Living & Working in Fish Island

The ‘live/work’ unit is a heavily advertised and sought after type of space in East London. These units are large and robust spaces which encourage artists to live and work with one another. Hackney wick and Fish Island have a high concentration of this typology, which has led to a tight knit ‘creative community’ with its own grass roots infrastructure.

The area has been dedicated to light industry for the last 40 years, and for the last ten has seen a rapid growth in Artists’ live/work studios re-occupying old industrial fabric. Currently the area is a rich mix of artists’ studios, live/ work units, social enterprises, light industry and residential.

What follows is a series of architectural snaphshots that give a cross section through the area, its life, and the architectural types in which it is all contained and which helped catalyse it all…

Case Study:
The Old Peanut Factory

The Old Peanut factory is almost wholly comprised of live/ work units squeezed intuitively into its former factories and workshops. The units are all linked with either the central courtyard or the surrounding pavements. The area’s distinctive sense of community my be owed to the way that these varied ways of working and living are linked together. Spaces range from the very private bedrooms, to the ambiguously negotiated shared live/work/eat/ permormance spaces.

The Homely Live/Work Unit

How does the unit work? It has been arranged as a house for comfortable communal living, there is a mezzanine studio where some house mates work during the day. The work is on their computers, making physical models and some light band practice.The main space is used for socializing and hosting informal musical performances which feature artists from the neighbourhood.

The unit offers the housemates the option of working privately, socially, or semi privately.

The main space is an incredibly social place, where housemates and neighbours spend time together communally. It is occasionally used by the musicians to host informal musical performances during the evenings. It is also flexible enough to allow housemates to occasionally build large objects such as furniture and large physical models. The main space can be a distracting place to work because of the number of the number of people present; often housemates work in their rooms when it is difficult to concentrate.

The mezzanine is a very well lit work orientated space with computers, drawing boards and storage for musical instruments. It can host 3-5 people working at any one time, so it benefits the housemates by creating a shared ‘mini hub’ environment, where ideas can be shared people can look over each other’s shoulder.

‘The Hive’ (Live/Work Performance Space)

This Unit is occupied by many studying and working within the arts & performance industry. It was modified from an art gallery to space which could host both activities of communal living, and work well as a cabaret rehearsal/performance space. Many events have been hosted here, from barn dances to Brazilian dance music nights. The building borders the main courtyard to the peanut factory.

above: space as used for rehearsal

below: barn dance event

‘The Kiwi House’

Known locally as the ‘kiwi house’, this old rubber works has been carefully converted into a live/work space who’s occcupants work largley in the local counter cafe.

Stour Space & the Counter Cafe

A socially minded organisation offering exhibition, performance and studio space for the development
of creative enterprises. Devoted to the promotion and production of art and design, performance and innovative business, Stour Space was founded with a passion to enhance and develop opportunities in the art sector. (

The Spaces Inbetween: Peanut Factory Yard

The central space of the peanut factory forms the central entrance to 12 live/work units. It is a highly multi functional space where residents can be seen working, performing, eating and almost anything you can think of.

 The Spaces InBetween (Car Parks & Pavements)

Pavements and carparks are places which are used with a degree of multifunctionality. the images on these pages show how these space are used as living rooms, build/ making areas and play grounds.


This post forms part of an ongoing research project into the Live/Work typologies of Hackney Wick and Fish Island by Richard Brown.