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The Exchange, Erith

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

A community centre in Erith has won the 2024 RIBA South East Conservation Award – Robin Lee Architecture’s renovated and repurposed former Carnegie Library

The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen

2024 RIBA South East Award
2024 RIBA South East Conservation Award

The Exchange, Erith
Robin Lee Architecture for The Exchange

Contract value: Confidential 
GIA: 844m2

This abandoned and dilapidated former Carnegie Library in the Thames-side former industrial town of Erith has been brought back to life by being repurposed as a community centre. The result of a tenacious, committed client able to put together a team to obtain funding, secure volunteers, and commission professional services in order to achieve a vision, it is a wonderfully engaging project. The architect was invested in community consultations throughout the process, skilfully concentrating a limited budget on important aspects while being mindful of the community’s wishes. It has cleverly adapted the spaces of the Grade II-listed, early 20th century structure, with modern plywood insertions making clear what is original and what is added. The result is an exciting contrast that successfully reflects the building’s new uses.

  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
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Built in 1906, the library was closed to the public in 2009. The building then rapidly fell into disrepair, with the interior spaces becoming unusable due to water ingress throughout. While the roof was relatively easy to fix, much of the interior panelling and carpentry was destroyed.

The jury was impressed with Robin Lee Architecture’s bold approach to the heritage building in seeking not to replicate what had been lost, but instead to express its additions in a more modern interior response. The architect explained that its design strategy was to evaluate the existing qualities of the spaces and to find a way to allow these to be prioritised by stripping away superfluous elements. Its insertions for partitions and doors are made mostly of simple but well-detailed birch plywood. Attention to detail is evident throughout, even in the restoration of the glazed tiles in the WCs. The client commented on how the architect had succeeded in proposing ‘a design that offered enough flexibility for change, but still creating defined and distinctive spaces through sensitive repair and adaptation’.

  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
  • The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
    The Exchange. Ståle Eriksen
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The Exchange raised funding with the support of the Greater London Authority and Bexley Council. The initiative has repaired and adapted this significant and historic building, transforming its derelict structure into a community hub that now offers a year-round programme of workshops and events.

See the rest of the RIBA South East winners hereAnd all the RIBA Regional Awards here

To see the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com

RIBA Regional Awards 2024 sponsored by EH Smith and Autodesk

Credit: Robin Lee Architecture
Credit: Robin Lee Architecture
Credit: Robin Lee Architecture
Credit: Robin Lee Architecture

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