Featherstone Young were appointed by Providence Row to design a new arts and activity building as part of the Dellow Centre - their day care facility in Wentworth Street in London's East End. Providence Row is a homelessness charity that provides support to homeless people in Tower Hamlets (one of the UK's most deprived districts) and the City of London. The Dellow Day Centre provides essential services such as food, clothing and showers, helping to restore users’ health and dignity.
The new building will allow Providence Row to operate a range of structured and meaningful activities for their users. The ground floor will house a bike workshop, enabling users to develop their skills and set them on the first steps towards employment. The first floor will contain an art centre for visual and performing arts activities, allowing users to express themselves creatively and develop their artistic skills. Providence Row will use the top floor for office space, while other parts of the building will contain storage and archive facilities for the charity.
Featherstone Young were keen to create a thoughtful yet functional building that uses its landlocked site to its full advantage, in order to accommodate as many uses as possible in the limited space available. Because the building (on the site of a former storage building) faces the main day centre across an under-used courtyard, Featherstone Young also wanted to find a design solution that could animate the courtyard and improve connections and flow between the two buildings on the site as a whole.
The main feature of the building is its single-aspect angular façade. Likened to a mask the faceted blinkered windows take cues from the pod windows at Featherstone Young’s award-winning SERICC crisis centre in Essex, offering privacy to those within whilst also providing essential visibility for staff by designing a permeable façade. Above and below the main faceted level are vivid green and yellow perforated cladding panels to the ground floor workshop and the second floor. The building is topped with a colourful, irregular-shaped rooflight that provides a fun and lively aspect for those working in the surrounding higher buildings.
Conceptually, this mask elevation is intended by Featherstone Young to act as a visual metaphor for Providence Row’s users and to confront the invisibility of homeless people. The striking, colourful building challenges passers-by to ignore what was previously an anonymous space, while its appearance is a visual reminder that homeless people, like the new building created to serve them, can have great depth of character and dignity.
At ground floor level, the large workshop doors open out onto the courtyard, bringing natural light into the workshop and encouraging activity to spill out onto the courtyard towards the main Dellow Centre building. Behind the workshop, large storage spaces have been created for clothing and equipment. Inside, the space is functional and robust - a design approach that is continued throughout the new centre.
A simple staircase leads from the ground floor to the first floor, where the main space is the art studio. Here the large full-height timber-framed windows flood the room with natural light - ideal for art activity during the day. The faceted windows face away from the street and across the courtyard to the main centre - giving privacy for users, valuable passive surveillance for staff, and creating a positive relationship with main centre. This space can also be fully blacked out for film screenings. Other spaces on this level provide further storage and archive facilities for Providence Row.
On the upper level, an open plan office space leads onto an external terrace, where a zig-zag balcony follows the line of the first floor windows. Like the ground floor, a colourful facade gives this level a lively feel, and the palette is repeated in bold vertical stripes along the length of the external wall. A small private meeting room accessed from the main room is lit from above by the large and colourful funnel-like rooflight. Throughout the building, an emphasis has been placed on creating a series of robust, flexible and functional internal spaces. Lighting and services are simple and basic, and the building is designed to be easy to use and maintain.
The site is a small, landlocked site, accessed via a small private courtyard. It is landlocked on three sides by tall buildings (a building immediately adjacent to the centre has recently been demolished and will be replaced) and faces the main Dellow Centre which was built in the 1980s. Featherstone Young’s design response was a building that could project its own strong character alongside its neighbours, animate the underused courtyard and enliven the otherwise bland setting.
The client brief had originally been for a two-storey building, although Featherstone Young were also encouraged to explore options for three storeys in order to maximise use of the site. Planning consent was granted for three storeys after the trustees saw the additional possibilities of a higher building.
With a strong design concept the building has withstood the rigours of tight cost constraints and was completed on budget.