The Arches Project is a design-led urban strategy that aims to activate disused spaces across London and the UK. Boano Prišmontas designed a digitally fabricated structural system that adopts dry-joint techniques to infill and make use of a wide range of abandoned pocket spaces such as railway arches, undercrofts, and multi-story car parks. The aim of this project is to create a kit of parts that can be easily assembled and eventually redeployed. The project’s value lies in its nomadic, temporary and sustainable approach. Boano Prišmontas seeks to work in synergy with developers and councils for short and mid-term urban regeneration strategies, to support the quick creation of affordable workspaces for local businesses and startups.
The structure is designed to challenge the standard way in which the Network Rail (now the Arch Company) fits-out the rented Arches. With a cost of roughly £10K, they only provide a set of neon lights and a corrugated plastic lining, which doesn’t improve the thermal quality of the space. Since only the certified installers are allowed to directly fix the lining onto the listed brick vaults, Boano Prišmontas worked around this constraint to design a freestanding self-buildable plug-in space, a room-within-a-room that is built by expanding its shape as much as possible to infill the vault of an arch.
The digitally fabricated structural system is comprised of two elements:
1. The boxes. Modular CNC-cut plywood units that are repeated to infill the space as much as possible and stacked on walls to support the beams as well as the external polycarbonate cladding.
2. The beams. Modular CNC-cut plywood pieces joined together to cover a maximum span of 7.2m. They are the support onto which the insulation sheet is clipped on.
The boxes are sized to host the polycarbonate facade, which allows filling the internal space with natural light. The polycarbonate panels also spill light on the street showing a glimpse of the activity taking place inside the space. The construction cost for a new arch is cheaper than the cost of basic-finish new build, and a new arch can be completed in a very short time, making the project an attractive choice for dealing with an array of difficult spaces nationwide.
The structure is entirely made of certified birch plywood sheets. All pieces of this ‘puzzle’ are the result of a careful study and prototyping phase that assessed the best ratio between element size and weight, structural integrity and ease of construction. Each structural piece is also geometrically efficient when cut with a CNC machine, minimizing material wastage to bare minimum. Boano Prišmontas have created several design pieces that make use of the offcuts. The plywood dust resulting from the CNC process is also used as a material substrate to create boards of bio-plastic material.
Another important aspect of the project is the fact that each component – from the plywood structure to the facade cladding and insulation sheet – is meant to be re-deployed when dismantled. In fact, the dry-joinery techniques allow the structure to be assembled without the use of screws, nails or glue. Each piece simply slots together and the assembling/dismantling process can be carried out by unskilled workers. The act of construction itself becomes a way to involve local communities, charitable associations and youth clubs, making the project a catalyst for positive social impact.