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Will Mangera Yvars' Harrow community centre overcome the cultural divide?


Mangera Yvars Architects’ multifaith community centre is taking shape in Harrow, writes Laura Mark


On a suburban street in Harrow a new building is taking shape. When its sweeping form and filigree-clad façade are completed it will stand out as a new cultural centre – strikingly different to anything else in the surrounding area. 

More than a decade in the making, it has not been easy for Mangera Yvars to bring its Harrow community centre to this stage. Many of the problems the project has encountered come down to cultural differences. The building is being funded by a client group comprising members of East African Muslim communities of Persian and Indian descent, who had migrated to the UK in the 1970s to escape political instability. 

It will be a community centre for all, regardless of faith. But it hasn’t always been seen this way. When the proposal was first put through the planning process in 2006, concerns were voiced over the building’s religious connotations and, indeed, another of Mangera Yvars’ projects – for a mosque near the Olympic Park at Abbey Mills – had been pulled shortly before. There was a clear nervousness about the Muslim community in this part of London.

‘People had just heard the word Muslim and decided that they didn’t want it,’ says practice co-founder Ali Mangera. 

Despite some local support and the backing from the then local Member of Parliament, Gareth Thomas, the public consultation was met with protests and architect Ada Yvars Bravo was even punched in the face after one meeting. 

But eventually the scheme overcame the initial hostility and the building finally broke ground in 2014. Now, more than two years later, the building’s vast, 10m-deep basement shell has just been completed. 

Construction to this stage has been a slow process. Having finally won planning permission, the scheme encountered technical difficulties. It sits on a flood plain with a culverted river beneath the surface and so the Environmental Agency put restrictions on how much of the ground could be built on. The consented building had to be amended and split into two blocks bridging a 5m clear zone around the culvert. The building’s spaces have now been raised up with new and improved public realm at ground level responding both to the street and to the homes behind. 

Its façade design has been influenced by the heritage of its clients and their migration from Persia to India, thence to East Africa and finally to the UK. Its patterns, which eclectically recall Delhi’s Red Fort, the Masai Mara and the Arts and Crafts patterns of William Morris, have been designed to create a cultural building which has emerged from the British multicultural tradition. 

It’s a shame that those who protested at the project didn’t look past the NIMBY outlook and fear of having a Muslim-funded project on their doorstep. The project is so much more than that. There is a small Muslim prayer room, which has no religious symbols. But it is not a mosque with minarets and there is no segregation of men and women. Upstairs, the building provides multi-faith areas; in the basement there is a sports hall and gym; a café fronts the street and, in a smaller block, there is a children’s nursery. It is a space for all members of the community to meet, regardless of age, gender or faith. 

Mangera expects the project to finish in two to three years. Due to its private funding arrangements, the scheme is being built piecemeal when money is available, making it difficult to predict a completion date. Will it be used and accepted by the community and become the ‘cultural embassy’ both architect and client are aiming for? I hope so. In the age of Trump, we need more buildings like this.

Ground floor plan

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

First floor plan

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Second floor plan

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Roof plan

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars


Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Harrow Community Centre by Mangera Yvars

Project data

Client BWF Foundation 
Architect Mangera Yvars Architects 
Landscape architect  Mangera Yvars Architects / Plinck
Planning consultant Howard Green
Structural engineer Peter Brett Associates
M&E consultant ZEF Concepts
Quantity surveyor BWF Foundation Team 
Planning supervisor Nigel Brown Projects
Lighting consultant Paul Nulty Lighting Design
Main contractor TBC for phases 2 and 3
Appointment Competition 
Start on site 2014
Completion 2018 (estimated)
Gross internal floor area 5,000m2
Procurement Traditional 
Total cost £20 million 


Readers' comments (3)

  • Chris Rogers

    Interesting, especially for a 'local'(ish). Odd though that you don't show better images of the to-be state, give its name (The Salaam Centre) or its location (Station Road, j/w A404 in North Harrow). It also seems that the original plans - in 2008 - were refused planning permission "by reason of excessive bulk, massing and footprint, would appear unduly bulky, obtrusive, overbearing and over dominant and would have a detrimental effect on the amenities of neighboring occupiers ", so it's not just cultural nervousness etc. But let's see. Full info and picks here, it seems: http://www.thesalaamcentre.com/gallery/

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  • Having grown up in the borough it is in dire need of good contemporary architecture. But for me this scheme is completely out of scale and context to its surroundings.

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  • Nice to know where it is, so one can take a look at the site and work completed so far. Is it too big for the location? From the section it looks to be lower than the surrounding houses, and finished with white render, to match. Looks like there will be sports and social facilities, and presumably useable by local residents. The area is a sea of small houses, so a building of note will elevate this street above the ordinary. Hopefully parking has been catered for, which stresses those same residents.

    The elevations and plans owe something to Zaha? Let's hope they can raise the rest of the finance to complete the build. Shame on any reader of the AJ who adopts a nimby attitude based on a different cultural/religious background, but they are everywhere. Worse even than the usual untrained planning officers?!

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