Anyone For Tea?

CORDY HOUSE N.1 January 2013 

The Tea Building in Shoreditch is a creative hub in the East End and a source of inspiration for many of its tenants, including renowned architecture firm BuckleyGrayYeoman

Back in 2002, architecture practice BuckleyGrayYeoman was one of the first companies to move into the iconic Tea Building, a Shoreditch landmark, where they have now been for almost a decade.

Originally built as a bacon factory for Allied Foods’ Lipton brand in the early 30s, the eight-storey building situated at the junction of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road is a survivor of The Blitz and the infamous Luftwaffe bombing during the Second World War. Fast-forward to 2013 and the building has evolved into a creative community occupied by a range of tenants, from architects and graphic designers to fashion brands and media agencies, as well as Pizza East and Shoreditch House.

“In the early days when we came here by taxi and asked for the Tea Building, nobody knew where it was,” says Matt Yeoman, BuckleyGrayYeoman’s co-director. “Now you could probably ask any taxi driver in London and they would know where to take you.”

Despite working on numerous projects across the UK and in Europe, the architects practice is firmly rooted in East London where they set up their first “tiny room” studio in Rivington Street in 1997 with a headcount of three, before moving to Scrutton Street in 2000, and then finally into the Tea Building in the early millennia where they now have 46 employees. Most of the works which make up BuckleyGrayYeoman’s portfolio are renovation type projects, where the industrial and residential heritage of London lies at its core.

One of the projects that best demonstrates their approach is the Fashion Street office building, occupied by the Glasgow Caledonian University. Located on a site which had been bombed during the Second World War, the key challenge was to stabilise the old building, a Grade II listed section of the old Moorish Market, while at the same time, create an interaction with the new 2,787 sq m office building erected behind it. Their solution was to wrap the new building in a layer of Corten, a material that with its rust patina complemented the brick, stone and timber tones of the old building thus providing a link between old and new.

“In Fashion Street, it was important to us to keep the façade of the old building as it was. The key thing for us was to preserve it; we didn’t want to change/repair it too much. We wanted to revisit the building’s original character through the new one, going back to what it was initially so that it could essentially have a kind of historic conversation with it.”

The practice is also currently involved in the renovation of the historic Textile Building in Chatham Place. The project will provide for 86 residential units and 1,254 sq m of commercial space, inserted into the old industrial structure, which was formerly the Burberry Factory where the celebrated British brand used to manufacture its range of goods.

“For us, it’s always been about integrating old and new” explains Yeoman discussing the ethos of their practice, a philosophy strongly reflected in the Tea Building’s history and modernist aesthetic – their office space. “We are not really into restoring old buildings; it’s more about preserving them.”