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Adjaye Associates has best ideas for Tower Hamlets

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Adjaye Associates has landed the contract to design two 'ideas stores' in east London, beating off competition from Alsop Architects, Hawkins/ Brown and RHWL/Arts Team. The contract could lead to commissions for another four buildings for the practice.

Pioneered by Tower Hamlets council, ideas stores are an attempt to locate libraries, education centres and retail facilities in the same building (AJ 29.3.01). Bisset Adams is already carrying out a refurbishment project in Bow to act as a prototype centre. But Adjaye is to design new buildings - a large 'flagship' store in Whitechapel and a smaller building in Poplar, near Canary Wharf.

The new centres are to be contemporary 'landmark' buildings with a 'strong branding' which will attempt to reverse the run-down image of most of the council's learning centres, said Eric Bohl, the council's director of customer services.

'It's a new approach to offering library and lifelong learning to the community, ' said Bohl, who has responsibility for planning, property and leisure issues.

'We're trying to put libraries and adult learning right into the heart of the community. We want buildings which are light and airy and which do not have an institutional feel.

'David Adjaye immediately grasped what we're trying to do - and that is to use a retail style but within a civic context.'

A typical ideas store will combine a groundfloor library with high-street shopping and cafes, with further library space, classrooms, exhibitions space and a careers centre located on higher floors.

If the stores are a success, four more could be built in the borough, subject to funding. The current three are set to cost £25 million.

Bohl sees the stores as powerful agents for change in what is one of the poorest areas of the country - in spite of the wealth and opportunity represented by the Canary Wharf development, also in the borough. Canary Wharf provides employment for about 30,000 people, but current building projects could boost this to more than 100,000. Bohl wants some of these jobs to go to local people.

'We have the opportunity to end generations of poverty in Tower Hamlets by giving people the skills to both get jobs and keep them. That's what ideas stores are all about, ' he said.

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