Concours – Forgotten Spaces – London
BROMLEY HALL CENTER – A Catalyst For Urban renewal
Bromley Hall Centre initiates social and physical revitalization of a neighbourhood, steming from a forgotten “notable piece of architecture” where peripheral walls, characterizing a once inward looking building, turn into a warm and unifying canopy- an architectural addition operating as a social condenser.
Between the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach and Lea canal sits a marginalized residential area contemplating a latent architectural relic.
In 1969 “The Architects’ Journal” published a project designed by Sir Hubert Bennett, a carefully designed school for the physically disabled. At the time the school was surrounded by dilapidated Victorian terraces, today it is squeezed between an immense car breakers yard site on its north, a council housing at south and west, Lea bow creek and a box factory on the east. The decaying school is still the most compelling architecture in the area but has been abandoned for years.
In 2002, Leaside Regeneration Ltd received a planning permission for change of use from school to of ce accommodation (B1) and storage (B8). Since, the plot has stayed untouched and no modication was done on the site till now. The isolated and peculiar condition of the plot makes the building a difficult investment for pure speculative private initiative. Nevertheless the architecture has undeniable qualities that could be appreciated and integrated in the social and urban fabric.
The entrance to the site is by Blackwall Tunnel (northern approach) and comes into the predominant Car Breakers Yard. At the entrance there is also an initiative from the borough, a wood-recycling project. These disregarded materials imbue the residential area with “slum-like” qualities. In addition, with one of the highest unemployment rate in the UK, the area really needs to be stimulated.
As the head of the architecture department of the London County Council (LCC) from 1956 to 1970, Sir Bennett produced some of the most remarkable Brutalist projects of the time. Looking at the school today questions of the legacy of the architect and their design; what remains of an architecture and how it evolves over time. And more pertinently, can the renovation of Bromley Hall School revive and rejuvenate the area?
The physical and social conditions of the site setup a potential for architecture to act as a “social condenser”. Here, the“social condenser” is intended as a spatial idea similar to the one developed by Soviet constructivists. In the sense that public spaces may influence social behaviour as people identify with their surrounding. The deployment of intensified programmatic clusters that involve a neighboring population generate activities and instigate the wider community.
During the site survey we noticed passerby, locals, looking at the neglected school with wonder and frustration. They recognise the quality of the building and question its fate.
The disused central location of the building, the disregarded legacy of the architect, the neglected (by bad land management from the council) people of the area, left behind materials, all make of Bromley Hall School a “forgotten space”.
The project offers an infrastructure that is now lacking in a part of east London. Prescribed by a collaboration between a residential community and the state it is based on the principle of subsidiarity and self-organisation under governmental support. The catalytic event creates a focal point in the residential neighbourhood; a small commercial high street managed and maintained by an empowered community.
The process starts with the creation of vocational workshops, inside existing volumes of the school, with local mentors to teach and practice on the actual decaying building by renovating it, and constructing the canopy and an adjoining greenhouse. The final outcome also includes a big park with allotments that also acts as sound barrier against the Blackwall tunnel 4. entrance. Under the canopy, on the one side, service are offered with electrician, carpenter, plumber, building mechanic and gardener. The shopping street offers a kiosk, a food store, florist, Cafe/Pub, launderer, hairdresser and baker. These stores enter a scheme of “vocational mentoring schooling” where low-cost renting will be given to the mentors in exchange of their teaching and some pro t used to maintain the project.
In Bromley Hall Centre, a forgotten architecture becomes an ode to the legacy of an architect where an architectural project of self-renewal serves as a catalyst for improving a neighbourhood. Positing an unavoidable step forward its success would reflect the local community achievements.