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Conservationists object to Chipperfield's plans for Emin


An East End conservation group says a proposal by artist Tracey Emin to demolish a locally listed building in Spitalfields would cause ‘substantial harm’ to the conservation area in which it sits.

Emin has submitted a planning application for the replacement of the building in east London, which adjoins her existing home, with a new design by David Chipperfield Architects.

But the East End Preservation Society last week wrote to Tower Hamlets Council expressing its strong objection to the proposal.

A heritage statement submitted with the planning application said that the building would allow Emin to work better.

‘Although a bespoke design, the applicant’s circumstances are not unique but reflect the requirements of the practice of many accomplished contemporary artists.

‘Contemporary art production is a highly intensive process and around the clock endeavour. Work can take place at all hours and the line between an artist’s work and home life can be blurred.’

However, the society’s objection letter said ‘this is not a good reason for demolishing a locally listed building in a conservation area. If what is needed is new build then this is not an appropriate site.’

The society added that the existing building was ‘elegant’ and ‘clearly carried out by proficient architects’ and that demolishing it would leave the conservation area split in two ‘by a swathe of disparate modern buildings’.

The existing building, 66-68 Bell Lane, was built in the 1920s on behalf of the former Stepney Borough Council and has local listed status. There is already a previous consent for a new scheme on the site, which would have partially demolished the existing block and added a three storey extension.

Yet, the heritage statement said that by appointing Chipperfield, Emin has ‘signalled an intention to redevelop the site to an exceptional standard of design that will greatly contribute to the character and appearance of the conservation area and enhance the immediate built environment, thus outweighing and harm caused to the conservation area by the demolition of the existing building’.

Responding to initial designs Historic England said: ‘The design… is for an obviously contemporary building, one that makes use of structural brick and is of a scale and form that reflects some of the existing buildings within the conservation area.

‘[The] loss of the building would cause some (clearly less than substantial} harm to the conservation area. We have no doubt that the proposed new building is a piece of very high quality design that would be fit for purpose.

The letter to Tower Hamlets council concludes: ‘Should the local authority be minded to grant consent to a submitted application, we would urge them to ensure that the quality of the design is carried through the project and that materials

The application is expected to be determined by councillors in September.


Readers' comments (4)

  • It's a pity that there are no images of the existing building, because - if you look on Google Streetview - its listing is clearly understandable, and it's 'holding the fort' against a really crude multi storey car park on the opposite side of White's Row, and a nasty sub-Jim Stirling office block on the other side of Bell Lane..
    Regardless of the undoubted care that would be taken in the detailing and workmanship of the new proposal, it's bland and cold in comparison to the character of the other, older buildings in the neighbourhood, and as such certainly isn't 'very high quality design'.
    Maybe this is a bit like the 'garden bridge' proposal, with people being 'dazzled' by well known names into thinking that their ideas automatically deserve approval?

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  • Trying to punish Chipperfield and Emin because of a car park and office is transference run riot. The answer is to replace both the unsatisfactory buildings with something better. Meanwhile, why not accept that a new piece of local architecture could be more interesting than an old one?

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  • chris Dyson

    I fear that the conservationist movement in Spitalfields has gone a little hysterical, sour, ugly and quite possibly blind…particularly following the debacle of Norton Folgate. We now have seen talented architects being employed in the area producing thoughtful and sensitive designs – is it this fact this seems to threaten the conservation movement? I wonder…maybe its the holiday season ...I hope so!

    The existing building is unlisted and had a very poor planning permission granted some years ago; to almost double its size by doubling the number of floors, to a pastiche of the original design, making a complete mockery of it.
    The Chipperfield design is an honest reflection of the interior spatial requirements provided by his client – 100 years ago there would have been no debate – if it has cultural value then a building is listed to preserve it, if not then a worthy replacement can be considered. Clearly the architect and the client believe the existing building is no longer fit for purpose as it is to become a bespoke artist’s residence.

    Emin first restored the Tenter ground buildings some years ago - bringing them into functional good use and mending the rear elevation onto bell lane.

    Here we have a well-known, locally established artist commissioning one our countries leading architects – it is such an easy target to take a pop at them both for doing the best thing they do for a living, let them get on with it and make it beautiful, a new cultural landmark for Spitalfields that says something of today and not some lash up of facades.

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  • For Paul Finch - It's not a question of 'trying to punish' - but I don't see that it is more interesting, and for Chris Dyson, are you sure that the replacement building is a thoughtful and sensitive design?
    It might well be much better than the previously approved design for the site, but does 'an honest reflection of the interior spatial requirements' have to result in quite such a severe exterior? 'Form follows function', I suppose, but if this results in something rather too hostile for its own good? Fortress Spitalfields? It certainly says something of today - beautiful? - a new cultural landmark?

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