The Republic Masterplan at East India Dock demonstrates how it can successfully transform a couple of tired 1990s office blocks into high quality sustainable and affordable workspaces and help to create a green, relaxing and biodiverse landscape around them.
Timber is not a material commonly used in largescale office refurbishments in central London, but the Republic Masterplan at East India Dock demonstrates how it can successfully transform a couple of tired 1990s office blocks into high quality sustainable and affordable workspaces and help to create a green, relaxing and biodiverse landscape around them.
East India Dock, built in the 1800s for ships laden with tea, silks and exotic spices from the east, closed in the 1960s and was developed in the late 1980s as commercial office space expanded into London’s dockland. In the original development, two stone-clad office buildings faced each other across a busy access road and the last remnant of the dock waterway. Inside, ten storeys of office space surrounded a dull concrete-lined atrium with a glazed roof.
The masterplan by architect Studio RHE has created a remarkable transformation; the space between the two office buildings is now a traffic-free walkway with a boardwalk avenue of trees, plants and seating. At its centre is the original dock waterway, now enlivened with water features and aquatic plants; canopied timber pavilions used for flexible outdoor work or meeting spaces extend over the water.
The two refurbished office buildings – now known as the Import Building and the Export Building – have been reglazed and reclad externally with black zinc panels. The lower floors which face the water garden have been extended as spaces for restaurants and cafes, already popular for lunchtime eating. The entrance to each office building is a double-height portico lined with Siberian larch slats. The main reception is on the ground floor of the atrium which has been lined with a timber-framed structure, rising ten storeys to a newly glazed roof. The exposed timber elements create a dramatic space which is also warm and welcoming.
As Richard Hywel Evans of Studio RHE explains: “Timber is the defining material used throughout to unify the two buildings and connect them to the outdoor masterplan space in a holistic way. It has created warm and attractive internal public spaces while at the same time increasing the lettable office space without the need for additional work to the foundations. The use of exposed timber fosters a naturally biophilic environment. Industry research shows that access to nature and natural materials such as timber increase positivity, reduce stress and improve long term health. Natural and sustainable workplaces also tend to lease more quickly than more traditional working environments, increasing value for the client.”