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Checa Romero Architects’ east London pop-up shop

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Checa Romero Architects has created a shabby chic retail space in Shoreditch’s Redchurch Street, says Laura Mark


Shoreditch in east London is full of pop-ups; every week a new one opens, from a street food market to shops selling everything from cronuts to woolly jumpers. For new businesses, high rents make many spaces in London unattainable and, despite the age of internet shopping, high street exposure is still valued highly for emerging brands.

Gudrun Rogvadottir of knitwear brand Gudrun & Gudrun says the company opens one or two pop-up stores a year which, if it chooses the right time and location, will lift its profile and carry internet sales.

It is currently leasing a space on the corner of Redchurch Street run by Checa Romero Architects. The practice has tapped into the pop-up market, transforming what was an old mosque into a rotating space for small-scale retailers.

After converting it into the practice’s studio and even living there for a while, Checa Romero Architects founder Francisco Checa Romero moved out to a smaller space and decided to rent the building out; the upstairs as an office for start-up businesses, the downstairs front room as a pop-up shop and a back room as a space for supper clubs.

Romero has used Cor-ten steel to add touches that he describes as ‘gritty’

Inside the surfaces are rough. The walls are simply painted white and the years of different uses can clearly be seen on the dirty paint-splattered floor. Romero has used Cor-ten steel to add touches that he describes as ‘gritty’ – a wall of Cor-ten doors opens to a small meeting room-cum-storage area or changing space beyond, while a counter, lighting elements and shelving have also been fabricated from the weathered material.

The same material is used externally – added to the front façade of the store it has been used to cover the original door and area beneath the window while also adding a small sign. The same steel was used to build shutters, although here it is clear the aesthetic has driven the material choice as the retailers complain they are heavy and difficult to lift into place each day. There is no large signage or lettering so this unified use of the rusty material helps to create a recognisable shopfront.

In some ways it looks ragged and slightly scruffy, but then there are elements where it is clear that care and thought have gone in to the design; for example a concrete cast was made of the original numbering from when the building was a mosque and this has been placed on the front as part of the Cor-ten façade. It also features an element that Romero planned for the different retailers to create their own signs or lighting beneath, although many are obviously working on the cheap and without the means or inclination to have a specially designed sign made, so haven’t taken this up.

Romero has a space where he makes fittings for those who use the pop-up, and his other company, Grace & Wren, has built shelving units, clothes racks and hanging rails from steel, while cast concrete blocks are used to hold mirrors and create other sculptural elements. Retailers tend to stay for between three and six months so the space has to be easily adaptable.

Being the leaseholder means Romero has complete control of the space. He has tapped into a market using a rough and ready, shabby chic aesthetic that works in this area, while being able to fabricate new fittings means the space can easily be transformed for each new tenant. 

Ground floor plan

Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects

Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects


Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects

Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects

Project data

Start on site April 2016
Completion May 2016
Gross internal floor area 55m²
Form of contract Design and Build
Construction cost £20,000
Architect Checa Romero Architects
Structural engineer JMS Consulting Engineers
Main contractor Studio Idealyc
Steel fabrication Grace & Wren
CAD software used Vectorworks 

Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects

Redchurch Street by Checa Romero Architects

Architect’s view

Having spent many years living and working in the building, I have a close affiliation with it, and as a result there wasn’t a long design process. The building had accommodated a mosque – an austere and solid construction with two entrances and a strong separation in terms of the use of the spaces. I didn’t want to lose this feel and, following discussion with my design team, initial thoughts were quickly developed and construction began. Being both the client and the designer meant we had flexibility to develop ideas and details during the build, making it an exciting and fluid process.

The studio had previously worked on a project using Cor-ten, and the spare material, along with some salvaged steel beams, formed the basis of the raw materials, which kept costs low. Ordinarily, the Cor-ten will age and change when exposed to the elements, but since the material would be indoors, we assisted the process with a diluted vinegar spray.

The front of the building had accumulated many additions over the years. These appendages were stripped back, leaving the original wooden frames and brick, which we painted. With less fuss and distraction, my hope was for passers-by to more readily notice the goods on display within.

Francisco Checa Romero, founder, Checa Romero Architects 

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