Raven Row, London
 2009

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Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Artwork by Seth Siegelaub. Photo by David Grandorge.

riba National Award 2011

Mies van der Rohe Award nomination 2011


56 Artillery Lane

 Spitalfields

London, E1 7LS

 

Raven Row, a new non-profit contemporary art exhibition centre, opened in 2009. Embedded in what Pevsner described as two of the finest surviving eighteenth century silk mercers’ houses in Spitalfields (Grade listed) and a 1972 concrete framed office building, the project provides new contemporary art galleries in a semi-basement at the rear and a series of eighteenth century Rococo rooms over three floors at the front. Offices, two flats for residencies and studio space occupy the third and fourth floor.

Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.

Raven Row was built in the 1690’s but substantially remodeled by Hugenot silk mercers in 1754 and subsequently added to, converted, neglected, damaged and repaired over two and a half centuries. The latest intervention weaves itself through the buildings, informed by their history and in turn transforming them.

New gallery in Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.

The new galleries to the rear are two distinct rooms echoing the domestic character of the 18th century  neighbours, which were excavated one and a half metres below ground level. The roof-lit courtyard gallery at the centre is calm and introspective. The adjacent gallery is side lit from Frying Pan Alley by a window creating a continuous view from the entrance through the full depth of the block.

Historic interior in Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.

Large charred timber rooflights above the courtyard gallery bear witness to the fire that ravaged the building in 1972 though some of the architecture survived. Charred timber also formed the moulds for a new cast iron façade on Frying Pan Alley (the Ornate Regency cast iron railings were stolen from the original façade in the 1960’s).

Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Artwork by Seth Siegelaub. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.

The burned timber and other new textures allude to the unwritten history of the place and introduce a raw, tactile texture to modern Spitalfields. Simple door knobs designed by the practice are indented with a soft thumb print and are left with the texture of the sand that formed them.

Fire-damaged interior of Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo from London Metropolitan Archive

Furniture in the eighteenth century was usually light and fitted with drawers and pockets for paper, pen, ink, blotters, etc. so it could be moved easily to find the best light by the window or warmth by the fire. At Raven Row, both regular furniture and exhibition displays were designed to carry that sense of lightness and provisional occupation. All pieces are free standing and anticipate that any space in the building will be used in ways as yet unimagined.

During the design of Raven Row, over seventy photographs of interiors and exteriors of the two buildings were discovered at the London Metropolitan Archive. They form a continuous photographic record from 1905 to the mid 1970’s. Completely anonymous, this unique collection documents the grandeur and decline of Spitalfields in the twentieth century. The photograph became an important inspiration for the project to record and even recall some of the extraordinary social history which has passed through these walls alongside the recorded architectural heritage.

Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.

Two elderly sisters, Hannah and Rebecca Levy lived in the houses since the 1920’s and throughout the construction of Raven Row until their death in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Their home, which contains several items of furniture recorded in the archive photographs decades before, has not changed since the early 1970’s.

Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Artwork by Seth Siegelaub. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raben Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Raven Row, Spitalfields, London. Photo by David Grandorge.
Location plan
Section
Ground floor plan
First floor plan
Second floor plan
Third floor plan.
Fourth floor plan.