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Conservation: Stoke Newington Town Hall

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Hawkins\Brown has unified Stoke Newington Town Hall with both sensitivity and panache

Stoke Newington Town Hall was completed in 1937 and, like many structures of its era, it is a triumph of style over function. If one includes the adjoining library, this cluster of buildings has six external entrances and most lead to lobbies that are too small to provide decent reception facilities.

The architect J Reginald Truelove provided two impressive internal spaces, an assembly hall and a council chamber. But apart from the grand processional staircase that serves the chamber, the internal circulation is a warren of corridors. Many of the rooms are contrived, interstitial spaces, which look on to dingy lightwells. As the view from the north reveals, the building has not been designed ‘in the round’.

History has demonstrated that Stoke Newington Town Hall is not a future-proof building. It was designed in an age that attached much less importance to secure access. But the Grade II-listed building has many admirers, including John Turner of architect Hawkins\Brown, the director in charge of its refurbishment. He refers to the building, which re-opened last month, as ‘a sleeping beauty’. Hawkins\Brown was appointed by the London Borough of Hackney in July 2005, following a competition held in 2004. Its plan does its best to unpick the inherent flaws in Truelove’s design. The client wanted to unify the accommodation, with a single point of entry for the public in a strategic location. The practice chose to do this by providing yet another entrance.

This leads to a reception in what used to be a thoroughfare between the block on the west side, which houses the council chamber, and the assembly hall on the right. Illumination from a new strip rooflight washes the existing brick wall of the assembly hall block, which includes panels from the Tudor manor house that once stood on this site. This is a handsome space, but it is unsatisfactory that visitors have to walk to a reception desk at the north end, only to be told that they must go back in order to proceed further through the building.

Hawkins\Brown has produced a masterplan for further redevelopment. It envisions extra access from a public realm space to the north of the new reception, which would reinstate the thoroughfare from Clissold Park. This will make movement through the building more satisfactory.

Hawkins\Brown provided lifts and additional toilets to meet contemporary standards. However, it turned to detailed design and specification to overcome the residual problems that alterations to the plan could not resolve, and to establish a visually coherent environment. A key move was the design of the new entrance. By providing a bronze canopy and side panels with an etched pattern, which takes its cue from the metalwork curlicues on the existing doors and balustrades, the practice made the location of the new entrance very clear. This is reinforced by signage, subtle back-lighting, curved glass balustrades, a nearby gateway in the perimeter fence and a new ramp which replaces what Turner refers to as ‘a horrible black metal checker-plate’ construction.

Hawkins\Brown also removed the car parking from this area and extended the plinth in front of the assembly hall. ‘It was absolute chaos,’ adds Turner, ‘a sea of cars.’

It is sometimes said that most architects have little flair for interior design. This is in spite of, or perhaps because of, a widespread belief in the principle of ‘total design’ within the architectural profession. But Hawkins\Brown tackled the design of the interiors at Stoke Newington with sensitivity and panache. It consulted archive material and former caretakers and responded with an imaginative interpretation. This involved picking up on the building’s nuances.

While the exterior could be described as classical, with English renaissance features, the interior is predominantly an elegant form of art deco, almost moderne. But the council chamber is baroque and Hawkins\Brown made the key move of removing its suspended ceiling to reveal its domes and arches. This entailed a new heating and ventilation strategy. Instead of pushing air down from a false ceiling, the practice added an underfloor plenum and displacement ventilation, with new air-handling plant on the roof.

Working with visualisation specialist Image, and in consultation with Hackney’s conservation team and English Heritage, Hawkins\Brown used computer modelling to fine-tune its palette of materials and finishes to establish a controlled visual environment with a distinctive sensibility. The garish paint finishes in the assembly hall were stripped away to reveal oak joinery. The walls and vaults of the council chamber now have a subtle range of four paint finishes.

The design team was also vigilant in its approach to services coordination. Luminaires are contemporary but discrete and lighting consultant Max Fordham developed a proposal for lighting the coffers of the assembly hall ceiling that is integrated with the architecture and doesn’t look like a fitting.

Hawkins\Brown chose a wireless fire alarm system that avoids the dilemma between chasing and exposed conduit or pyro and, perhaps not for the first time, the architect had heated discussions with the LFCDA about the fire panel in the new entrance lobby. 

Name of project Stoke Newington Town Hall

Architect Hawkins\Brown

Client London Borough of Hackney

Form of contract GC Works with Quantities

Structural engineer Building Design Partnership

Services engineer Jacobs

Project manager Gardiner & Theobald

Lighting consultant Max Fordham

Fire consultant Impact Fire

Cost consultant Ridge

Theatre consultant Stage Electrics Partnership

General contractor Killby & Gayford

Bespoke and proprietary furniture Killby & Gayford

Timber veneer panelling supplier Luard Conservation

Proprietary furniture manufacturer Wagstaff

Start on site January 2009

Completion December 2009

Contract duration 12 months

Gross internal area 3,030m²

Total cos t £6.4 million

Cost per m²£1,778 (gross)

BREEAM rating Very good

Annual CO2 emissions 79.4kg/m²





Stone paving York stone to

match existing, supplied by Stone

Restoration. Stainless-steel strips

on treads and risers. Ribbed

tactile strip at top of steps

Ramp balustrade cladding

Bronze sheet with acid-etched

pattern fixed to weather- and

boil-proof ply substrate on

stainless-steel posts, with

concealed strip luminaire in

recess above formed sheet

bronze handrail. Wax treatment

to bronze to provide pre-patinated

finish. Supplied by Hills of



Panels adjacent to entrance

Finish as ramp balustrade

cladding, with backlit lettering

and concealed strip luminaires

Entrance canopy Finish as

ramp balustrade cladding

New balustrade Structural

glass with bronze capping



Precast concrete cladding

Hook-on panels with embossed

fish-scale pattern, supplied by



Hawkins\Brown specified repairs

to existing Portland stone and

brickwork cladding and roof tiles


Hawkins\Brown specified repairs

to finishes to existing Portland

stone and brickwork walls and

metal gates

Floor York stone paving on

levelling screed

Internal doors Australian walnut

Ceiling Acoustic ceiling with

recesses for concealed lighting


Floor Terrazzo tiles from Selari

Granite range by Reed Harris

Ceiling Perforated tiles by British


Reception desk Corian worktop

and glass panels with raspberry

ceramic coating to inner face

Pendant lights Glashutte

Limburg 4836. White glass with

dimming fluorescent lamps

Toilets Thrislington cubicles,

LTS Light Channel luminaires


Repairs included fine-tuning the

sprung Canadian maple

dance floor, work to plaster ceiling

and the reupholstering seating


Hawkins\Brown repaired many

parts of the existing fabric,

including Australian walnut wall

panels, fibrous plaster domed

ceiling, ornamental gold cornices

and iron and bronze balustrade

of chamber’s timber staircase

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