Conservationists object to demolition of locally listed Spitalfields flats

Plans by David Chipperfield to replace a locally listed building in Spitalfields with a home for the artist Tracey Emin have come under fire from conservationists.

The artist, who has previously spoken of the importance of preserving the character of the East End neighbourhood where she lives and works, wants to knock down a disused 1920s building on Bell Lane and replace it with a four-storey house attached to her studio.

The planning application acknowledges the existing building’s contribution to the conservation area. But it adds: “The applicant has commissioned a design by renowned architect Sir David Chipperfield. In doing so, the applicant has signalled an intention to redevelop the site to an exceptional standard of design with a building that will greatly contribute to the character and appearance of the conservation area and enhance the immediate built environment, thus outweighing any harm caused to the conservation area by the demolition of the existing building.”

But Clem Cecil, director of Save Britain’s Heritage, said Chipperfield’s proposals were to the detriment of London, branding them “angular and blank” and making “a negative contribution to the streetscape”.

“Tracey Emin is at present the owner of a locally listed building that is part of a historic streetscape of variety and charm,” said Cecil.

“She has done great conservation work with her other buildings nearby and this building deserves the same treatment.

“Save’s recent campaign in the Strand illustrated just how strong public opinion is about ordinary London buildings, of which this is a wonderful example.”

Emin, who opened Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary in Margate, was praised for the sensitive way she restored the listed building she currently lives in, a few streets away.

The small block of flats on Bell Lane that would be demolished by the current application was built by the old Stepney council. It backs on to Emin’s existing studio, created from three old warehouses on Tenter Ground.

Chipperfield’s minimalist design is for a four-storey house plus basement which would be connected to the studio, allowing her to work in privacy or with assistants round the clock.

The application states: “Artistic production is a very personal, intense process, often undertaken outside normal business hours. This has been the case since at least the Romantic period and is certainly true of artists working since the 1860s when the studio house emerged as a distinct building type.”

The design would include a “large, flexible, single-bedroom living space”, a double-height studio, large, well-lit areas for displaying art and meeting clients, private amenity space, accommodation for guests and a lift for moving art.

The openings in the sculpted form of the building are dictated by the uses within, says the planning application. For example, the studio’s main window would face a new square being created at Bennetts Associates’ Fruit & Wool Exchange redevelopment.

The application says: “The building re-establishes the historic Bell Lane and Tenter Ground continuous frontages constructed in brick with a lime-based mortar to avoid the need for expansion joints. Large expanses of brick are broken up by a three dimensional ‘play’ (by the use of recesses) and rich detailing within the elevations. Some windows are proposed flush, some with a reveal of the length of a brick, distinguishing between the ‘work’ and ‘home’ parts of the development.”

It also notes that in pre-planning discussions, the council’s planning officers, its Conservation and Design Advisory Panel and Historic England felt the proposal had “genuine potential to be an exemplary piece of architecture that could potentially become a cultural landmark in this part of the borough.”

Tower Hamlets council is due to consider the scheme in September.