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Gort Scott repurposes Waltham Forest court as temporary offices

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This £860,000 retrofit of a substantial 20th-century building in east London was completed over a period of just five months

The conversion of the redundant Waltham Forest Magistrates Court into temporary offices for the borough’s council has comprehensively repurposed the building for a wide range of work settings – informal meeting areas, collaborative working zones and quiet working desks.

Dl gsa mag 2549 print

Dl gsa mag 2549 print

The colourful, stripped-back aesthetic utilised throughout is designed to complement the existing light-filled Brutalist architecture.

A ground floor café, operated by an independent local business, allows the public and council officers to meet and work alongside each other.

Externally, a bespoke neon sign for the building’s façade, designed by local sign maker God’s Own Junkyard, is intended to signal the building’s new identity.

Dl gsa mag 2622 print

Dl gsa mag 2622 print

The core aim of the refurbishment was to make better use of a rundown building which sits alongside listed buildings in a landscape setting. While intended as a temporary office solution, this design is now the public face of Waltham Forest Council – which will be the first London Borough of Culture in 2019.

Dl gsa mag 2680 print

Dl gsa mag 2680 print

Architect’s view

The entire building was stripped back by removing the dropped ceiling throughout, exposing the concrete soffit and services. The existing concrete screed was exposed, decorated and sealed. It was also defined as crucial early on that we remove non-structural walls to create large office spaces.

Robust and low-cost materials were selected for the project: exposed concrete and plywood, with a carefully chosen colour palette for walls and timber elements. A painted floor pattern also runs within the design, which was applied by members of Gort Scott’s design team.

A key feature in our design was to create a welcoming public café that doubles as the council office reception and waiting area. The café is colourful and inviting while still retaining the building’s robust character, softened by an undulating lightweight fabric ceiling treatment that is intended to relate back to the striking green lawns outside. 

On the upper floor, a long corridor previously gave access to four enclosed, top-lit but gloomy court rooms. As the corridor was well lit by rooflights and a picture window at the end, a key part of the design was to make best use of this space to deliver a series of flexible break-out spaces.

By opening up strategic non-structural walls dividing the courtrooms, we created a large open-plan layout that maximised the light from the rooflights and allowed light to penetrate into the space from the perimeter windows.

Collaboration with the client led to a process of refining the initial brief and zoning adjacent departments, each with their own break-out space to enable more cross-departmental working.

Fiona Scott, director, Gort Scott

Dl gsa mag 2442 print

Dl gsa mag 2442 print

Client’s statement

We are very excited by the magistrates court’s new use. It is a fantastic achievement for everyone involved to have delivered it so quickly. The way the building has been reappropriated is brilliant – with good ideas about what to keep and what to take away. Now used by 350 council officers, as well as members of the public, it is a light, calm place to work. The café on the ground floor is already a success. This project is the first move in our ambition to make the town hall campus more inclusive, accessible and a better place for the community.

Aiden McManus, director of property and asset management at London Borough of Waltham Forest

01 05 proposed gf copy

01 05 proposed gf copy

Ground floor plan

Project data 

Start on site September 2017
Completion March 2018 
Gross internal floor area 3,100m² 
Form of contract Design & Build
Construction cost £860,000 
Construction cost per m² £275
Architect Gort Scott Architects 
Client London Borough of Waltham Forest 
Structural engineer NPS
M&E consultant NPS
CDM coordinator NPS
Approved building inspector London Borough of Waltham Forest
Main contractor Mitre Construction
CAD software used Vectorworks 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • 'Temporary' for how long, I wonder? - and while cost-effective re-use is to be applauded, surely the exposed structural soffits & underslung services could have been spray painted matt black at minimal expense, to reduce their oppressive influence on the character of the spaces below?
    As it stands, it looks as if there's a message here about the dismal impact on local authorities of excessive austerity being imposed by central government.

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