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AHMM set to double height of Cass’s ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’

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AHMM’s plans to double the height of the Cass’s former East End home are set for approval, two years after the building was controversially sold amid protests from students and industry figures

The practice’s proposals to build a six-storey extension above Central House, on the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road, will go before Tower Hamlets councillors this Thursday (29 November).

London Metropolitan University (LMU) sold the 1960s former textile building, which once housed its school of architecture and was known affectionately as the ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’, to Fraser Property for £50 million in 2016.

A year later, after the Cass had left the building and moved to LMU’s campus on Goulston Street, AHMM was appointed to draw up plans for a commercial development of the 0.22ha site.

The proposed 14,651m² office and retail scheme includes retaining and refurbishing the existing six-storey building with ‘minor partial demolitions’ and removal of its distinctive external stairwells.

The revamped Central House will then form a ‘plinth’ for a six-storey extension and roof terrace including a setback level on the sixth floor with a wraparound terrace.

The architects are also proposing two infill buildings: a four-storey office building that connects into the existing Central House on White Church Passage; and a second five-storey building on Manningtree Street.

AHMM’s earlier concept designs for a larger 20-storey tower scheme, which would have seen the demolition of Central House, were abandoned in favour of retaining and extending the building.

According to documents filed with the council, AHMM drew inspiration from Rachel Whiteread’s Monument on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, which takes an existing mass and mirrors it above. 

The sell-off of Central House was part of a controversial ‘one campus, one community’ plan to move the university’s sites to Holloway Road, north London which sparked protests from students, staff and industry figures.

At the time, architecture diploma students at the Cass wrote to the school’s board of governors threatening to quit the institution unless they were allowed to stay in the Aldgate base in a campaign backed by Richard Rogers and David Chipperfield.

Design Engine was appointed in 2016 to develop the masterplan for the controversial campus consolidation in Holloway.

The first upgrade of Central House was undertaken in 2011 by Cartwright Pickard and involved a reorganisation of the ground-floor and basement to create a new entrance, gallery, café, gym and studio spaces.

The following year, Florian Beigel, who died this year, Philip Christou and the Architecture Research Unit (ARU) redesigned the upper floors to include the teaching of architecture at the request of the Cass’s dean, Robert Mull. Mull later resigned in protest at the school’s move from the building.

In a report recommending the scheme for approval, Tower Hamlets planners said: ‘The scheme’s design provides an architectural treatment to the elevations of a very high-quality finish that will contribute positively to the architectural form and character of the Aldgate area, in a manner that is distinctive yet complementary to the existing townscape.’

AHMM’s proposals for Central House will be decided by councillors this Thursday (29 November).

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Why have the the beautiful stairs at the front been erased? The existing building is very responsive to the scale of Whitechapel High Street, and those stairs contribute. This is just too big. But hey, it's Tower Hamlets. We might as well just give up hoping for anything decent there.

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  • Has the substructure and superstructure of an existing six storey building really got enough spare capacity to support another six storeys, or am I missing something?

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  • Robert, the original building is r/c, the extension is probably in steel, so should fine fine.

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  • Industry Professional

    " AHMM drew inspiration from Rachel Whiteread’s Monument on Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth, which takes an existing mass and mirrors it above. " well this is embarrassing. Lamest excuse ever for clumsily doubling the height of a building.

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