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Letter to AJ: Architects defend contentious Blossom St plans

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The design team behind the recently rejected Blossom Street proposals has written to the AJ in an attempt to ‘set the record straight’ about the scheme and the myths surrounding its potential impact

Last month Tower Hamlets refused planning for British Land’s 32,550 m2 City fringe scheme around Norton Folgate in Shoreditch following a highly popular anti-development campaign run by the Spitalfields Historic Buildings Trust (see AJ 22.07.15).

Here the scheme’s architects, who have remained largely quiet in the media throughout the process, finally speak out.

Dear Sir,

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Duggan Morris Architects, DSDHA and Stanton Williams were disappointed at the recent decision by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Strategic Development Committee to refuse planning permission for Blossom Street. The refusal was made against the positive recommendation of its own officers with whom we have been consulting extensively along with all the local interest groups, for nearly two years.

The scheme was also fully supported by Historic England, GLA, CABE and Tower Hamlet’s own design review panel CADAP. There were letters of support from local residents and local businesses where the scheme was seen to be a major opportunity for the regeneration of these derelict buildings.

The team wish to thank all those who helped support the scheme to date and in particular the local groups who through their dedication to the area helped us create a more thoughtful design.

British Land carefully chose a design team who have a pedigree for inventiveness with heritage buildings. The team are widely recognised for their work in this area and to have such a complex scheme rejected in this manner is disappointing.

Much has been written about the scheme and there are a number of `myths’ about the project which we would like to address:

1: Blossom Street is predominantly glass and steel:

This is not true.  The scheme rejects the corporate architecture of glass and steel of the city opposite and uses brick as its primary material, reinforcing the character of the Conservation Area. It is a sensitive mix of new build, refurbishment and restoration, and includes retention of all locally listed buildings on site. 

2: The development has a `corporate plaza’:

This is not true.  We are creating a series of new publicly accessible routes and yards which are redolent of spaces found elsewhere in Spitalfields.

The historic space of Blossom Court – now called Blossom Yard - will be reinstated along with historical access from Blossom Street. Nicholls and Clarke Yard will create a positive termination to the end of Blossom Street and a new setting for the 1887 and 1927 warehouses. We are also recreating the historical routes through plot S2 to Commercial Street.

3: The development is large floor plates:

This is not true. Of the 48 floors in seven buildings across the development, 28 are less than 3,500 square feet, designed with small and medium sized enterprises in mind.  The largest floors, of which there are just three, are between 15,000 and 20,000 square feet, characterised as ‘grow-on space’ by the GLA.

4: 70% of the buildings on site are being demolished:

There are no listed buildings on the site and all buildings which make a positive contribution to the Conservation Area will be retained. The vast majority of buildings already have permission for demolition including S1 and a part of S3.

The exceptions are buildings outside the extant permission such as a 1970s office block, part of the 1927 warehouse and a terraced property on Norton Folgate that has been interfered with so many times that it has lost almost all of its original fabric.

5: There is very little housing in the scheme:

Blossom Street has always been home to hundreds of businesses over the last century and that is what we are looking to recreate. The plans do include 40 homes – of which more than 30% are affordable – to complement the existing residential character of Elder Street.

6: British Land has ignored the local community:

The plans are the result of significant consultation and input from the local community and the scheme is better for their involvement. Demonstrable changes were made throughout the consultation and the scheme has the support of Tower Hamlet’s own Design Panel, CADAP, GLA, Historic England, CABE, Tower Hamlet’s planning officers and some local residents and businesses. 

7: Historic warehouses are being needlessly gutted:

The Blossom Street Warehouses are being protected.  This is a critical point that has been misunderstood about these unlisted buildings.  The existing consent offers no protection for the internal fabric of the Blossom Street warehouses, but these plans do.

       Also, the 1887 Warehouse on Blossom Street and No’s 4-8 Elder Street - the only locally listed

       Warehouses on site -will be retained and refurbished.

We are grateful to the Architects’ Journal for giving us the opportunity to set the record straight.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Monaghan (Allford Hall Monaghan Morris)
Joe Morris (Duggan Morris Architects)
David Hills (DSDHA)
Paul Williams (Stanton Williams)

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • The images aren't labelled, but what is clear is the way in which the existing buildings are predominantly of human scale and have a variety, and richness, of detail that's absent in the new proposals - and all the brick in the world wouldn't make up for this.
    The architects are just reflecting the commercial pressure of their clients, the step-change in type of use and the drive to maximise floor area - but, whatever the skills of the architects, the result would be 'banalisation', and only in a febrile culture of 'onwards & upwards' could conservation be interpreted by some as a dirty word. .
    There's a built example of this not that far away, on the corner of Clerkenwell Road and Turnmill Street, where brick (deemed so beautiful that it recently occupied pride of place in a brick manufacturer's magazine distributed with the AJ) forms the character of a smart office development replacing a lower building, originally a multi-storey stable for the Great Northern Railway Company.
    The trouble is, the old stables had far more visual interest, and character (particularly at street level) than the new building - despite being of what looked like stock London brick.
    Apparently Islington wanted to see the old building retained, but the developer and their architect prevailed - managing to add another couple of floors - on the condition that 'the new building would make a more positive contribution than the old building in architectural and material terms'.
    Aye, right - there but for the grace of God goes Spitalfields.

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  • Please can the AJ publish a plan, its difficult to work out where the large public space is, (image NO. 5).

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  • Chris Rogers

    "all buildings which make a positive contribution to the Conservation Area will be retained" except this would I imagine be the assessment of the expensive, detailed but biassed consultant hired by the client to prepare his heritage statement. City and City-edge planning apps are full of this kind of thing, that tend to give the profession a bad name when you read them,

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