Poplar Baths by Pringle Richards Sharratt

The former main pool hall has been restored into a soaring, multi-purpose space

Poplar Baths in London’s East End is a historic example of state architecture used to improve public health. But to preserve this listed building, the project team had to demolish part of it and rebuild through a PPP agreement

The obvious principle of conservation is to conserve as much historic fabric as possible. It comes as a surprise therefore to come across a major refurbishment project of a locally loved grade II-listed building where English Heritage permitted half of the building to be demolished. Demolition is rarely seen as the most sustainable redevelopment option but this was identified as the only strategy that could deliver the wholesale renovation so desperately needed at Poplar Baths in London’s East End, a building that had stood empty for almost 30 years.

Additionally, with the austerity-addled local authority unable or unwilling to pay for the project entirely, it was financed by a public private partnership that was similar to a conventional PFI model in every sense except there was no reliance on central government funding. According to project manager Patrick Quinlan, this was the only way to secure the funding required for the renovation. While such a route may lie at odds with the staunchly civic social and egalitarian principle on which British municipal public baths provision was conceived in the 19th and early 20th centuries, without it Quinlan believes that the renovation would have been economically impossible.

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