Highbury Roundhouse

Founded in the 1970s, the Highbury Roundhouse is a much-loved resource for the north London community. SWA was commissioned to design a replacement for their former home, which had been subject to a dangerous structures notice.

The new Roundhouse is a local hub for the organisation in its outreach work, while providing high-quality facilities on site for a wide range of activities catering to people of all ages. The new accommodation offers a large multi-purpose hall, a dance studio, an early years centre, a café and staff offices. A new ICT suite and heritage learning facility provide a means for residents to explore local heritage.

Client: The Highbury Roundhouse Association
Construction Value: £2.7m
Completion: Complete
Location: Islington, London

2023 Constructing Excellence SECBE Awards:
• Building Project of the Year under £10 million (shortlisted)
• Value (shortlisted)

“SWA tackled a demanding brief on a constrained site and have produced an outstanding design for a sustainable, multi-use community centre”

Tony Miller, for the Highbury Roundhouse Trustees
Dynamic spaces for a diverse programme
An axon of the site indicating the location of elements

We engaged users and staff to collaboratively create spaces where community outreach, social interaction and neighbourliness can take root.

Locals were instrumental in creatively defining the vision, activities and spaces on offer. Users, teachers, staff, and practitioners had valuable input into the defining characteristics and key features of the range of spaces provided.

The design concept for the building uses the idea of a brickwork ‘garden wall’ to form a spine running through the building, joining a series of spaces of different scales and characters. It appears in different locations, such as the café, the passage to the early years and the gable end to the Hall. To create a sense of openness in this restricted site, we sought to open up views, connecting each internal space to the surrounding tree belt, entrance forecourt and to the sky.


Ground Floor: Hall, Cafe, Reception Lobby
First Floor: Dance Studio, IT Room
A Complex Site
Site Plan of Highbury Roundhouse


The triangular site is bounded by residential back gardens on two sides, a Conservation Area to the north, and, to the west, a steep wooded railway embankment designated a Grade 1 Listed Site of Importance to Nature Conservation. The site is constrained, with its narrow entrance point reached via a separate site fronting the street. The topography of the site provided further challenges, with significant changes in level between the site and neighbouring properties separated by retaining walls.




A 3m no-build zone along the boundary adjacent to the embankment was identified by Network Rail.

Part-funded by LB Islington, the Roundhouse was required to raise the remainder of the funding for the project. We worked closely with them to advance their Big Lottery Fund application, which leveraged other monies to contribute to the project’s funding mix.



Model of Highbury Roundhouse in Context
Ground Floor Uses, Axo View in Context
First Floor Uses, Axo View in Context
Construction Process
The steel frame is erected on the levelled site surrounded by retaining walls

Prior to our works commencing, the sloping site had been levelled and the retaining walls stablised in a pre-construction contract managed by LBI. The steel main structural frame was infilled with secondary timber elements. The Hall roof comprised precast panels for noise abatement purposes.

In addition to the brickwork ‘garden wall’, timber and zinc were used in response to the adjoining Conservation Area. In form and materiality the roof was broken into different elements, reducing its mass while carefully articulating its elements to sit within the volume permitted by planning. A biodiverse brown roof creates a green landscaped outlook for properties overlooking the site.

The passage to the early years; bike storage; shading to café

Following receipt of planning permission the client sought the necessary funding to realise the project. By the time construction commenced three years later the cost had risen such that the contract could not be completed. The site was mothballed for a period of time while more funds were raised. Once this was achieved the works recommenced, but with a new Building Control authority which requested further design work to meet revised standards. Once approval to proceed was given, work recommended and the building was finally handed over at the very end of 2022.

This is a story celebrating the persistence of small organisations, particularly charities, when faced with a complex, expensive building project. In the early stages SWA acted as client advisor and project manager. The time needed to fundraise was a challenge to the client in realising their ambitions. We applaud the Roundhouse staff and Trustees for their persistence throughout the entire process and the faith they placed in SWA to help deliver this exceptional project.