Nissan wanted its new European design centre to promote harmony and clear thinking. With a minimalist white-on-white makeover, this 1960s former rail depot was pure brilliance
White is the new black for Nissan cars. Not just white, but white on white has been adopted as the carmaker's latest corporate image, chosen to convey the Japanese philosophy of "wa" – harmony.

If there were just one of its many buildings that Nissan would like to live up to this monochrome ideal, it must be the group's design centre. Last month, Nissan's 60-strong European design division moved into an exposed concrete building in London with interiors painted off-white. The three-storey core of the building is a moulded glass-fibre pod – in polished pure white.

The building itself is a design classic of modern architecture. An oval concrete shed, it was built in 1969 alongside London's Westway flyover as a rail maintenance depot and has since been listed grade II*. It is the smaller sibling of the curved concrete tower that was transformed two years ago into the Monsoon health club. The conversion was designed by Tate & Hindle, with Turner & Townsend as project manager.

It was not just the understated muscular character of the concrete building and its cranked roof beams that appealed to the Japanese car manufacturer. The large windowless hall serves as an ideal space for building and experimenting with full-sized car models in clay. For this purpose, five 18 m × 3 m cast iron surface plates have been sunk into the concrete floor slab.

One curved end of the hall is devoted to exhibiting car models. Daylight at any level of brightness can be simulated by means of an extended light box containing 2200 fluorescent tubes that has been installed in the ceiling. At the other end, a new mezzanine floor houses the design office, from where staff can look down from 2D car designs on their computer screens to the 3D mock-ups taking shape below.

The core of the building had originally nothing more than an open structural frame. It has now been infilled with offices, toilets, stairs and a "chill-out" zone on the second floor with soft furniture and views down to the cars below. The new partitions are double-curved glass-fibre panels, which project architect Mark Thornton claims were inspired by the American Airflow caravan, a moulded design icon of the same era as the original maintenance building.

The only significant alteration to the original structure was to create a new main entrance facing the Regent's Canal. Though the opening is modest in size, inserting it entailed cutting through the structural concrete ring beam and propping it up with steel lattice trusses 6 m long on either side.

Which just goes to show that, in architecture, harmony cannot be created without hassle.