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Heritage group says Fosters’ Whitechapel plans set ‘dangerous precedent’

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The Victorian Society has warned the approval of Foster + Partners’ 20-storey office block in Whitechapel would set a ‘dangerous precedent’ for the East End

The practice submitted plans for a stepped 49,000m² scheme on the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Street in September.

But the Victorian Society has objected to the demolition of the existing 19th-century buildings and argued the scheme would cause ’substantial harm’ to the surrounding conservation area. 

The South Street Asset Management scheme involves a land swap with a neighbouring primary school and includes shops on the ground and lower ground floors, and offices above. 

Under the plans, Canon Barnett primary school’s playground would be moved to a more ‘appropriate location’ at the centre of the site, which South Street said would help to address air quality and noise issues.

The scheme involves the retention of a four-storey Edwardian building on the corner of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Street, but the Victorian Society argues it will be ’surrounded by the new development on all sides and above’. 

Before whitechapel

Before whitechapel

Tom Taylor, conservation advisor for the Victorian Society, said: ’The majority of this application judges the site from a predominately western gaze, arguing that the larger, commercial developments to the west would put the site in context and justify its height and bulk.

’But judge the application from an eastern viewpoint and the entire context changes: set against that backdrop of predominantly low-rise, fine-grained Edwardian buildings, the proposed building looks entirely alien and does not respect the historic context of this conservation area.’

Fosters’ head of studio Grant Brooker had said previously: ‘This project continues Aldgate’s incredible growth story and offers an unparalleled opportunity to make a really positive contribution to the neighbourhood and to Tower Hamlets.

‘The majority of the site is currently occupied by a car park. Our designs seek to reinvigorate it with vibrant retail and flexible workspaces, while creating new, healthier play spaces for the adjoining school.’

The planning application is expected to be decided by Tower Hamlets in early 2019.

Foster + Partners was approached for comment. 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Real Victorians would have had no hesitation in demolishing everything that stood in their way. The proposal acknowledges the past while building for the future, and further improving Aldgate. VicSoc folk need to develop a sense of perspective -- and irony.

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  • Paul Finch should have another look at the 'before' and 'after' images - the proposals would appear to involve transforming the street from a reasonably human scale to an urban canyon, and this seems to be a common trend in central London where property values are pushing new build (or rather re-build) ever skywards.
    That the Victorians would have done the same is not a very convincing justification - after all, the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel was prepared to smash his way through various historic sites in the cause of speed on God's Wonderful Railway, but I don't hear this being used as an excuse for letting the planners of HS1 or HS2 adopt the same policy. Or is Mammon riding rough-shod over humanity in London?

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