Making sense of façade retention: How we rebuilt Spitalfields’ Fruit & Wool Exchange

190917_Bennetts_LFWE_026-hero_view from Christ Church. Boris doorway is below the corner windows

As a new book is published attacking the 'creeping plague of facadism’, architect Rab Bennetts responds by recounting the story behind one scheme

Spitalfields has been an architectural battleground for decades. The frontline between the gritty and diverse east end and the City of London’s ever-expanding financial district.

The tales of heroic squatters and early gentrifiers resisting the onslaught of commerce are legendary and the number of stillborn schemes is testament to their persistence. The few projects that were built, such as Foster’s scheme for Allen & Overy, only served to highlight the difference between the huge corporate monoliths and the small-scale remnants of historic London that had survived post-war neglect and the closure of Spitalfields Market in 1990.

In this context, replacement of the run-down London Fruit & Wool Exchange (LFWE) and the adjacent multi-storey car park was intended to repair and extend the local grain and texture as much as was possible with a single building. Even so, some opposition groups continued to lobby vociferously against development and, despite the eventual support of planning officers and many locals, planning consent took three and a half years of exhaustive consultations, two refusals and the intervention in 2012 of the mayor, Boris Johnson.

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