Somerset House Studios
Westminster, London, 2015–20

Transformation of Grade I listed former Inland Revenue offices into a contemporary art centre in central London.

Somerset House Studios is a new experimental workspace for artists, makers and thinkers in central London. AOC have worked closely with Somerset House Trust and resident artists to transform the former offices of the Inland Revenue in the Grade I listed New Wing building, to provide new public galleries, affordable creative studios and social spaces. An arts centre for the 21st century, the Studios are an R&D lab, factory and shop window rolled into one.

Begun in 1775 to designs by William Chambers, Somerset House was the first purpose-built office complex in the UK. Radically for the time it brought a number of government departments together under one roof (along with three fledgling arts societies), encouraging cross-department conversations. Today Somerset House is the biggest concentration of creative industries in central London; the Studios are its engine room, providing affordable workspaces for artists and actively nurturing cross-disciplinary conversations between residents.

Our masterplan proposed a phased development of 36,000 sq.ft of rooms for producing, performing and presenting in the lower three floors.

We undertook light-touch archaeology in the New Wing, removing past linings where they prevented usefulness and creating openings where light was needed and allowed.

The biggest challenge for the Studios was how to encourage cross-disciplinary practice in a cellular building. The monotonous length of the windowless, double loaded corridors were broken with painted bays, recalling the original terrace houses, and painted arches introducing significance and scale to flat surfaces.

New glazing panels in studio doors shared natural light and offered glimpses of the activity within. Each studio’s front door is unique with its own painted colour surround, light fitting and vitrine in which the residents can display their work. Over time the vitrines have filled up, animating the corridors with the residents’ work.

The majority of previous office spaces were converted into shared and solo occupancy studios, with new floor boxes, built-in shelves and coat hooks amongst the existing marble mantelpieces and cast iron stoves. A series of communal rooms were developed with the intent of actively nurturing the new community. Existing elements from the Inland Revenue provided prompts for room specific designs.

The as-found building fabric was our first resource of materials. A highly detailed drawn inventory was used as a tool to assess significance and plan a strategy for restoration and reuse. Late 20th century Inland Revenue office desks were adapted with painted timber extensions to create useful workspaces.

A number of rooms were left as found, with only discrete acoustic treatments and servicing to enhance their use for production, performance and display.

At the opening of Somerset House Studios, London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan announced his plans to tackle London’s shortage of affordable creative workspace, praising the Studios as a model example of how genuinely affordable workspace can be made available in central London to a wide range of artistic talent.


  • New London Awards Best Workplace 2022
  • AJ Retrofit Workplace Fit-out Highly Commended 2022

Somerset House Trust

Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA

Graphic Design

Main Contractor

Furniture sub-contractors
MER, Factory Settings, White Wall Company

David Grandorge, Luke Walker, Philip Vile

Further Reading