Residents argue windows upgrade will compromise ‘unique’ design of block

Proposals to install new windows in a 1960s tower block designed by Douglas Carr Bailey, Francis Skinner and Berthold Lubetkin have prompted anger and disbelief from residents and conservationists.

Sivill House, in Shoreditch, east London, was completed in 1962 and is overseen by local authority arm’s length management organisation Tower Hamlets Homes.

It is seeking planning permission to upgrade the windows of the 19-floor tower, on Columbia Road. But the proposals are not like-for-like replacements for the building’s existing fenestration and residents argue that the change will compromise the unique geometric design motif of its façades.

Plans submitted as part of the application by Chelmsford-based Evolution Architecture detail replacement powder-coated aluminium windows with a noticably raised central transom level compared to the present ones. Supporting documents say the change is necessary to comply with Building Regulations approved document Part K, which relates to protection from falling. The same point is made in relation to new heightened handrails proposed for the flats’ balconies.

Laurie MacLean, of the Sivill House steering group, said the increase in transom height appeared to be a misinterpretation of Part K that treated a window ledge as finished floor level.

Facade detail of Sivill House in east London

Source: Ewan Munro / Flickr

Facade detail of Sivill House in east London

“The existing window design meets current regulations, actually exceeding the requirements by 160mm,” she said.

“If safety is a concern, this should be addressed internally, such as installing bars or a screen to prevent standing on the internal ledge. We believe this is where the solution lies.”

The revised proposals for Sivill House in east London

The revised proposals for Sivill House in east London

MacLean said that on the basis that safety was not an issue with Sivill House’s current windows, the group’s main concern was the effect the redesign would have on the building’s appearance.

“Being in a conservation area already led in the past to the removal of satellite dishes from the façade,” she said.

“This building is a key element in this conservation area and its significance is due to its utterly unique and intricate façade, which should be preserved and kept as originally designed, as much as possible.”

Sivill House in east London

Source: Reading Tom / Flickr

The group has the backing of Lubetkin authority John Allan, who said the building’s original window frame proportions were very carefully considered so the transoms would “very deliberately align” with balcony rails across the façade.

“Raising the height of these transoms will violate this relationship and result in a disturbing discordance, throwing the whole elevation into disarray,” he said.

“To alter this ‘dialogue’ would be to fundamentally destroy the integrity of the composition.”

Conservation group the Twentieth Century Society said it was opposed to the window-replacement proposals as submitted, and believed that other options – such as internal balustrades or different window-opening patterns could preserve the integrity of the original design.

Caseworker Grace Etherington said the organisation was also prepared to consider supporting a listing bid for the tower.

Sivill House in east London

Source: Jim Dunton

“Lubetkin paid great attention to the arrangement of façade components on the block to achieve a complex geometric composition,” she said.

“It is disappointing that a scheme being delivered on behalf of the local authority is undermining the conservation area designation and setting a bad example for other building owners in the area.”

Tower Hamlets Homes said Building Regulations required the central transom of Sivill House’s new windows to be 200mm higher than the current ones, where those transoms were not below windows that opened out on to a balcony.

Details of the west and south elevation proposals for Sivill House

Details of the west and south elevation proposals for Sivill House

“The specification for the work is to replace windows on a ‘like for like’ basis and the windows have been designed taking into consideration the Building Regulations and kept as close as possible to that design,” a spokesperson said.

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“We have been meeting and communicating regularly with residents’ representatives and keeping them updated on progress and the reasons for carrying out the works. Tower Hamlets planning officers will consider the application which we have made in terms of the integrity of the building, which is not listed but is in a conservation area.

They added: “While we appreciate that some residents have personal preferences in regard to the appearance of windows, we are carrying out the work to comply with current health and safety legislation.”

Sivill House is currently surrounded by scaffolding for other work.

Sivill House in east London

Source: Jim Dunton

Sivill House is currently surounded with scaffolding