raven row | 6a architects.

Sometimes, you see projects that make you want to drop everything and rush to the other side of the world to see them with your own eyes. This is one of them [I died and went to architecture heaven]. Welcome to Raven Row, a contemporary art gallery in the East End of London, designed by 6a Architects. I came across this project earlier this week, after further researching the use of charred timber in architecture after writing this post.
The complex encompasses two surviving eighteenth century silk mercers’ houses in Spitafields, and a 1972 concrete framed office building. The use of charred timber in both the skylights above the courytard and  to form the moulds for a new cast iron façade [the original Ornate Regency cast iron railings were stolen from the original façade in the 1960s] alludes to the fire that ravaged the interior of the building in 1972 – however some of the original architecture survived.
New elements are also introduced within the project, such as the cantilevered stair and the beautifully detailed, simple door knobs designed by the practice, which have been indented with a thumb print and left with the texture of the sand which formed them - the tactile quality reinforcing the notion of trace through burnt and cast objects in the project.  

One of my favourite elements of this project is that the architects actually managed to find one of the original rococo interiors in America, and reinstate it back into the building! [pictured above] Many 18th C rooms in England were striped and sold to America after the war. The panels were shipped back in iterations, and reinstalled over a 6 week period. Due to the fact it was absent from the 1970s fire, it is the only completely intact interior within the building. 
The architects also had access to over seventy photographs of the interiors and exteriors of the building – discovered at the London Metropolitan Archive, forming a photographic record for the years spanning from 1905 through to the mid 1970s.
The concept is grounded on reinstating the found historical narratives of the building - these photographs alongside the built architectural history enabled a story of personal histories for the architects to engage with - two elderly sisters lived in the houses since the 1920s and throughout the construction of Raven Row until they passed away in 2010. As a result, the building acts as a palimpsest, holding the historical traces of both the built and the intangible.  
While a lot of the images on the architect's website are beautifully stark, they highlight the careful attention to detail and the honest expression of materiality. Not only do I love the concept behind this piece of architecture [it touches on the same themes I wrote my thesis on...] but I also love the images of past exhibitions held in the space – but that’s a whole other story…

For those of you who are architecturally inclined, pop over and read this fantastic article with Richard Wentworth in conversation with Tom Emerson.


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