The former Royal London Hospital on Whitechapel Road, a well-known local landmark dating back to the eighteen century, had been derelict since closing in 2012. Tower Hamlets Council bought the historic building to transform it into their new Town Hall in preparation for the end of their lease at their previous headquarters at Mulberry Place.
The £125m transformation, which was seven years in the making, completely refurbished the Grade II listed structure. A substantial new extension also formed part of the project. This enabled the council to consolidate their 2,470 employees and partner organisations into a single location whilst improving services for local residents. The entire ground floor of the new facility is dedicated to public use with the six floors above housing the Council’s new offices.
Designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris Architects, who have a strong track record of both creating new offices and re-purposing older buildings, the refurbished structure retains its original aura and poise. The building’s original fabric was restored to enhance all the grafts and additions the building had accumulated from 1757 to 1906 creating an architecturally rich internal environment.
Meanwhile, the new extension complements the fabric of the old building. A new block at the rear, clean-lined and spacious, is defined by an atrium rising where old meets new. Tall steel columns contrast with the weathered stock bricks of the eighteenth-century façade behind. Beyond the formal facade of the Grocers’ Wing at the building’s eastern end, the concrete structure turns to expressed steelwork bearing witness to the railway tunnel running beneath.
Brick plays an integral role in the scheme and is the predominant material for the cladding to the new floor-plates behind the refurbished building. Brick ‘pilasters’ reflect the rhythm of the new structure within and confer a formality and civic permanence to the Grocers’ Wing and Chamber Wing. String courses of white concrete continue the double order of the existing facades into the new. A shallow relief of matt and glossy brickwork in Flemish bond, set between the pilasters, references the glazed brickwork found on neighbouring hospital buildings.
A façade of vertical aluminium baguettes in a spectrum of red tones links the two brick clad wings. To the front of the building glazed bricks in a deep red inspired by the colours of the Royal London Hospital’s nurses’ medals frame the main entrance. The use of Ibstock’s Cooksbridge Yellow Clamp Stock bricks, in particular, is notable in this project. A significant number of reclaimed London stock bricks were also used in the repair and alteration of the retained building.
Overall, the civic gravitas of the old Georgian building with its pedimented frontage blends seamlessly with the new extension. It is a similar story within, where the rigid, cellular hierarchy of the old architecture is complimented by the open plan flowing spaces of the new extension. The transformation from old hospital to modern Town Hall is therefore successful from both an aesthetic and practical perspective.