In the 1980s and 1990s, London’s docks underwent a dramatic transformation with homes and offices taking over from the business of loading and unloading ships. This involved a lot of new buildings, but fortunately, some historic ones survived. One of those was a former gunpowder warehouse on the stretch of the river between Wapping and the Isle of Dogs. At the time it was built - 1796 - the area was known as Ratcliff or Ratcliffe, but that name seems to have disappeared from use.
The warehouse - which had been Grade II-listed since 1973 - was converted into flats during the docklands boom of the 1980s. Our clients loved the building and the incredible location but weren’t so taken with the way the conversion had been carried out. They were happy with the basic layout, but wanted a thorough refurb of the interior, stripping away much of what had been added during the conversion and later redecoration. But for that, they would need both listed building consent and license to alter from the freeholder. Looking for a firm that could handle that and understand exactly what they wanted for the interior, they found Urbanist Architecture.
What had been done to the flat had given it the look of a 1980s office paired with an aggressively shiny white kitchen. Hiding under the bright white was some shoddy workmanship.
Our plan was to remove much of the boxing-out and plasterboards concealing the original building. But we knew not all of it could come out, and we also knew that the full extent of what could be done would only be known after opening-up works to investigate what was hiding underneath the surfaces. Because it wouldn’t be possible to expose the original interior walls, which is what our clients had been hoping for, we decided to add brick slips in the same colour as the outside walls to some of the interior walls. Meanwhile, we were able to expose some of the ceiling beams.
The floors, the kitchen and the bathroom fittings would all go, and the ventilation needed to be completely redone. The varied suspended ceiling levels needed organising and new storage solutions were required. And there were some intricate challenges, such as how to get concealed blinds that worked with the original windows.
None of this was simple, but we were able to get listed building consent by writing our own heritage statement, rather than our clients needing to hire specialists to do the research. (The history of the Ratcliffe wharves would now be our specialist quiz subject.)
Turning an 18th-century warehouse into flats is always going to be an exciting idea. The 1980s conversion sadly turned that into a slightly disappointing reality, but working with great clients, we have helped part of the building reach its potential.
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