TRANSFORMING EMPTY SPACE: Brixton East & Simulacra Studio

Lucy Binnersley investigates how Brixton East and Simulacra Studio make space for creativity just off Coldharbour Lane.

Brixton East’s Andy Luckett. Picture by Antonio Sansica
Brixton East’s Andy Luckett. Picture by Antonio Sansica

Nestled under the railway arches on either side of Barrington Road are two examples of previously empty spaces now filled with creativity. Brixton East, a former furniture warehouse, maintains its original nineteenth-century character and offers space to rent for anything from art exhibitions to wedding receptions to theatre productions.

Owner Andy Luckett (pictured right) spotted the disused and distressed building eighteen years ago from the top deck of a bus. Covered in graffiti, with smashed windows and crumbling walls, the dilapidated building had suffered a hard knock life. Andy extensively and lovingly renovated the building back to life.

Quirky yet functional, the large open space has been completely reanimated to become Brixton East. While exhibition spaces can feel intimidating and exclusive, the fact that Andy also lives in the building and operates an open-door policy adds a uniquely personal touch. Andy wants residents and neighbours to come round for a cup of tea, and wants the space to keep changing and be filled with all kinds of local cultural activity. The building, and Andy, are both firmly rooted in the heart of the Brixton community.

“My advice to any new development in Brixton is to give back as much as you take,” says Andy. “You will be surprised how generous people in Brixton will support you and will make it a success both spiritually and financially. Brixton has lost a great deal but should be gaining a great deal. It’s a gentle balance of give and take. The raw materials of Brixton should not be taken for granted and used for short term gain…Lambeth council, Network Rail take note.”

Just across the road from Brixton East is another space that has been successfully rejuvenated. Pouring creative energy into the veins of the Brixton community, the Simulacra Studio began renting the old Brixton East railway arch from Network Rail in 2012.

Initially established in 2006, the studio led by Francois Boutemy has provided a venue for photo shoots and photography workshops. Due to the quality of the work done in the studio, high profile clients such as Ralph Lauren and Net- A-Porter have been attracted to this unique space’s tardis-like layout.

Despite the studio’s success, Francois still very much sees his business as a part of the community. From reclaiming unused wood and building materials to build the bar area, to the purchasing of essentials such as pizza from Franco Manca and beer from Brixton Brewery for the studio’s clients, Francois is keen to support fellow Brixton businesses in any way it can.

Brixton East and the Simulacra Studio, two previously neglected spaces on the same road, are perfect examples of how creative talent in Brixton can nurse victims of neglect into successful businesses and cultural venues. Without their vision, energy and commitment these two empty spaces would have likely remained as lost spaces.

Space can be hard to find and even harder to make use of. That is why Brixton needs individuals like Andy and Francois to make these empty spaces open spaces, for the more imagination we have, the more space we have.

This article is part of a feature on Transforming Empty Space in Brixton.


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