26 June 2023


Following our interview with Bill Boler on film production in West London, we wanted to learn more about the film studio design process. As we discovered, film studios serve a unique function and as a result require different considerations to other similar spaces during the design phase. We talked to Graham Mackfall (architects for several GLi developments), who is lead designer on the team that designed Sky Studios at Elstree. Here are some notes from that conversation.

Functional Design

Film studios require unique considerations during the design process based on their function. Let’s start with the shape of the film stages. Film and TV require different spaces. If you’ve got a live TV audience you need a building that is a more square orientation whereas for filming on a blockbuster film you need to reflect cinema’s wider aspect ratio (the shape of the film as projected). The bigger the footprint of the stage, the taller the clearance needed.

“So, the way that the stages are designed is to offer clear span spaces. You can’t utilise a portal frame design that would result in columns down the middle of a building as in a standard industrial frame design.”

To achieve the clear open spans requires the inclusion of lattice type roof trusses. This also facilitates the inclusion of some of the specific requirements of film and TV production such as working gantries used for the hanging of lights associated with filming and for the running services.

Stage Design

Along with lattice truss arrangements to create clear open spaces, film stages also require additional elements that are unique to the film and TV industry. For some sound stage buildings UMC have designed, “demountable” partition walls. These partition walls create smaller sound stages but can be removed to create a larger single stage, if necessary, while still maintaining the correct aspect ratio. These walls are nearly 1 metre thick and while they must be removable; they also must be soundproofed to prevent sound leakage so multiple sound stages can be in use at the same time, potentially utilised by separate production companies.

Walkways at a high level are also crucial in the design of sound stages. They’re designed for people working on the lighting rigging, as well as rigging supporting sets at high level. In addition to this, there’s also a series of beams called runway beams that run 90 degrees to the trusses, these beams are used to hand stage lighting. This arrangement is specifically required for film and TV production and it creates the need for more extensive design consideration in terms of fire safety and building escape strategy, which can require the need to escape vertically up to roof level or through to an adjacent sound stage due to the extended vertical travel distances.

Sound Stage Perspective Section

Campus Design

In addition to studio space, film studios are increasingly requiring additional ancillary accommodation space. These additional spaces include production support offices, workshops focused on set design, storage spaces, canteens, cinemas editing suites and spaces for costume design.

“As a result, studio space is now designed to be comprehensive, in that everything needed for a production can take place on site. Designing the modern film studio requires designing a near self-sufficient campus.”

Film studios have a constant flow of traffic bringing people, equipment, and other resources on to site. Consequently, the design team must consider the most effective way to cater to this specific need. They also require a much higher rate of parking spaces than typical industrial sites. In the case of the Sky Studios Elstree site a multi-story car park was built to address this need in addition to a ground level visitor parking area.


As is well known, Northwest London is home to a cluster of film production facilities from the established studios outside the M25 to the growing number of facilities located around Park Royal. Location plays an integral part of the design process. Film and TV production requires access to the road network for talent, crew and equipment transport and fast connections to Central London and Heathrow. This is particularly important with the influx of streaming content that has significantly increased demand for studio space.

“Many of those who work in the film and TV industry derive from West London and its past history in the industry and need easy access to the main studio sites. Studio space in West and Northwest London is ideal as it serves as a relatively accessible area for those who work in the industry with the local motorway network as well as being close to Heathrow, which can serve international producers and directors.”

While being located near an airport is key for the film industry, it does add further complexity to the design process. Flight patterns must be analyzed, and sound proofing must be designed to adequately prevent this noise pollution from impacting filming within the sound stages. With the influx of streaming content there is an increased need for studio space and the design and location of this space is a major factor in creating a successful creative space.

Sustainable Design

As is the case with many industries at present sustainability is at the forefront of design for the film industry.

“In our designs for Sky Studios Elstree, to help provide energy efficient buildings, to counteract energy costs because of due to the high energy usage of film studios and the implementation of an expansive network of EV charging stations, over 10,000m2 of PV panels were installed on the buildings roofs, a much higher rate than the statutory minimum requirement.”

Battery storage can also be utilised by film studios to help store excess energy generated by the PV panels while also utilising the ability to charge at night when energy tariffs are lower. By including battery storage film studios can store any excess energy created on site thus eliminating or minimising energy losses. Also, to demonstrate how to drive towards future sustainability requirements, the Sky Studios Elstree scheme included for significant EV infrastructure to cater for future expansion should the demand arise and as legislation changes. Within six months of partial opening, the studio is already looking to expand the amount of charging points due to increased demand.

Gli would like to thank Graham McFall for meeting with us. Our team has a long history of working with West London’s film industry, providing spaces for film production and support businesses. For more information on GLi, their sustainable industrial developments, please contact us here.