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RUFFarchitects to design learning centre inside ‘secret part’ of Tower Bridge

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The City of London has appointed emerging practice RUFFarchitects to design an educational space inside the South Tower at Grade I-listed Tower Bridge

The scheme within a ‘secret part’ of the famous 1894 bascule bridge will transform an existing commercial kitchen (pictured below) ‘into a flexible learning space that transcends the typical classroom environment’.

Practice director Paul Ruff said: ‘This unique learning environment will be exciting and fun – upon entering this historical space, you can’t help but be inquisitive and want to explore. As architects, we quickly found it would be possible to expose large amounts of the tower’s fabric and structure. It was fascinating to learn about the bridge and its history while understanding how it was constructed and operates.

‘We have a shared aspiration that the educational space should not be conventional or feel like a typical classroom. It’s important that it is not intimidating while remaining flexible for the varied current and planned future outreach programmes.’

The project has an estimated budget of around £85,000.

 A future timescale is not yet known although it is understood some work has already started on site.

Ruffarchitects 03 tower bridge learning space commercial kitchen

Ruffarchitects 03 tower bridge learning space commercial kitchen

The commercial kitchen will be converted into a learning space

The architect’s view

Encouraging curiosity and provoking a sense of place, the new learning centre will be designed to make the most of its spectacular location.

Inviting people of all ages to engage with the rich history of Tower Bridge and of London itself, the learning space will host workshops that are interactive, participant-led and discovery-based, aiming to encourage a sense of excitement at being in a ‘secret’ part of the Bridge.

Through a series of planned engagement meetings with the City of London and Tower Bridge development managers and education officers, we are planning a state-of-the-art education facility within the attraction itself. Working closely within the client’s needs, the new space requires flexibility and adaptability for different audiences and purposes, as it is anticipated the space will provide outreach for 7-18 year olds, in addition to higher education and adult learning.

A previously hidden Gothic Revival window will be revealed in all its glory

Originally constructed between 1886 and 1894, the bridge is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. The 240m-long bridge is a combination of suspension and bascule bridge design and is one of London’s most iconic landmarks, attracting over 800,000 visitors a year and opening 777 times last year.

Ruffarchitects 02 tower bridge learning space re established view

Ruffarchitects 02 tower bridge learning space re established view

The existing Grade I-listed building provides challenges with its refurbishment and adaptation and requires an innovative and sensitive design approach. The existing historic building fabric will be celebrated and exposed, with new additions referencing the richness found in the functional aesthetic. The central Gothic Revival window with its characteristic cross bracing, previously hidden, will be revealed in all its glory. Enabling a view down to the bridge itself, the window will form the contextual setting for the learning space, allowing participants to marvel at the daily bridge lifting. A new inlay mural will create an acoustic wall to the twin access stairs, mimicking the original inlay woodwork, and fixed and movable storage will help define different learning scenarios.

The facility will also embrace new technology through 3D printing and design. The space will be designed with ample storage and make use of the abundant natural light, featuring smart board and display spaces, to achieve an atmosphere that feels open and accessible. This will result in a welcoming space in a world-class education facility.

Project Data

Location Tower Bridge, London
Type of project Educational/cultural
Client City of London
Project manager City of London Surveyors
Architect RUFFarchitects
MEP services engineer BSP Partnership
Contractor Sykes & Son 

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