Next Project

Walthamstow Town Hall: The New Civic

Part 1 Project 2010
Emily Partridge
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
This project addresses the question of what an appropriate form of representation for civic architecture is today and how it should help get the public involved in local politics. The borough of Waltham Forest, like many in London, is currently looking to consolidate their various departments into one building. In response to this the studio proposed two sites; one in the town centre and one in the foreground of the existing Town Hall. I chose the latter as a site that could mediate between the council and the town with the hope of bringing some life back to what currently appears a very under-used site.

Initial mappings combined with a photography project initiated discussions with local residents about what was valued or needed in the community. As a studio the creation of large precedent models taught us the importance of spatial sequences and a sense of decorum within civic architecture.

This scheme has completed the site’s sense of grandeur with an elevation of equal prominence to that of the Town and Assembly Halls to the West, acting as a screen to the Law Courts and hence completing a sense of symmetry on site. This façade is constructed from gabions, filled with Portland stone, for their modularity and solidity while maintaining a colour and scale comparable to that of the adjacent Town and Assembly Halls.

Two main entrances on this façade create a key route through the building between the public areas of the council carved out at lower ground level and the café and exhibition space above. This route is treated similarly to the external promenade and contrasts with the more refined private office spaces.

The Town Hall Annexe therefore adds to the grandeur of the site as its main elevation relates to that of the Town and Assembly Halls. This heavy facade wraps around a series of more domestic scale spaces behind in order not to overpower the adjacent buildings. The vast openness of the site is maintained as the Annexe sits back to the West marking the final stage of the route from Town Centre to Town Hall.

Emily Partridge

Walthamstow Forest Town Hall emerges suddenly and heroically from the sea of terraced housing which typifies its East London constituency. Completed in 1942, the scale of it’s ambition and stripped classical style mean that it is often caricatured as ‘fascist’ – and whilst on one level it is a source of enormous local pride, it is also regarded with a degree of suspicion. Set apart from the people that it serves by the scale and formality of its landscaped grounds, it registers as something distant and other.

In the context of an emerging political discourse of ‘new localism’, the studio has asked how a new building might transform the relationship between the council and its constituents – able to reinvigorate local politics and civic life, whilst producing an architecture robust enough to transcend short-lived fashion. Anchored by a real and pressing demand for new council accommodation, students developed proposals for a counterpart building to the existing Town Hall on two different sites – an ‘annex’ within the grounds of the town hall itself, and an ‘outpost’ in the town centre at the end of Walthamstow’s famous street market.

Emily took a bold yet considered approach to siting a new building within the formal lawns in front of the existing town hall. The building is structured by a long ‘garden wall’ - angled according to a key sight-line between the primary approach from the town and the town hall façade.

The wall highlights and plays with the sloping topography and encloses a dense configuration of public and private rooms, light wells and gardens. Consideration of the spatial sequences of the public and council workers for both everyday and ceremonial occasions informed the development of the plan.

The building can, perhaps, be read most strongly as a landscape proposition. The siting of the building preserves the openness of the lawns, whilst its diagonal wall imposes a new order which overlays their symmetry with something equally unexpected. In its singularity, the new building establishes a meaningful dialogue with the Town Hall, whilst helping to re-imagine its setting and relationship with the Town.

Mr Jay Gort

• Page Hits: 7452         • Entry Date: 26 July 2010         • Last Update: 13 September 2010