Tim Greatrex — Architect


House of Vans

The House of Vans London was designed through collaboration between Pete Hellicar and Tim Greatrex, completed in 2014.

House of Vans Street Facade

The House of Vans London is a new mixed use creative venue for Vans enthusiasts and those interested in skateboarding culture. It has been established as a place to participate in the cultural lineage of skateboarding that has defined the Vans brand since 1966, combining skateboarding, art, film and music. The new venue includes a three tier indoor concrete skate park, an art gallery, creative work spaces, a screening room, live music for 850 people, numerous bars and a premium café.

It is the largest permanent venture by Vans globally and the first European edition of the House of Vans, following the first in Brooklyn NY back in 2010.


Black Sparrow Presents were tasked by Vans with orchestrating every aspect of the delivery of the House of Vans London, and as a long-time partner of Vans they provided a unique understanding of the brand and culture of skateboarding and fashion. With a vast experience of delivering large scale events for Vans they were well placed to oversee the creation of the House of Vans London.

Site / Venue

House of Vans Elevation
House of Vans Elevation

The House of Vans London sits within the 150 year old brick arches of the railway lines heading out of Waterloo station and next to London’s famous graffiti street, Leake Street.
The site was previously occupied by the Old Vic Theatre. The area of the site is approximately 2,500 square metres and contains 5 separate long tunnels. Due to the site being located within the historic arches of the railway lines above, restrictions were clearly set to disallow any form of structural fixing or disturbance to the existing brickwork – the irony was not missed with Vans ‘Off the Wall’ occupying the site.

Brief / Concept

House of Vans Concept Sketch
House of Vans Plan
House of Vans Plan

The requirement from Vans was to provide a cultural hub for skateboarding, art, film and music. The site was delineated into the four main functions of the brief so that each were housed within a specific tunnel. They were separated into the following: a tunnel for art – a gallery with artist’s labs to create and display art exhibitions; a tunnel for film – a cinema and screening room; a tunnel for music – an 850 capacity gig venue; and a tunnel for skateboarding – a skatepark for all levels of skateboarding ability. The overall aim was to create a space that incubated creativity.

Interior Space

Within the venue re-appropriated forms associated with skateboarding were used to create the functions within the space which include the citywide rudimentary forms of concrete banks and transitions, and from the early years of skateboarding in California vacant swimming pools and large concrete pipes, aimed to create a sense of tension with the visiting skateboarder.

House of Vans Ramp
House of Vans ramp
House of Vans Ramp
House of Vans Cafe

Skatepark Design

The plan for the skatepark was for it to accommodate three tunnel spaces to allow for varying layouts and abilities. The main space is the concrete ‘bowl’ predominantly for professional use, the second area is the ‘street scene’ for medium ability and the third is the ‘mini ramp’ skate park area for beginners.

House of Vans Skate Park – ‘Bowl’
House of Vans Skate Park – ‘Street Scene’
House of Vans Skate Park – ‘Mini Ramp’

Vans Floor

The five separate tunnels of the site are unified with the large and impressive rubber floor. The iconic sole of the Vans shoe inspired the layout of the hexagon and diamond pattern, with the strip of hexagons of the sole made to align with an enfilade of arches to delineate a main axis and corridor through the Venue.

House of Vans Axis
House of Vans Gig Tunnel + Stage
House of Vans Gig Tunnel + Stage

Rubber was the obvious choice of material for the floor as it is the material for the Vans shoe and the core material of the original Vans Doren Rubber Company. It was also chosen for its durability, natural resistance to water (appropriate for the site), it’s contrasting to the raw brickwork of the space, and recyclable at the end of the project. The underlay for the rubber floor is made of modular plastic tiles which at the end of the project can be dismantled, packaged up, and then used on another project. The other benefits of recycled rubber are its resistance to slip in the damp environment; its ability to be water jet cut precisely to the intricate geometric shapes required and can also be provided in a range of colours for visual guidance through the space. The floor provides a clean and comfortable surface in contrast to the brick surrounding.


Due to the underground nature of the site it was important to light the space sufficiently for use whilst also elegantly expressing the form of the tunnels. Long linear strips of warm light were used throughout the tunnels, positioned at the intersection of the brick wall and the beginning of the brick arch, to graze the brickwork to create a dramatic cathedral like space.

House of Vans Gallery
House of Vans Main Bar

Branded neon signs create evocative focal points within the space – at the entrance, bars, stage and within the green room.

The skatepark was also an important lighting consideration and challenge as skateparks are usually outdoors. Even illumination had to be given to all surfaces so to not hinder the skateboarders use. The use of outdoor metal-halide flood lighting directed up to reflect down off the vaulted ceiling provided the non-glare even illumination for professional use, but also emphasises the beautiful brick ceiling to visitors.

House of Vans Pro Skateboarder
House of Vans Reflected Ceiling Plan

Pendant lights hang low over the café tables to create a sense of intimacy and an enfilade of illuminated arches and bays was created to encapsulate the gallery space. Legend US skateboarders Tony Alva and Christian Hosoi both commented how the lighting of the skatepark and the rest of the spaces achieved a highly functional and beautiful result.

House of Vans Memorabilia Display


Another of the key concepts for the space was to create shrines to everything Vans; a shrine to Vans shoes – the displays of vintage memorabilia; a shrine to skateboarding – the skatepark; a shrine to art – the Vans labs and gallery; a shrine to music – the stage and gig tunnel; a shrine to food – the café and kitchen; a shine to alcohol – the bars, a shrine to ‘rock and roll’ – the green room, and lastly a shrine to the tunnels and their previous use as the Old Vic Theatre – the murals and markings of previous times have been retained within the House of Vans.

House of Vans Floor + Signage
House of Vans Floor + Signage
House of Vans Screening Room
House of Vans Screening Room
House of Vans Skate Park Entrance
House of Vans Skate Park Entrance


As well as the physical design of the space, the activation of the space was a key requirement to generate an exciting, vibrant, educational and creative space. From the outset, the intention was to allow the space to evolve for itself; letting visitors self govern and take ownership. Broadcasting became one of the key ways to activate the venue, through many forms of social media, broadcasting images and live camera feeds of activity within the music venue and skateparks for example. Interest can be generated by reaching out through the House of Vans online presence to inspire people to come down and visit the site. This live Internet broadcast also connects Vans London to the global Vans community – creating live links between London and Brooklyn, NY and to other Vans outlets and events around the rest of the world.