Friday 8 June 2007

Stephen Lawrence Centre

A recent query to the Greenwich Phantom asked what was the 'funky new building' being built at the end of Brookmill Park. I had forgotten that the new Stephen Lawrence Centre was being built so close to Deptford, and decided to go down and see how close it was to opening. When I got there, I was rather non-plussed to discover that a) it's finished as far as I can see; b) there are no information boards or any kind of publicity about its purpose, its predicted opening date, or even its designers and builders!

I already knew something of the project, being connected with the world of architectural journalism, so I set out to try and discover more.

The project is being promoted by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and according to its website, is intended to "provide young people living in poverty with information, training, advice and guidance. The centre will also act as a hub where industry, community organisations and educational institutions can exchange information on the latest skills and needs in urban design and regeneration. This will help to build a new model for vocational training and business development."

It was inspired by the fact that Stephen Lawrence's ambition was to become an architect; the centre's purpose is not only to provide help for young people with similarly ambitious dreams, but also to give support and encouragement to those without such firm future plans.

Fittingly the building features the work of two prominent black Britons - architect David Adjaye is responsible for the design of the building, and artist Chris Ofili has designed the large glass windows that adorn the main facade. Unfortunately there is precious little information on Adjaye Associates' website about the project - and I understand that the practice has put a ban on all publicity about the scheme until it is open to the public (a very short-sighted approach by the architects, assuring that it is likely to receive little or no publicity in certain sectors of the engineering press which are largely interested in writing about its construction and structural engineering aspects. *gets down off hobby horse*)

This would not be a problem if the opening had taken place as planned - originally it had been intended to open earlier this year, but I have been told by the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust that this will now take place 'hopefully' in October. Apparently there will be more information on the website within the next couple of weeks, so watch this space. No reason has been given for the delay - although I have asked the question and will let you know if I get a response. I believe there were problems with racist graffiti/vandalism but that seems to have been sorted out as I didn't see any on my visit. That might explain why there are no project boards or signs, or perhaps I'm just putting two and two together and making five. The pictures show that the glass facade is still swathed in green netting, but I couldn't see any damage to the glass (although admittedly I was peering from the other side of the fence, in the rain...).

Whatever the reason, it's surely a mistake. If the centre is to become a valued part of the local community, the sooner local people feel like they are being invited to take part, the better. I don't know whether any local consultation took place before the construction started, but right now this mystery building feels and looks like it has landed here from outer space, an impression reinforced by the fact that it has no sign boards. Hopefully this will all change soon. The structure itself is an interesting one - the steel mesh cladding and glass facade give it a modern - yes, even 'funky' feel - and I'm sure it will attract praise and criticism alike when it finally makes it into the press. I'm itching to see inside and check out the interior spaces, after which I will be posting an update. Hopefully October!

UPDATE: According to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust "The delay around the opening of the building was caused by a delay around the completion of the building. This is no longer the case, and we still intend to open the building in October."

Ah. That's crystal clear then.


Andrew Brown said...

I've been going past this on foot and on the train over the last few months. To be honest I'm not sure about the metal render, as you say it does make the building look like it's landed from outer space.

Anonymous said...

I am also trying very hard to like the metal cladding - it's a bit foreboding. I do like the glass and the overall shape of the building though. My impression from cycling past this everyday is that there has been a big issue with getting the water mains to it sorted, given how long the path/road has been dug up - slightly ironic considering it is on the site of a Thames Water building. Haven't ever seen any signs of graffiti, and hope that's not true - looking forward to seeing it open.

DDKK said...

Sue I know you are trying to be kind to the builders, but the work being carried out in the road is the same that's happening all over the borough/London - replacement of water mains to reduce leakage. Getting utilities connected is always the first step for construction projects.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, you would think so, wouldn't you, but they do seem to have been at that particular spot for weeks longer than they needed when they replaced the mains along the rest of the road, and not just digging up the road, but the bit of the path near the new centre, and even the neighbouring house's front garden . . .

Then again, the water mains contractors do seem to like to leave at least one unfinished hole in every street to go back to a few months after they've done the rest. . .

DDKK said...

yes, we've got several right next to our block that has been open for months now.

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

I have read all your comments with great interest! I led the engineering design of the building before it went to site (for Price & Myers) and can say that it is the most complicated structures in London! This is mainly caused by all the underground pipes and structures associated with the Thames Water Assets. The shapes of the buildings are largely a function of the available footprint for foundations on the site.

The design by David Adjaye and Associates is driven by the urban characteristics of the site - both visable and those under the surface! I recall that there was significant consutlation with the local community and also consultation with CABE (the government body responsible for architecture and the built environment).

I have not had a opportunity to visit the site as I moved to Cambridge 2 years ago so it is great to see the photos on this site.

From what I can see I think the vision of the design has been well crafted on site and the building should prove to be both iconic and of great use to the local community (in time! like all things).

Anonymous said...

The Stephen Lawrence Centre building looks ugly, and it seems to be inherently vulnerable to vandalism.

8 of the stupidly vulnerable, energy wasting, 2 storey windows, reportedly costing £15,000 each, have been vandalised early this morning.

See this Evening Standard report for a photo of the damage.

The Centre is supposed to, in part, train young people in "urban design and regeneration". Hopefully none of them will repeat the mistake of these windows !

Brockley Nick said...

Glass needn't be inherently vulnerable, nor wasteful of energy. Glass and steel uses less carbon in the building phase than many alternatives and glass can be extremely tough and insulating. Unfortunately, those particular windows are not!

The building looks quite nice from the street, I think.