Artist Tracy Emin will await the decision of a planning inspector as to whether her proposed new home in Tower Hamlets will win permission.
Emin appealed for non-determination, after her proposals to build the new property on the corner of Bell Lane and Tenter Ground in Spitalfields failed to get to a planning committee in the prescribed time. Shortly after the appeal was lodged, the proposal made it to a Tower Hamlets planning meeting in early February, at which the scheme was turned down.
The proposal is to build a new home and studio on the corner site, which would extend up to five storeys high and link to the artist’s existing adjacent studio building. The brick block would feature a series of differently sized windows, helping create studio space internally with good daylight.
At issue is the continued existence of a “locally listed” block on the site, which is part of the Artillery Passage Conservation Area. The 1927 brick block was constructed as three council flats, later converted to a single home but is currently unused. An adjacent building is a Victorian workshop, which has since been used as an artist’s studio.
Planning officers at Tower Hamlets argued that the proposed design, by architect David Chipperfield, is “an accomplished piece of architecture”, but went on: “However the design is not considered to exhibit such exceptional architectural quality as the public benefits derived
from the quality of the architecture are such as outweigh officers concerns over the harm from the loss of the existing building and the associated harm that would result to the conservation area.”
The application had received lots of local objection, but also support from a number of architectural sources. Emin said the development would allow her to bring together her “way of living and working into one entity which is capable of adapting to new practices over the whole lifetime of the artist, enabling any artist occupier to live and work there for the whole of their working career”.
Emin bought the building as part of a larger purchase of local property in 2008. The existing building has a recent planning consent to extend it upwards, including the erection of new facades and an additional fourth storey with a new roof terrace. The 2012 scheme would have created two flats on the site.
Planning consultants Montagu Evans said in a submission that they had received early indications that council officers would be recommending approval – with an about turn prompting them to make complaints to the council. The agents suggest the heritage case hinges on two issues: the degree of harm due to the loss of the existing building; and whether its replacement is of superior quality.
This is not the first time Chipperfield has had one of his projects in the area given a hard time by planners. A 2013 extension to the Geffrye Museum was rejected, after a campaign by conservationists who were keen to retain the derelict Marquis of Lansdowne pub.
While not listed, Emin’s building is merely part of a conservation area; it is listed locally, but is not formally a listed building on the Historic England register. In the last four years, the organisation has received 1107 applications to delist buildings, of which 917 were successfully delisted.
LPA Perspective: Emin has long been a supporter of the Spitalfields area, and her wish to create a modestly designed new home and workspace does not, on the face of it, look to be problematic. The Chipperfield design is polite, lacks any architectural jokes of the type seen on Janet Street-Porter’s house in nearby Farringdon, and is in the local vernacular. What’s not to like?
However, she has fallen foul of the vociferous local conservation movement, still smarting from the loss of the Fruit & Wool Exchange building nearby; and from the arrival of new businesses including the Tech City hub around the Old Street roundabout.
Tower Hamlets planners, in letting the application slide, have given Emin the opportunity to appeal. Clearly they felt uncomfortable recommending the application. The decision is one of judgement, and will ultimately be down to the opinion of the planning inspector now called on to decide. At least they won’t have the locals breathing down their neck, when deliberating on matters of harm or otherwise, to the local conservation area.