opportunity to be creative? Let’s give the building that layer too.’

rooftop restaurant at London members’ club

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Bengough acquired the buildings behind the original Koko – a former piano factory dating back to 1800, and the Hope & Anchor from 1860, the façade of which is listed and was maintained – and called upon architecture studio Archer Humphryes (of Chiltern Firehouse fame) to help him ‘masterplan’ the whole, weaving together the seemingly disparate parts, while carefully restoring period architecture. David Archer and Julie Humphryes led the works: ‘It was going to be a refurbishment and a reawakening of the historical venue, and a new building that would have a symbiotic relationship and would be a vessel or container of the verbal brief Olly gave us,' Archer says. In a way, the architecture and the conceptual and usage plans converged.

‘[It is about] bridging old and new, analogue and digital, buildings and music – all while keeping the soul of Koko,’ says Bengough. 

The construction works were significant and offered a range of challenges and opportunities – a fire broke out on site in 2020, causing damage to the dome, which had to be reconstructed. Consequent water damage to the theatre (150,000 litres of water entered the theatre from the fire engines, along with rain water from subsequent storms) threw up various obstacles, but gutting the building completely in places led to fortunate discoveries too, such as the fly tower above the main stage, which is now refurbished and made into an extra space for intimate performances. ‘We kept finding new pockets and new ways to unlock the space,’ Bengough recalls.

Stairwell Leading To The Dome

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

Humphryes says: ‘It’s always about the backstage and stage doors and auxiliary areas. It’s also all the circulation spaces – you can go under the stage, around the stage, under the dome, the bridge of the pavilion, and in the existing route there is this elliptical stair that hugs around the dome – and it offers all this excitement.’

The revamped Koko’s main building also includes a spectacular bar in the reconstructed dome; a glass pavilion housing a rooftop restaurant (a real structural challenge, the architects say), which is gently placed above the main theatre auditorium; and a fully refurbished grand stage (an Italianate interior, originally designed by the building’s architect, WGR Sprague, in 1900). Behind it ( ‘the new building is hugging the original building’, Archer explains) are a selection of hospitality areas, including a public bar and restaurant, a members’ bar and restaurant, more exclusive performance spaces, and a range of boutique vinyl listening booths where guests can enjoy their favourite albums privately. 

vinyl booth at the House of Koko members’ club, part of London music venue


(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

The interiors, created by design studio Pirajean Lees, were created in collaboration with Bengough and according to his overall vision, inspired by travels, different styles, and the needs of each space. There are dark and mysterious bar corners, a speakeasy with a bespoke cigarette-patterned carpet, a timber-clad restaurant with a Japanese twist, and specially made details, fittings and features throughout. 

Bengough says: ‘The design is intuitive, it doesn't fit into one genre or lane. It’s made out of timeless materials – it had to be timeless and classic, so that it gave you freedom.’ And of course, all the architectural and interior design mastery on show is topped by amazing technological support – an IT and streaming element that offers countless possibilities to artists. Bridging time periods, physical spaces and styles, the digital and the analogue world, the new Koko hopes to offer a haven for music like no other, all created in the spirit of fun, collaboration and creative freedom.

red London auditorium interiors

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

London members club in Camden

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

green tile building exterior

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

dome of 1900 structure

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

interior of revamped koko

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

exterior detail of the house of Koko exterior

(Image credit: Taran Wilkhu)

bar in the House of Koko

(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

Bar On The Roof Terrace In House Of Koko

(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

toilets at Bar The House Of Koko

(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

one of the bar seating areas at House Of Koko

(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

corridor with timber internal cladding

(Image credit: Lesley Lau)

INFORMATION

koko.co.uk

archerhumphryes.com

pirajeanlees.com

Ellie Stathaki is the Architecture Editor 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) and Glenn Sestig Architecture Diary (2020).