The Rowe, Whitechapel

The art of renewal 

BAM overcame significant technical challenges to deliver a fully refurbished, sustainable and sympathetically extended office space in the heart of London, featuring public art inspired by the local area. 

The Rowe – in London’s Whitechapel, close to Bank and Liverpool Street – is a highly creative reimagining of an important 1960s landmark building. Six new floors have been added to the existing structure, in the form of a modern glass, steel and concrete extension that reflects the original modernist design while bringing the space up to the highest standards for the 21st century.

BAM successfully completed the project for real estate developer, manager and investor Frasers Property UK: the client’s first urban office development. But the original plans for the building changed significantly, early on in the project, as a result of the complexities and challenges uncovered by the team… 

Project details

  • Customer: Frasers Property UK
  • Architect: Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) 
  • Project manager: Burnley Wilson Fish
  • Quantity surveyor: Burnley Wilson Fish
  • Structural engineer: Robert Bird Group
  • Services engineer: SWECO UK Ltd
  • M&E engineer: BAM Services Engineering

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15,064 m2 Fact icon total floor space
BREEAM Fact icon Excellent target rating
PLATINUM Fact icon WiredScore for connectivity
45% Fact icon lower CO2 emissions than standard office buildings

The Rowe was originally built in the 1960s as an educational building: housing the School of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University until this moved to its new home in 2017. The building’s nickname of the ‘Aldgate Bauhaus’ reflected its enduring association with the creative world. 

So when the building’s new owners – Frasers Property UK – commissioned its refurbishment their aim was to retain and extend the existing structure. However, the plan also involved adding six new storeys above the original six floors, while retaining the 1960s façade and glazing on the lower half of the building. 

Preserving these key elements of the original not only helped to provide a visual transition between the old and the new, but also reduced the embodied carbon in the construction project.   

Hidden strength

BAM’s challenge was to bring this six-decade old building up to modern standards, and effectively double its usable floor area. This involved a range of works, some of them very visible and others hidden away in the heart of the building.

On top of new foundations and a new basement slab, BAM created a reinforced concrete core and structure for the retained elements. The six extra floors were then added around a steel structure. In addition, a side extension has created an extra four floors in some areas, and five in others. 

This ambitious scheme involved some major technical challenges – many of them impossible to foresee until BAM was actually on site – but the team used extensive BIM360 modelling and creative engineering solutions to overcome them.

One of the key techniques used was a façade retention approach. To facilitate the new extension on top of the building, the existing façade was restrained by an external steel frame, while the inside of the building was cut away. A new concrete structure was then built to the lower storeys and a new steel structure was created to support the additional six levels on top.

This connection detail was discussed at length between BAM, Robert Bird Group, Frasers Property UK and the subcontractors: initially as hand-drawn sketches and 2D models, and finally as a full 3D model of all interfacing elements. Completing this process early in the project was vital in mitigating risk at later stages.

An intricate 4D model of the piling methodology and sequencing was another innovation that added significant value on the project.

A creative solution for M&E services 

BAM also delivered all mechanical and electrical (M&E) work on the project, through its in-house services engineering business. 

In the old lower half of the structure, there was minimal room to run M&E services at a high level. So BAM designed and developed a chilled beam for these areas that provides a controlled environment for the various different services. The thoughtful design of this exposed beam complements the overall architectural aesthetic of the building.

BAM’s services engineering team used the BIM 3D model to create clash-free installation drawings: used by suppliers working off site to manufacture modular units housing heat exchangers, circulating pumps and expansion vessels. These ‘mini plant rooms’ were installed into the risers, cutting installation time by around 75% compared with traditional techniques. 

Breathing space

Health and wellness are central to what the building offers to occupiers and their teams. 

For example, The Rowe delivers exceptional air quality. Every floor of the building provides outside space. There is a public café on the ground floor, as well as retail space for occupiers and their guests and a landscaped roof terrace with panoramic views across London.

The amenities within the building are designed to be adaptable, creating a flexible space for emerging modern working practices. 

Climate conscious principles underpinned every aspect of the scheme, at every stage in the project. With a shortage of energy-efficient prime office space in the UK, this is a key differentiator. For example, the building runs entirely in renewable electricity, contributing to its WELL ‘Platinum’ certification, target BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating and SmartScore ‘Platinum’. 

Echoing tradition

A striking and colourful piece of wrap-around artwork was commissioned from Yinka Ilori MBE, who studied in the original school of art and has been installed above the sixth floor. The work, which can be seen from ground level, creates a striking transition between the old and new elements of the building.

The other installation, in The Rowe’s double height reception, uses rhythmic shapes in the building’s vertical space to create architectural forms. The piece, by Paul Cocksedge Studio, is called ‘Loop’ and according to the artist, “invites visitors to sit, rest and contemplate”. 

Both artworks explicitly hark back to the Whitechapel area’s cultural history and traditional associations with the textiles industry. 

A true sense of place

Ilaria del Beato, CEO at Frasers Property UK, summed up the intent of the building: “The Rowe is a landmark site for Frasers Property UK, and we strived to create a building that echoes and respects the history of the area, both in terms of community and art with The Rowe sitting opposite Whitechapel Gallery. 

“The Rowe rethinks communal spaces to encourage and support social interaction and greater wellbeing. As businesses embed agile working practices and seek to leverage the benefits of our cities and offices, we, as developers, need to be doing all we can to support them. That’s why we aim to develop high-quality office space while also creating a sense of place.”