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Tramsformation in East London

A derelict 1900 tramshed has been transformed by Levitt Bernstein Architects from a local eyesore into a community hall for the residents of Digby Greenway Estate at Bethnal Green, East London.

The design approach was to preserve the building's robust simplicity and to add as few new details as possible. The north end wall and central bays on the Digby Street elevation have been finished in a pinkish render, echoing one of the colours used elsewhere on the estate by LBA, under the current Estate Action contract. Damaged brickwork was repaired, a new metal roof installed, and existing rooflights rationalised as a single ridge opening. Interior walls had to be jet-washed to remove half a century of accumulated dirt. The original steel roof trusses were grit-blasted, tested for strength and painted. Windows were replaced with double glazing mounted in W20 sections; one was lowered to create a new main entrance on Digby Street. Most dramatically, a large, ecclesiastical-style arched window has taken the place of the original rollershutter door in the tram entrance.

By inserting a mezzanine at the north west end of the building and partitioning space below it, LBA has provided essential additional spaces - reception, office, WCs, kitchen and meeting room. Viewed from the floor of the main hall, the mezzanine appears as a gallery, reinforcing the resemblance to a church interior suggested by the new south-east window. Insulation in the roof, floor and new walls ensures that the centre is a surprisingly intimate place, bearing no trace of the draughty transport shed of the past.

In its new role as 'The Tramshed' the building should prove an asset to the community and a potential source of income, though it is hoped that younger users are not put off by the unmistakable church references which have ousted earlier industrial grit.

The £300,000 tramshed refurbishment was part of an £8 million DoE-funded improvement programme at Digby Greenways Estate carried out by Levitt Bernstein Associates over the past four years.

CLIENT London Borough of Tower Hamlets

ARCHITECT Levitt Bernstein Associates: Patricia Pearson, Gary Jackson

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER Ellis & Moore

SERVICES ENGINEER Dale & Goldfinger QS London Borough of Tower Hamlets

MAIN CONTRACTOR Bovis

PHOTOGRAPHS Peter Durrant

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