In the last 20 years, the Old Bethnal Green Town Hall, as the venerable town hall in London's East End is officially called, was forced to lead quite a dire existence. For a period it stood empty, occasionally it was used as a film set, for example for Guy Ritchie's 1998 cult movie "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". Until one day in 2007 when Singapore-based hotelier Loh Lik Peng purchased the building with the intention of turning it into a luxurious hotel.
Despite the building being on the at-risk register, rare architecure`s considered approach to the project, a guiding concept of the development and use of traditional techniques and motifs within contemporary cutting edge design and manufacturing technologies, won the approval of English Heritage and planning permission was granted 2008.
The extension to the building, a new wing that stands behind the original 1910 structure and an additional floor that sits atop the flat roof of the 1937 extension, provides a further 1500 square metres of accommodation. Wrapped entirely by a laser cut powder coated aluminium skin, no windows or doors are externally visible, allowing it to create a striking abstract backdrop to the original structure, while simultaneously making a definite statement as new architecture.
The pattern cut into the skin was taken from a pattern book rare developed for the project. An original art deco feature in the Council Chamber inspired the parametrically defined pattern book, a design exercise apparent in not only the aluminium skin but many of rare's new interventions in the hotel from radiator and air conditioning covers to decorative wall panels. The effect of the pattern cut into the skin is performative, allowing natural light into the rooms behind it, while also preserving the privacy of those both inside and out. The skin's distinctive form is repeated in features including the hotel's brass reception desk and corridor ceilings of the extension, again bringing together glamour and function.
The dimensions of each of the 98 rooms are different, something dictated by the nature of the building and its listed status, therefore allowing rare to provide 98 unique layouts and designs. rare performed an entire internal re-planning of the space in the building and inserted zones of contemporary hotel comfort into these rooms with what they call their ‘spatial furniture'. Bespoke pods of discrete beds, desks, storage space, kitchens and bathroom suites rendered in materials ranging from CNC milled MDF, Corian, Green Lime marble, glass, oak and Cardoso and Vals stone with light fixtures specially commissioned from suppliers Viabizzuno, all work to interrupt but also sit comfortably within the historical context of the building.