Going Underground - House of Vans Waterloo

The Old Vic Tunnels have had a makeover, courtesy of skateboarding brand Vans. The huge 3,000 square metre space, which once housed experimental theatre group Punchdrunk has been transformed into London’s very first underground skatepark.

The huge House of Vans space will act as a music venue, gallery, artist studios, café, cinema, bar and skatepark.

Self-described by Jeremy de Maillard, VP of Marketing at Vans, as ‘the physical manifestation of the culture and creativity that have defined the Vans brand since 1966’, House of Vans will house four studios in Tunnel #2 which will be made available, free of charge, to emerging and established artists who will be given the opportunity to have an exhibition at the end of their tenancy. Tunnel #3 will be an 850-capacity gig space, aiming to uphold a rich heritage in music and events.

The remaining two tunnels will be dedicated to London’s first permanent underground skatepark, bringing together a street course, mini ramp section and a deep concrete bowl. Elsewhere in the tunnels, a café, bar and cinema space will allow some time to relax.

“Vans is not only about skating…but it’s the core and we will always protect it," says Karl Heinz Salzburger, who runs the international operation of the brand’s US owner, VF Corporation. The venue, he says, will be an “amazing vehicle to engage and inspire youth culture." Something which shouldn’t be too hard, due to the House of Vans’ proximity to London’s biggest legal graffiti wall and undercroft skatepark.

Although the popularity of skateboarding has increased and decreased over the years, peaking in the 90s thanks to Tony Hawk and the popularity of ‘skater’ bands such as Blink 182, skateboarding fashion has taken on a life of its own. As more non-skaters embrace the sport’s uniform of chunky-soled trainers, t-shirts and hoodies - Vans’ sales are on track to hit £1.19bn this year. However, they are determined not to become a fashion brand as ‘fashion is cyclical, it comes and goes’.

Vans was founded in 1966 by Paul Van Doren, a Californian entrepreneur with an eye for necessity who quickly spotted the growing popularity of skateboarding and developed trainers with distinctive thick soles that were perfect for gripping, and reinforced toes to cope with the friction as skaters carved their skills on the pavements outside their homes.

It lost its independence ten years ago when it was bought by the VF Corporation, which owns more than 30 clothing brands including outdoor specialist The North Face. Lately VF, which shortened its name from Vanity Fair after it sold off the lingerie brand of the same name, has been caught off guard by Vans’ success as demand for its products have rocketed in the UK at the start of the decade.

If you fancy dropping by at The House of Vans for a session, or even just to chill out, head over to the official site for more information.

(Written by Rachael Fletcher)