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Tower Hamlets' in-house team complete sixth-form centre

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The architectural team at Tower Hamlets Council has completed this 609m² extension and revamp of Swanlea School’s sixth-form centre in Whitechapel, east London

The two-storey extension provides four new classrooms, offices and a double-height circulation space linking to the existing building.

Inside the original block, works included designing a new reception, rationalising the circulation and improving building services, as well as installing larger windows.

To unify the appearance of the blocks, both the old and new buildings have been clad in dark, stained timber.

‘This timber cladding has helped create a new and unique identity for the school’s sixth form and gives the building both a robust street elevation, through its strong verticals and dark colour, and a softer garden elevation, through the materials’ inherent natural qualities,’ says project architect Jennifer O’Donnell.

‘Large windows, highlighted with white timber surrounds, puncture the facades, creating light-filled teaching spaces within,’ says design team manager, Sam Brown.

Swanlea is one of the architectural team’s projects that look to creatively reuse and improve existing buildings and spaces.

The team, which includes four architects, is currently working on education, community, housing and masterplanning projects, including the Oval arts space in Bethnal Green.

Architect’s view

We were approached by Swanlea School to refurbish and extend their existing sixth-form centre, providing additional teaching space and an improved facility with a new and unique identity.

Retaining the existing building allowed the existing facility to remain operational while keeping costs down, however it was important for the extension and existing building to read as one.

We wrapped the existing building and new extension with dark-stained larch cladding in varying widths and thicknesses. This allowed the building to have both a robust street elevation, announcing its presence with a rhythm of strong vertical battens, and a softer playground elevation, through the subtle layering of the facade which comes to life as the sun projects shadows across its surface.

This same rhythm of timber cladding is used internally within a double-height circulation space which links new with existing. A steel staircase and walkway sit within the double-height space connecting ground and first floor.

Removing the existing boundary wall opened up the new building to Durward Street which will later become enhanced by the Crossrail Whitechapel Station proposals.

Jennifer O’Donnell, Project Architect

Project data

Architect: Architectural Team, London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Location: Swanlea School, 31, Brady Street, London E1 5DJ
Type of project: Extension and refurbishment
Structural engineer: Kashec
Project architect: Jennifer O’Donnell
Design team manager: Sam Brown
Client: Swanlea School
Funding: Swanlea School / London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Start on site date: May 2014
Gross internal floor area: 609m² (extension: 343m², refurbished areas: 266m²)
Form of contract and/or procurement: Traditional
Total cost: Not disclosed
M&E consultant: Clearsprings Energy Solutions
Quantity surveyor: London Borough of Tower Hamlets
CDM co-ordinator: Tower Hamlets Homes
Main contractor: IMS Building Solutions
Selected subcontractors and suppliers: Top Notch Joinery
Photographer: Tim Crocker Architectural Photography

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